A London teen fooled more than 68,000 social media followers into thinking he was a wealthy influencer when he started using Photoshop and other image-editing software to heavily doctor his photos before posting them on Instagram.
Byron Denton had already amassed a hefty following on YouTube when he decided to conduct the experiment in January.
“After seeing my recommended box get filled with videos of people faking holidays or going on TV shows, I thought it would be fun to put my own twist on it and fake being rich on Instagram,” he wrote alongside a video revealing it was all a ruse. The 19-year-old said that the amount of people who fell for the stunt “really shows you that anything is possible.”
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Denton admitted to using three apps — Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, FaceTune and PicsArt — to transform his raw images into extravagant fakes that made him appear to be flying on a private jet, partying with celebrities, going on designer shopping sprees and vacationing in lavish locales like Paris. He told INSIDER it took him about 45 minutes to complete each photo.
Denton said he suspected that people are obsessed with celebrities because they can afford to live a life that’s not accessible to most — but he also thinks part of the massive spike in engagement had to do with his current followers being baffled by his “sudden lifestyle change” and were sharing the posts with their friends. He said only a handful of people expressed suspicion, but the rest took the bait.
“I had a lot of messages from my friends asking how I was affording all the designer stuff and a lot of comments from my followers asking if I’d won the lottery or something,” Denton said. “I’m pretty open with my audience about everything in my life so to them it was unusual.”
Then his follower count and likes began multiplying exponentially. “So we’ve got about 1,400 followers in three days,” he said in the video. “It’s so weird.”
In his first faux post, Denton is seen leaving a Louis Vuitton store with his hands filled with shopping bags. In the original photo, he’s simply standing outside the store empty-handed. He later went to a coffee shop and used his phone to superimpose the bags into the shot. In just half an hour, the photo received more likes than any other photo he’d posted in the past.
Then the praise rolled in. “Rich and pretty,” one person commented. “OMG it suits you so much, you’re such a king,” another wrote. “I feel my bank account emptying as I look at this,” a third said, and a fourth wrote, “Everything about this photo is so aesthetically pleasing wow but yeah cool bags.”
Then one day, Denton woke up to discover his latest photo — in which he poses in designer clothes — had received a whopping 11,000 likes. So he decided to up his game by posting a photo of himself on a private jet, which actually began as an image of him sitting on a sofa with a white wall behind him, making it easier to edit the interior of a jet around him. In just seven seconds, it received almost 500 likes. Then Denton started receiving an influx of private messages from people shocked that he was “suddenly rich.”
His most successful photo, though, with 12,000 likes, was of him posing in a blazer that looked like designer duds, but actually cost 20 pounds (less than $30) — and the image wasn’t even Photoshopped.
Denton said he was inspired to stage this particular prank by another YouTuber, George Mason, who used Photoshop and Instagram to fake going on vacation in Spain, France, Netherlands, Italy and Greece — and fooled more than 83,000 followers.
The teen said his followers have had an overall positive reaction to the ruse. Denton said people even started asking him to edit their photos so they could appear rich.
Now that Denton was able to pull off such a large-scale prank so easily, he said he questions everyone’s social media accounts.
“Do a lot of the high-profile bloggers these days actually make their way to the top by being honest,” he wondered, “or do they fake some of it?”
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