Unpacking Instagram’s fake follower purge

The ACA's Chris Williams says zeroing in on inauthentic activity is one thing, but there's more to be done.
erik-lucatero-543541-unsplash (2)

Earlier this week, Instagram took action to reduce the amount of fraudulent activity on the platform.

This included removing inauthentic likes, follow and comments from accounts that artificially boost their own popularity, usually from third-party apps and services. It has done so by using algorithms to detect and identify these users, removing their inauthentic activity and sending them a message notifying them, urging them to change their password.

“Recently, we’ve seen accounts use third-party apps to artificially grow their audience,” the company said in a statement. “It is our responsibility to ensure that [users'] experiences aren’t disrupted by inauthentic activity.”

Of course, aside from user experience, the prevalence of fraudulent activity has also been a thorn in the side of brands for years.

Unilever’s CMO Keith Weed was among the growing number global marketing leaders to call out the “fake followers” trend, introducing a policy earlier this year dictating that the CPG giant would no longer work with influencers that were found to buy followers.

“We need to address this through responsible content, responsible platforms and responsible infrastructure,” he said at Cannes Lions in June. “At Unilever, we believe influencers are an important way to reach consumers and grow our brands. Their power comes from a deep, authentic and direct connection with people, but certain practices like buying followers can easily undermine these relationships.”

Chris Williams, VP of digital with the Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA), tells MiC that although Instagram definitely made the right move, he can’t help but think that this should have been done years ago.

Referring to the Media Rating Council (MRC)’s Social Measurement Guidelines, which were introduced in 2015, he said the right thing to do has been in front of Instagram’s – and Facebook’s, and Google and every other network’s – noses for three years. “Those guidelines were put out for a reason. They’re very clear, and they’re free. It’s all been written out, anyone can look them up and read them.”

He says if Instagram is now willing to accept the MRC’s guidelines about inauthentic activity, it needs to take it one step further and abide by another MRC standard – to become certified by the council, which Instagram and Facebook have not done.

“When you pull it all back to principles, it all comes down to asking, ‘how do you determine what is valid and what isn’t, what’s real and not real?’ There has to be a north star that tells us what the right way of doing things is. And that’s why the MRC is so important to the ecosystem… why not go one step further and get certified?”

Nevertheless, he says Instagram undoubtedly made the right choice with its step to wipe out fraudulent activity. “When we see the platforms making great efforts to validate the users, it’s really important in understanding the value from the social media side, in understanding that the impression and the basic advertising is also valid. When we look at how [the platform] determines if something as valid, it becomes important in the determination of invalid traffic against your ad.”

In addition to the mistrust and lack of clarity introduced into the online ecosystem by these services, Instagram pointed out that many of the apps that boost popularity require a user’s Instagram login information. On top of introducing bad behaviour onto the app, Instagram pointed out that it also “makes these accounts less secure.” Instagram has promised more measures that it will announce in the coming weeks.