The Breakdown - Buying influence

When someone has a ton of views on a video or followers on their social media account, should you believe those numbers?

This week, the New York Times put out an investigation into the big business of buying followers. Anchor Kaitlin Monte is breaking down how that works.

Nowadays, if you have enough followers online, you can be considered a "micro-influencer" and get free stuff to promote or money to partner with brands. If you get a big enough following, you may become a real star. Post Malone got his record deal when a song on his SoundCloud account reached a million plays in a month.

But not every view count or follower count should be trusted. Amazon reviews, Instagram followers, YouTube views – they can all be bought. A New York Times investigation piece out this week introduces people to a guy who made $200,000 this year selling 15 million fake YouTube views.

How does this work? In this guy's case, he uses a computer system. "I can deliver an unlimited amount of views to a video,” Mr. Vassilev said in the interview. “They’ve tried to stop it for so many years, but they can’t stop it. There’s always a way around."

In some cases, you can pay companies—often overseas—where people log into fake profiles and go hit “like" or "view" on whatever they are paid to endorse that day. Log in, hit like, log out, log into another account and do it again.

Think of it like counterfeit money. It looks like it's worth something, but it's not. Companies can end up paying someone to work with them who they think is influential or popular, but they aren't, and that person makes off with their money.     

Mega-company Unilever is among those who no longer do business with "influencers" who buy follows, but many companies still do.