Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Monday, December 8, 2014

Clickjacking: How to Get 20k Instagram Followers

Posted By on Mon, Dec 8, 2014 at 11:26 AM

click to enlarge Here’s an incredibly shitty painting I did of my Instagram homepage with 872 likes and the caption “#art.”
  • Here’s an incredibly shitty painting I did of my Instagram homepage with 872 likes and the caption “#art.”
Your social media narcissism is fueling a boom in internet affirmation services: clickjacking. Even if you're unfamiliar with the term, you've likely seen it in action — or have been the victim of it. 

Clickjacking is one of the more nefarious ways companies are rushing to get “real followers” to the Instagram accounts of attention-starved customers. One rudimentary example of clickjacking involves floating an invisible Instagram “follow” button over a hacked website so that users attempting to click on the website actually end up following Instagram accounts. Basically, you click on the website and you get jacked.

Corey, 29, runs the bitcoin-based site, which sells fake Instagram followers and various other social media “likes” or “reblogs” to entrepreneurs and desperately narcissistic people. But Corey doesn’t use clickjacking. He experimented with the service but his customers complained about their new followers leaving some slightly-too-real comments.

“We tested a supplier who claimed to offer 'real followers' via clickjacking. After tweeting to our new 'real followers' we received replies saying, ‘Who the fuck are you!? I didn't follow you!’" Corey explained. "Fake accounts are better, they don’t complain.”

Corey, who lives in Los Angeles, uses the more common way of providing his customers with all their digital validation. He buys farmed social media accounts from mostly Indian suppliers who create the accounts by crafting a code that automatically fills out the Instagram signup field. The code then fleshes out each new profile with a few pictures and captions lifted from public Instagram profiles. So, essentially, Corey directs a horde of zombie-like accounts impersonating random Instagram users to his customers.

“Very few people buy followers for their personal accounts. Most of our customers have some entrepreneurial ambitions," Corey said. "I’ve seen true success stories."

click to enlarge Here’s a picture of the bottom of my dirty foot with 601 likes.
  • Here’s a picture of the bottom of my dirty foot with 601 likes.
One of Corey’s customers started a podcast about a hit TV show. The client didn’t have any connections to the podcasting world, but Corey was friends with the customer in real life and thought the show was really well done, so he gave the podcast 10,000 fake Twitter followers and plenty of auto-retweets. Bigger podcasts immediately started reaching out looking to co-promote and share content to each other’s social media followings. Apple even featured the brand new podcast on iTunes right out of the gate. Soon after, the TV show’s network reached out and the podcast landed an interview with the executive producer.

The cost to Corey for the 10,000 followers he delivered to his friend in under an hour?

“He owes me a couple beers,” Corey laughed. “I’ll never know for sure, but I think the followers rapidly accelerated all of this.”

The price advertised on CoinCrack to average customers for 10,000 Twitter followers and a bunch of retweets is $120. These kinds of profit margins have suppliers bragging in online chatrooms that they can, on a good month, make upward of $100,000 directing the fake followers to businesses and attention starved individuals. Corey’s company is much smaller than others in the followers business, and will do a little under 200 orders this month.

There is some real value to having a real, large Instagram following, though.

Jason Peterson, an instafamous photographer with over 350k followers, told me he gets paid between $5,000-10,000 for a single sponsored Instagram post. But the true value of his Instagram account (@JasonMPeterson) isn’t in the quick cash he makes advertising products to his following, it’s the advantage it gives him in business meetings with clients. Peterson is a creative director for an ad agency, and his Instagram following proves that at 44, Peterson has stayed current and can get his clients results on social media.

“I can say in a business pitch, ‘Why do you have 200 followers? I have 350k. You guys are doing something wrong.’ They believe me because I’m doing it myself. That’s where the real value is. It’s not about the thousands of dollar to post something, it’s about millions of dollars to get a new client,” Peterson said. “It’s all about real engagement. Just buying fake Instagram followers is like jacking off – you’re just playing with yourself.”

Matthew J. Salganik, 38, professor of sociology at Princeton, told me his studies on social influence in cultural markets show that when people are primed with a clear signal of popularity (like a high follower count on Instagram) they are more likely to engage with that product.

“Success leads to more success, so it’s very natural then to want to appear successful,” Salganik said. “If you want to attract more real Instagram followers then having fake followers can be helpful.”

According to Salganik, this is partly because in many settings we have a choice overload – like when you scroll through Netflix and there are just too many titles to choose from. When we’re faced with overwhelming possibilities we use other people’s past behavior as a shortcut. So on Instagram using someone’s follower count to infer the quality of their content is a quick way to filter through the multitude of choices, just like the “popular on Netflix” section.

Corbett Drummey, 24, used to work for an ad agency but became disillusioned with the industry after toiling over on a $3-million dollar Super Bowl commercial that never saw the light of day.

“They were doing it just to get people talking online – but I knew there was a much more efficient way,” Drummey said.

Drummey co-founded Popular Pays, an app that allows regular Instagram users to post about products in exchange for discounts, the products themselves, or (depending on your followers count) cold hard cash.

click to enlarge img_1320.png
Popular Pays is trying to position itself to be the Lyft of the ad world. But the start up quickly learned they were going to have to battle users offering to advertise products to their very large, and very fake followings.

Fake followers are so prevalent that the company had to create a whole new security program that analyzes where users likes and followers come from. It determines how real and engaged the followers are before the user is allowed to advertise a product.

“Once a week we will catch someone who bought followers,” Drummey said.

After our interview Corey of CoinCrack told me he would set me up with a fake Instagram following of my own so I could see firsthand what all the hype was about. All I had to do was give him my Instagram handle (@MattSaincome) and he would take care of the rest.

I went to the Save The Waves film festival in the mission to see a feature film by Sachi Cunningham titled Endless Ocean. After the movie I walked outside and turned my phone back on. Wave after wave of “(insert fake Instagram username) has followed you!” were being pushed down my homescreeen so quickly that I couldn’t read them. My follower count had quickly swelled to over 4,000 during the film.

But Corey wasn’t done. Over the course of the next couple of days my follower count climbed to over 20,000. I decided to take my new found instafame for a test drive and posted some annoying artsy fartsy pictures.

But perhaps better than the automatic likes were the random comments from my new followers. One picture I posted of an anemone I took at Moss Beach received the enthusiastic reply of “That shoes!” It also inspired one of my more philosophical fake followers to comment “I will become this!”

I immediately started to get texts and comments from friends inquiring how my E-dick had become so enlarged. I told everyone a different story. Sometimes I would vaguely say that people enjoyed my art. Other times I would say a magazine ran a feature on my Instagram. Lots of my friends immediately assumed I had bought the following, but others were convinced I was the coolest kid of the internet block and became eager to buddy up.

At Thanksgiving my grandma told me she was proud of all my recent success, mentioning that my uncle had told her about my followers. My grandma always says she’s proud of me (thanks, grandma) but the fact that my Instagram following made it into this years list of reasons was particularly interesting.

One might think that some random guy getting 20k fake followers would raise some red flags over at Instagram HQ, and I went into this little experiment expecting my account to be banned, but it remains intact.

“I'm pretty sure they know exactly which accounts are fake and they just let them be,” Corey said.

Instagram has 200+ million monthly active users, according to their website. They don’t list how many total accounts there are on the network.

Follow @MattSaincome on Instagram for more pictures of his feet.
  • Pin It

About The Author

Matt Saincome

Matt Saincome

Matt Saincome is SF Weekly's former music editor.

Suggested Reading

Comments (5)

Showing 1-5 of 5


Comments are closed.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"