Thanks to the social media. The information super highway has no toll gates or check points. Journalism is now completely bereft of editorial gate keepers. These days anything goes. It started like a positive revolution, creating incredible platforms for social interaction across borders, unrestricted by the limits of time and space. It has provided media platforms of incalculable value and reach, while becoming the most influential tools of communication across the globe. But like every good thing, there is a downside. And there are always people of questionable character who are only interested in putting every good thing to a bad use. It is indeed in the nature of man to use the world's most powerful tools for both good and bad.
Thanks to Donald Trump, the world's most influential user of Twitter. We now know that there is fake news. But how many of our more than 190 million people actually believe in the reality of fake news and the actual existence of an alternative world of 'fiction disguised as news'? How many of us possess the comprehension to distinguish between real photos and photo-shopped images? Very few indeed! So the overwhelming multitude of deceptive and often mischievous content continue to dominate the social media space, with millions of ignorant users lending themselves to the pernicious intentions of the puppeteers that create these alternative content.
It is a virtual world where there no rules. It is a paradoxical 21st Century jungle where the bestialities and cannibalism of pre-historic times reign supreme, aided by futuristic technology. It is a new world disorder, where armies of mercenaries are recruited remotely and unleashed on civil society with mindless ferocity. A piece of modern technology as harmless as a smart phone is now capable of instigating mass murder and genocide of satanic proportions. Within this atavistic space lies a new generation of crooks who have found in the social media a perfect platform for perpetrating their unholy trade. Gradually, they have developed new terminologies to give authenticity to their evil devices, and the most well-intentioned analytics may not unveil their criminal motives.
Last week, Twitter announced it would commence the deletion of millions of fake and suspicious accounts. This is part of efforts to battle a pervasive form of social media fraud. Many people have bought fake followers just to position themselves as so called 'influencers'. Whatsapp has also commenced measures aimed at giving a modicum of sanity to the platform by automatically inserting 'forwarded' above any piece of information its users rebroadcast.
In a world where empty hype holds sway, millions of users have created bogus profiles for themselves, bought thousands of fake followers while all they do is retweet content from other sources. They lack original content and have no track record of personal achievement. Yet, they somehow deceive many people into perceiving them as opinion leaders. During the USP Brand2Wealth branding seminar for SMEs, one of our speakers, the very articulate and cerebral Tolu Ogunlesi spoke of how some youths have created a fake larger than life image for themselves on the social media. They have profiles that promises more than they can ever live up to. Some call themselves 'life coach', when all the life they have experienced have been within the four walls of pre-degree university.
The danger in creating a bogus image for yourself on social media is that when you are put to the test and you fall short, it is much like when brand promises what it cannot deliver. Beyond this simple reality, the social media space is bedevilled with massive fraud. According to ZEROFOX Researchers, about 450,000 financial scams are lurking on the internet and if each scam claimed one victim, about $180 million in global losses due to social media based financial scams. According to the report, 'Social media offers platforms for businesses to connect with customers, a way to improve engagement, an avenue for positive comments and complaints, and also allows average users to create networks of friends and colleagues. However, the sheer size of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn also gives fraudsters a wide pool of potential victims'.
According to a New York Times report published early this year, about 48 million Twitter accounts are fake, while Facebook reported to investors that it hosted up to 60 million fake accounts. These fake accounts are very influential in shaping reputations, spreading fake news, amplifying messages while also defrauding businesses and damaging reputations. In Nigeria, whatever can be abused will surely be abused. Which is why several companies now thrive on this new form of organized crime. The trade in fake social media accounts has since been legitimized and has now assumed pride of place in the marketing communications space.
While brand managers eagerly embrace these revolutionary media platforms, they also face the difficulty of grappling with real time feedback and channels that provide the competition with more potent tools of mischief. Where care is not taken, they find themselves in a perennial wrestle with a pseudopodia of misinformation in an arena where there are no rules of engagement. This is the new normal and brand managers must urgently develop new competencies to ensure that their brands do not perish in these shark infested waters. It is equally important for individuals to exercise great caution online. Personal information and status updates willingly revealed on the social media networks provide criminals with vital information they need to either defraud or attack you.
As we embrace the social media in search of more cost effective and engaging media reach, we must constantly remind ourselves that successful brands are built on trust. The media platforms we use must therefore support the trust and credibility we are trying to infuse into our brands. Rather than build a fake image on social media, it is infinitely better and more rewarding to build brand value in real life.
- Muyiwa Kayode is CEO at USP Brand Management and author, The Seven Dimensions of Branding. Brand Nation is a platform for promoting national development based on the universal principles of branding.