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HBO's latest documentary Fake Famous took a deep dive into the world of influencers, and their obsession with fame, as journalist and first-time director Nick Bilton conducted a social experiment to find out if he could turn three people with very little followings into famous influencers using a few social media tricks.
First, Bilton purchased fake followers and bots to like and comment on all three participants' Instagram profiles. Next, Bilton set up completely fake photoshoots for the participants, a ploy that apparently many influencers use. "We're simply doing what so many other influencers do. We're faking it," said Bilton.
One of the documentary's experts, social media manager Hana Hussein stated, "So much of it is so contrived and fake. I've worked with influencers for projects where, you know, you select them off of their Instagram, and their images, and then you ask them to come in and do a shoot or an interview, and they will refuse to take photos, because they highly edit their own images and they won't be comfortable with whatever we shoot."
During one unbelievable scene, Bailey learned that there is a fake private jet set that can be rented out for $50 an hour, for influencers to take pictures pretending like they are on a private luxury flight. The kicker – it is completely booked around the clock.
While each participant had very different experiences during this social experiment, aspiring-actress Druckman thrived and, within a few months, had well over 100K followers – most of which were bots, but some were actually real.
Bilton shared, "It got to a point where Dom could simply tag a brand in a photo and they'd be the ones reaching out, asking her to take their products for free."
Meanwhile, Druckman's newfound IG fame led to a career boost. Druckman shared, "I've been getting so many more auditions and callbacks. My agent, he's like, 'Yeah, your Instagram has, like, blown up, and that's definitely helped you get into the doors of, like, a lot of casting offices.'"
Five months into the experiment, Bilton purchased even more bots for Druckman, and took her following up to 250,000 followers. Soon after, Druckman was given the opportunity to experience the "hallmark of influencer fame: a free all-expense-paid vacation, which includes a free hotel suite for Dom and a friend, a $1,000 shopping spree, bottle service at a club, dinner at a five-star restaurant, and spa treatment. What does Dom have to do for all this? Just post the whole experience on Instagram, tag the hotels and spa, and make sure that her hundreds of thousands of followers see it." Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic hit.
"We've been copying these influencers by faking it just like them, and throughout this whole process, as we peeled back layer after layer of what really happens behind the scenes, I kept wondering if any of it was real, if anything these influencers did was actually authentic," said Bilton.
While Bilton continued to dig deeper to find out if anything influencers did was actually authentic, ultimately, it was during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, when reports surfaced of influencers using the protests to stage photo opportunities that, to him, solidified his answer.
Bilton stated, "We instantly went into quarantine as a global pandemic started to kill hundreds of thousands of people. And yet what was so strange was, when you scrolled through Instagram, all those influencers we were trying to emulate, they were still posting photos of themselves as if everything was perfectly normal. They were posting pictures of themselves on the beach, even though the beaches were closed."