F is for Fake

another installment of Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything


Data scientist Gilad Lotan spends most of his time measuring stuff — the popularity of online blog posts, the virality of memes, the import of Facebook likes. Lately he’s been investigating twitter followers. One of the questions he ends up asking a lot these days is: Are they real?


I saw Gilad give this ignite talk at NewsFoo, and I couldn’t stop thinking about his provocative idea that we might be hurting our online standing by not playing the fake follower game. I got him to tell me more about his research at his office at Betaworks.

Jason Q Ng and his book

Jason Q Ng is a researcher at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto.

Jason’s been studying how Chinese internet companies comply with Chinese internet law.

In 2013 he published a book called Blocked on Weibo. Last summer the Chinese Government cracked down on Weibo (China’s version of twitter) and Jason explains to me why fake bots were part of the story.

A couple of weeks ago I had a really intense dream.

In my dream a supercomputer of great intelligence decided to make all the fake bots on the internet real. With one single line of code millions and millions of digital Pinocchios were transformed — and over night the balance of power shifted.

Humans were now conscripted to aggregate on behalf of their new bot masters.

Every utterance had to be liked, favorited, and amplified on the pain of death!

I fled to the mountains, grew a beard and lived on kale. But there was no escape. I was hunted down. Captured. And sold.

But my new master was not an ordinary bot…

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