Nicolaas Veul comments: “Online visibility seems more important than ever; the more likes and followers, the higher your social status. In the quickly developing industry of Instagram, the algorithms determine who will make it to the top. Along with this a completely new business model arose, with likes and followers as its currency. I wanted to understand this new, lawless economy. What is real and what is fake? How do you beat the algorithms? Who is actually profiting from this? And how does this influence the average Instagram user?”
The making of #followme was published from September 2018 onwards on the Instagram account @followme.doc, an account which was bought along with 10,000 followers, completely following the Wild Western style rules of the platform. The Dutch version was broadcasted via IGTV and on Dutch public channel NPO3 in November of that year, after which it made its way to the One World Human Right Film Festival in Prague, where it won the Student Jury Award, and the INPUT conference in Bangkok. Now, VPRO has developed a brand new international version in 9:16 ratio, optimized for smartphone screens.
Anouk Kamminga, editor in chief at VPRO TV, explains: “Instagram and the informal economy that goes hand in hand with it are a global issue. We therefore felt we had to go beyond Dutch audiences with this project, making optimum use of the visual language of the platform, creating an international, vertical documentary.”
With 1 billion monthly registered users, Instagram is one of today’s most popular social media platforms. A place where people promote themselves and their products. With the platform, a new industry has emerged where likes and followers are the new currency and the dodgy business with user accounts is changing the rules: a huge number of fake profiles emerged, and bots are creating new followers for those who want to feel more successful.
So what is still real? And what is fake? And who is profiting from all of this?
Journalist Nicolaas Veul dives into the network's inner workings and uncovers a well-oiled machine based on fraud. He sets out to unravel the shady fakery on this platform. Who are the people behind the fake profile business? How are they making money off the platform? What is their motive? And is Instagram itself taking any responsibility for it? Veul talks, amongst others, to people able to provide you with any amount of followers or likes - against a price; influencer managers; Dovetale co-founder Mike Schmidt who developed a tool which is able to show the number of fake followers people have; and photographer and travel influencer Sara Melotti, author of the book Instagram created a monster.
From celebs faking their popularity, moms who buy fake followers for their kids to make them feel more popular, to networks of Russian housewives selling comments-on-demand: who is fooling whom in the circus called Instagram. And can anything on Instagram be believed, or trusted, at all?
Stills from the documentary
VPRO is an independent media organization, tracing its public broadcast heritage all the way back to 1926. Through the decades it has continued to reinvent itself, thus remaining relevant to many different audiences within a constantly changing society. VPRO has built a global reputation for exploring issues that matter and building audiences in new and avant-garde ways. Across countries, VPRO is widely recognized as a media pioneer. Its creative teams explore what’s happening at the edges of society, chase innovation and contribute to the public discourse. Audience can find them on a multitude of platforms: on the television or radio, in a weekly magazine, on websites, in apps, during live events... And they are always looking for new ways to stimulate meaningful conversation. Global citizenship and creativity are core values at VPRO. They encourage interest, engagement and participation by being involved in a broad range of cultural and scientific activities and have won numerous awards, including Emmy Awards, Prix Europa and many prizes at internationally renowned film festivals.