Can you buy social media influence?

"Fake accounts, deployed by governments, criminals and entrepreneurs, now infest social media networks. By some calculations, as many as 48 million of Twitter's reported active users - nearly 15 percent - are automated accounts designed to simulate real people..." - Gabriel Dance, Nicholas Confessore, Rich Harris and Mark Hansen in the New York Times

Twitter Birds

Twitter Birds Photo: Flickr user Alan O' Rourke CC BY 2.0

Acquiring friends and followers, influencing people, and having a large audience for what you have to say has become a valuable commodity in the digital age.

Now an investigation by The New York Times goes inside the so-called 'Follower Factory' to reveal how people, including some big name celebrities, sportspeople and the media, are prepared to pay for this popularity, buying fake Twitter followers and then using this to build their profile and boost their influence online.

"While Twitter and other platforms prohibit buying followers, Devumi and dozens of other sites openly sell them. And social media companies, whose market value is closely tied to the number of people using their services, make their own rules about detecting and eliminating fake accounts." - Gabriel Dance, Nicholas Confessore, Rich Harris and Mark Hansen in the New York Times

The enquiry centres on the activities of a company called Devumi which has sold more than 200 million Twitter followers to more than 200,000 people, making millions of dollars in the process. 

As a result of the revelations the state of New York is now investigatating Devumi's affairs with New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman observing "The internet should be one of the greatest tools for democracy-but it's increasingly being turned into an opaque, pay-to-play playground." 

Gabriel Dance is the deputy investigation editor of the New York Times and one of those who investigated and wrote about this "shadowy global marketplace for social media fraud".

"At a time when Facebook, Twitter and Google are grappling with an epidemic of political manipulation and fake news, Devumi's fake followers also serve as phantom foot soldiers in political battles online." - Gabriel Dance, Nicholas Confessore, Rich Harris and Mark Hansen in the New York Times

This Way Up for Saturday 3 February 2018

Can you buy social media influence? BITS+BYTES: Is your ISP ripping you off and what can you do about it? And on a mission to Mars: launching the world's most powerful rocket.

Bits+Bytes: Is your ISP ripping you off and what can you do about it?

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Photo: Pexels

A new survey reveals a “dismal” rate of customer complaints over the big telecommunications providers in New Zealand. tracks the service performance of telcos for mobile and broadband, and technical writer George Block says complaints increased again in the last financial year – mostly about customer service or failing to deliver on promised broadband speeds or prices.

Simon Morton and Peter Griffin also look at why Facebook banned cryptocurrency adverts from its platform.

Staying with the highs and lows of cryptocurrencies, an exchange in Japan was hacked to the tune of nearly $800 million dollars. Emily Wang reports on one of the largest ever thefts of digital money.  

And a listener wonders why so many helpful Apple apps and other accessibility features for blind users are not available in New Zealand.

If you have anything that you'd like Bits+Bytes to investigate please email or download the RNZ VoxPop app.


Bitcoin Photo: (Photo by Andre Francois on Unsplash)

Mission to Mars? The world's most powerful rocket

The countdown is on for the launch, scheduled for Wednesday morning NZ time, of the world's most powerful rocket. 

SpaceX's giant Falcon Heavy, will lift off from Cape Canaveral in Florida with thrust at liftoff equal to 18 Jumbo Jets all firing up simultaneously. It can blast 57 tons into orbit, and according to SpaceX and its CEO Elon Musk it's a stepping stone on the quest to send humans to Mars. 

We speak to Sarah Lewin who is covering the launch for

"When SpaceX's Falcon Heavy lifts off from Kennedy Space Center's famed Pad 39A, the same launchpad from which Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong set course for the moon on Apollo 11 in 1969, a new kind of history will be made,." - Kennedy Space Center representatives quoted in