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Identifying a large number of fake followers on Instagram

October 2017

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Being a so-called influencer is the dream job of the moment for a lot of young people. Getting a wealth of free products, or even bare cash, in exchange for an Instagram post is enticing, and the advertising industry seems to have discovered a new, effective form of approaching target groups.

However, accusations started appearing that the followers of many influencers are, in fact, fake. Could these accusations be true? There has never been a systematic study on the subject – nobody, neither in or outside of Switzerland, has ever tried to thoroughly quantify the fake follower problem on Instagram.

So that’s what we at SRF Data did. We trained a machine learning model to automatically classify 7 million Instagram accounts regarding their “fakeness”.  By doing so, we found out that roughly a third of these accounts, following 115 Swiss influencers, are indeed fake.

Some influencers had more than 50% fake followers, which raises questions about the integrity and authenticity of these follower bases. Consequently, the publication caused quite a stir in the Influencer economy.

If you want to know more about the methodology behind this project, look at this making of or at the original source code behind the analysis.

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