Capital Week: ‘Soulja Boy Uses an App to Get Fake Likes on Instagram (and Other Thoughts on Fame and Money)’, by Sian Campbell and Emma Marie Jones


Photo by Wreck and Salvage. Image reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

To celebrate the release of TLB32: the Capital Issue, we at TLB’s website are running a ‘Capital'–themed week, featuring original content especially commissioned for the website. Today: Sian Campbell and Emma Marie Jones on fame and money.

People go to fan conventions and stand in line and wait for hours to get a photo with their favourite celebrity. There is a convention for everything, a celebrity of everything. One big convention is Supanova, which is for Sci Fi fans. At Supanova it costs $110 to get a photo with Supa-Star Nathan Fillion, who was once in Firefly. If you just want an autograph, it’s $100. If you want to get a photo with Supa-Star Jason Mewes, aka Jay from Jay and Silent Bob, instead of Nathan Fillion, it’s $50. You can probably get a photo of Nathan Fillion with Jason Mewes, but it will cost you extra. The celebrities set their own prices; trying to figure out the value of Nathan Fillion in relation to the value of Jason Mewes will get you nowhere. Value is arbitrary.

Here is what happens when you want to get a photo with one of these Supa-Stars: You find the right line. (Sometimes you can tell which line is the right line for your favourite celebrity by seeing who else is in the line. If your favourite celebrity is Christopher Lloyd aka Doc from Back to the Future, for instance, you might see a lot of people wearing Back to the Future T-shirts. This is so when someone wearing the Back to the Future T-shirt meets their favourite celebrity, Christoper Lloyd, Christopher Lloyd will see it, and know that this person is a True Fan.) Eventually you get to the front of the line, where you’re ushered into a makeshift photo studio space. Your favourite celebrity is waiting. They’ve been standing there for a long time. Their job is to smile and put their arm around you for the photo, and hug you if you want them to. Sometimes if you ask to kiss them on the cheek, they will let you kiss them. You can ask them to pose like the character they play from that show or movie you like and they will. The photographer takes a photo, and you get a receipt. Hours later, you go and wait in another line, filled with people who have also had their photo taken with their favourite celebrity. They are talking about how their favourite celebrity let them kiss them on the cheek! It’s very exciting and intimate to be allowed to kiss your favourite celebrity on the cheek, or for your favourite celebrity to kiss you on the cheek, even though they will kiss anyone on the cheek if asked. Eventually you get to the front of the line and go up to a special booth and collect the photo of you and your favourite celebrity. It is in a plastic sleeve. You can do whatever you want with the photo. It is up to you.

I stood in line for hours with my boyfriend and got a photo with Lucy Lawless, who is my favourite celebrity. I was too scared to say anything because she is my favourite celebrity, and she smiled and put her arm around me and said I was giving off an amber aura. I didn’t know if it she meant that she could really read auras and mine was amber coloured, or if she just meant that I was wearing a lot of brown that day, which I was. I don’t know if the photo was worth it but it’s on my mantelpiece now, still in the plastic sleeve. My housemate is from New Zealand, and I hope this makes her feel at home.

A Facebook friend of mine goes to a lot of fan conventions. They travel around the world going to all the fan conventions that their favourite celebrities will be at. They have a Facebook photo album with all of the celebrities they have collected so far and a list of all the ones they still need. In some of their photos, they comment about how exciting it was, because their favourite celebrity posed as though their favourite celebrity was in love with them. Even though my Facebook friend knows that their favourite celebrities get paid up to $110 per person, or a cut of that at least, to stand in line and act like they want to be friends or lovers with whoever comes to get their photo taken, they are still really happy about this and derive a lot of meaning from it. For one photo they asked their favourite celebrity to kiss the cheek of another one of their favourite celebrities, from the same TV show, because my Facebook friend ‘ships’ their characters. ‘Shipping’ is very personal and powerful and transcends the limitations of celebrity selfhood. ‘Shipping’ is like witchcraft, but instead of spells, people write fan fiction.

Soulja Boy uses an app to get fake likes on Instagram. I know this cos I use the same app and I saw him on there. You have to like the photos of strangers in exchange for coins which you can use to buy likes and followers in-app. You have to use the app’s coins instead of real money because it’s against Instagram’s terms of service to buy followers with real money,* but you can use real money to buy in-app coins, which is probably what Soulja Boy does, or maybe one of his people does. Probably one of his people does. I can’t imagine Soulja Boy, who is very cool and successful, doing what I did, which was sit home alone with my legs wrapped around a pizza watching episodes of a reality show called Big Rich Texas and liking batches of pictures. Pictures of legs I’d never seen tanning on beaches I’d never visit. Abs I’d never touched on gym junkie men I’d never swipe right on. Inspirational quotes I’d never understand in languages I honestly could not identify. I earned enough coins to buy 1,000 likes. I began to distribute the likes among my existing photos. One photo was embedded in a thing published online so I dumped a ton of likes on it so I’d look more legit to its readers. Strangers whose pictures were mostly quotes about living, laughing and loving or dancing like nobody was watching or whatever liked my dumb selfie. The numbers looked great but I felt like kind of an asshole. Not like I had predicted someone with heaps of likes and followers should feel, i.e. popular and carefree. I posted weirder photos, photos of my feet and a nose-picking selfie, and I made the strangers like those too. The little Instagram notification that had once made me feel like: weeee! now made me feel like: cool? Like the whole purpose for posting and sharing and liking other people’s photos could be, and had been, disrupted. The social contract of the medium had been broken. I was cheating. I could still use Instagram to look at my friends’ photos and like them. I could still use Instagram to broadcast and curate my life, and make it look cute and weird and fun. But now thatI knew I could fake the whole numbers thing, I knew anyone could fake the whole numbers thing. Everyone could be faking the whole numbers thing. I started clicking on my friends’ photos to see who liked the photos. If it was heaps of bots, I wondered if my friends were using the like app too, or if they just had a public profile that attracted heaps of bots. I wondered if it mattered. I couldn’t decide whether it mattered. I think the numbers only matter to people like me, who don’t have all that many numbers and really want more. People like me, who think the numbers are what quantify us in spaces like Instagram, are what make us appear “cool” and “desirable” enough to be followed and liked. People like me who delete a photo if it doesn’t break the eleven-like barrier, and find this app liberating because I can buy eleven likes and falsely validate my own taste, so my curated little life can look, to everyone else, as though it looks good to someone else.

One day a week, I go to work in an office building in South Yarra, where it is my job to run the Instagram page for a famous artist. He is not the kind of famous artist that anyone I know would have heard of, but he is considerably famous, and probably very rich. He sells his art for a lot of money in galleries. My job is to make him marketable to the youth, who cannot afford his art. Since I know nothing about social media strategy this mostly consists of me scrolling through the hundreds and hundreds of photos this famous artist is hashtagged in, and liking them. I have tried to come up with discernable ways to quantify my success, and so far this has just meant writing down the amount of followers this famous artist has, and then trying to get that number to grow bigger. At first the number was six, and now it is eight, so technically if asked I could say that I am improving the social media presence of this famous artist—that I have in fact improved his social media presence by twenty-five per cent—and I would not be lying.

If there was one thing my mum kind of instilled in me it was to seize every opportunity. I totally do not do this because I am very depressed. I often have dreams about sharp pain. I’m rolling in cut glass. I’m rolling in ants and spiders. They’re biting me and I’m rolling in thick, goopy clay to neutralise the sting. I think these pains represent either intrusions into my fake bubble of zen, or my fear of needles. My fear of needles is why I would never be able to try hard drugs, like really hard drugs, and is the true reason why I am a very softcore person.

I think my Instagram crush probably uses hard drugs, or at least could if she wanted to. Maybe not the hardest kind of drugs, but at least she could like snort a line of coke without having a panic attack. Which I do not know if I could do, because I haven’t tried, and because every time I think about trying it I panic and also because I don’t have $300.

My Instagram crush takes inventive selfies and they don’t seem vain or shallow, just necessary. My Instagram crush sees really interesting things in her everyday life all the time and chooses some of them to share with us, her followers, who are lucky that we can have these 1x1 windows into the sights that she sees in the streets and malls. I look for things that are interesting enough to share. A watched pot never boils.

My Instagram crush has a really nice butt and a really comfortable relationship with someone in front of whom she is not afraid to say “take it again” over and over again because her face was in shadow or her shoulder looked weird or the composition was kind of off. This person takes photos of her butt that she posts so that her Instagram feed shows, when you look at it as a whole, that she doesn’t take all of her photos herself and therefore isn’t lonely.

I’m not lonely but I worry that sometimes my feed makes it seem like I am, or like I’m trying not to seem like I am, or like the lighting is really bad in my house but also in my life and mind. That I can’t see my own potential clearly. This isn’t true. If only my Instagram crush would follow me. If only her followers would follow me! We’re so alike. We have such similar bodies, we both love the same cultural zeitgeists and favour the same emojis. When I’m tumbling through the cut glass she is walking behind me, her bare feet safe since I’ve cleared the path.

I don’t like to meet celebrities. I find the idea of meeting my favourite celebrities deeply upsetting. I’m afraid of meeting them because they are real human beings, and not the characters they play, which is obviously disappointing, but more importantly I’m afraid that they won’t know that I know that they’re real human beings. I’m afraid they’ll say nice things and won’t mean them, which I think is a pretty realistic fear to have. I don’t know what the point would be anyway. Everything I need to get out of them, I have already gotten out of them through their art. In 2013, some guy made a documentary about how annoying it is that J.D. Salinger still won’t leave his house, which was a weird thing to make a movie about considering how J.D. Salinger died in 2010. The documentary opens with this guy whining about how he stalked J.D. Salinger and when he finally tracked him down, J.D. Salinger had the audacity to just be some guy who wrote a book. J.D Salinger was all, I’m a fiction writer! Go see a therapist if you need someone to tell you what life’s about! Please get off my property! That’s all the movie should have been: the first ten minutes, and then everyone realises they need to leave J.D. Salinger (who is dead, anyway? And also kind of the worst?) alone. But instead the movie goes for two hours, and is terrible, which of course it is, because it is a movie made by a bunch of men who don’t care that J.D Salinger was horrible to women and who think that commodification in the form of a tell-all documentary is a perfectly natural fan response to reading Catcher in the Rye of all fucking books, a book about phonies written by a hermit.

(Mostly I think I don’t have any real desire to be famous, and this is why meeting famous people is uninteresting to me.)

Khloé Kardashian is standing in a closet in front of at least thirty pairs of sneakers. Her hair just got done and she has a full face of makeup. She looks really hot. Looking at this photo my mind is cataloguing hairspo, browspo, poutspo. Her head is tilted so that light lands on her cheekbones and the bridge of her nose, so that her jaw is minimised, so that her lips are placed at the exact centre point of the photo. Close to her lips she is holding a sachet of Flat Tummy Tea. Your eyes land on it immediately cos it’s right next to her big baby lips. Her facial expression is neutral. The tea probably tastes like shit.

Every time one of those Neutrogena ads comes on I think about how famous actors Hayden Panettiere and Jennifer Garner and Kristen Bell and that actor from Smallville (who played the love interest who wasn’t Lois Lane) have all been Neutrogena girls. This really confuses me because Neutrogena is a product for people who have bad skin, and all of these actresses have so much money. Like: why do they want to be associated with acne, when they could very much afford to not do that? It’s so weird to me. Maybe it’s because I had bad skin as a teenager and I’m sensitive about it. But, I mean: Jennifer Garner. She’s got that sweet Batman divorce money. Not to mention she’s forty-four and nobody’s believing she’s still getting blackheads. If you’re that desperate for cash, just do another series of Alias and retire. Do a sequel to Suddenly 30: the world will thank you! One time, one of the Neutrogena ads comes on and I’m like: doesn’t Jennifer Garner have enough money? What’s the deal? And my boyfriend tells me it’s a status thing. Like: getting to be the Neutrogena girl means you’ve made it. And rich people always need more money. There is no such thing as an amount of money that is just enough. Who knows how my boyfriend knows this shit. But more importantly, if Jennifer Garner doesn’t already know she’s made it, then the whole concept of making it and A lists and everything else just goes straight out the window. You’ve been to the Oscars, Jen. (I mean, I assume.) You’re good! You’re there! Stop fucking around with microbeads! They’re bad for the environment and you’ve got a film career to worry about!

3 am smoking blunts on a sofa coming down and I’m on Twitter cos the scrolling soothes me. I don’t want to interact with anyone who isn’t in this room. There are messages in my Facebook inbox still in bold font and I won’t read them until tomorrow cos the seen tick is kind of like a responsibility. You can’t just read “you out tonight?” and leave it at a seen tick and then keep posting cute grams of your party of three.

So I’m scrolling from inside the nucleus of my night. We’re all scrolling from inside the nuclei of our nights, but my nucleus is in a Vodafone black hole or that’s what I’ll say tomorrow anyway, it can put out but it can’t take in.

Not a lot of people are online at 3 am. They’re all either asleep or partying. This room is like a weird, smoky rest stop between those two places. Actually it feels like those places are both departure lounges and I am at the arrival destination. Music’s on. Body’s sprawling. Conversation’s intimate, flowing, self-indulgent. The light’s on, a red light. Smoky particles that are half our breath, half used-up bud have absorbed that redness and fill up the room in a way that would be invisible without it.

I blink at my messages from eyes that feel haptic. Like they could swipe the impositions away and out of being by themselves. The delayed gratification of a friend’s attention, the urge to know what they have said. I am way too high to listen and way too comfortably situated to respond, to bring an outside element in.

Dear Dolly Doctor: live-tweeting big TV events like the Survivor premiere is really good for getting likes but really bad for losing followers. Which one should I concentrate on to maximise my personal brand? Sincerely, Torn Tweeter (VIC)

Recently I watched the entire first season of Married at First Sight—the US version. I was hooked on seeing if these couples would Go All the Way. I kept saying to my boyfriend, but how did they find couples that are so attractive and charismatic? Like every single person on the show was made for TV. And it was so hard to figure out, because they have to get legally married to a stranger. On the Australian version of the show, the couples don’t get legally married, but on the US show they do. What could be more “reality” than watching two people legally sign themselves to each other for life? One girl, a nurse who has pulled herself up from a lower class trailer park childhood with hard work and education and perseverance, has a breakdown when she is forced to do this. She immediately becomes my favourite character, because when I have to make real life decisions I too sit on the floor and cry and refuse to play pretend for the cameras. She was clearly paralysed by fear and I thought, this is the appropriate reaction to have when someone puts you in a white dress in front of a stranger in public with all your family and camera crews watching and says DO YOU TAKE THIS MAN.

So I’m watching this show thinking how are these people so attractive, and my boyfriend’s like, well, duh. It’s television. They’d cast the hot ones who want to get famous. They get a lot of money to do this. And again I’m like: You have to get legally married to a stranger. Why are hot twenty-somethings choosing to get married to a stranger on television? This is not a productive pathway to fame. Nothing about it makes sense. And I look it up, and one of the producers in an interview says that the couples get paid “barely anything” to be on the show. Because they’re looking for true love, duh.

Anyway my favourite girl, breakdown girl, and her husband (who is the least attractive which is unfair because breakdown girl looks exactly like Blake Lively) go All the Way. Two of the three couples go All the Way. (This means that they don’t get a divorce at the end, although it doesn’t mean they couldn’t still get a divorce in the future.) So I look up the couples on Instagram. I don’t know what I’m looking for. I think I’m looking for photos of Christmas mornings and walking the dog before and/or after work and vacation photos. And those things are there. There are sad photos with captions about Jamie’s miscarriage, and basic wifey photos where Courtney is like GOD IS GREAT and everyone’s on the page like I’m not here for this but okay. But when I look up my favourite girl, breakdown girl, I find out she was on The Bachelor. If she used to be a nurse, her job now seems to be shilling copies of her bestseller marriage tell-all, probably ghostwritten. So now I don’t know what I think anymore except: the hot ones want to get famous. They get a lot of money to do this.

My therapist told me lurking is toxic and when I start to want to focus my energies on how other people are doing things I should mindfully begin to focus my energies on how I am doing things and try my very best not to compare the two like, ever.

A girl I used to know is getting married and her fiancé is buying her a birthday present for each day of her birthday month. She posts a daily update with an image of the gift and its accompanying card and bouquet on some attractive kitchen surface. She posts cross-platform to the Holy Trinity. She uses the word “fiancé” so much on social media I can’t imagine how many times she must say it to people irl. This fiancé is definitely graduating to “hubby” status.

One old acquaintance had a kid and makes it stand in front of the back fence which is like, super textural, for a fashion shoot each day. It wears very small versions of the kind of outfits parents who want to look like they’re definitely too young to be parents wear. And there’s this ex-emo I hung out with when I was a teen who still uses the word “w00t” in her Facebook status updates even though it’s 2016 and nobody uses Facebook for anything except sharing links and shitposting anymore.

Most of the girls I went to high school with are grown-ups now, with families and careers. If I went to my high-school reunion I think I would win a wooden spoon. I look at their lives and tell myself: they all think they’ve made it. But I’m the one who’s made it. They don’t even have online presences. Their entire aesthetic is Freedom furniture.

My therapist told me everyone has their own trajectory and those girls from my high school are probably totally happy. Focus on what’s in front of you. I train my inner monologue onto this like a mantra. Focus. It’s 4 am and this guy I dated when I was seventeen has Instagram and he lost the mutton chops somewhere between 2007 and now and I’m trying to figure out when.

Sian Campbell is a freelance writer and the Editor in Chief of Scum Mag. Her work has been published in Spook, Going Down Swinging, The Lifted Brow, and Junkee.

Emma Marie Jones is a Melbourne-based poet, writer and editor. Her short fiction, poems and essays have appeared in SPOOK, Seizure, The Lifted Brow, Meanjin and Scum Mag, and in 2015 she was shortlisted for the Scribe Nonfiction Prize for Young Writers.

* Before I knew this I read somewhere that you could buy Instagram followers on eBay, so I went on eBay and looked this up, and you can. I bought five hundred followers for US $2. I entered my Instagram handle at checkout and the next day five hundred followers were dumped on me all at once which I thought was totally not the most realistic way to deliver fake followers to the kind of person who was anxious and self-obsessed enough to buy followers, because obviously anyone that anxious and self-obsessed (i.e. me) would expect everyone in their life to be constantly assessing their profile page for new and exciting updates, and would notice the sudden increase in their follower count and suspect fraud. The five hundred followers haunted me. They were all bots. Each bot had a really obviously fake, botlike handle like @get_more_followers_free45925, lived in Brazil or Romania, had zero followers and zero posts and followed 12,790 people. All of my followers who constantly checked my profile page for updates would obviously also be checking on their fellow followers to see what they had in common, and would know about my fraud. If I deleted my fake followers I would have to return to triple digits, which was not a zone I was prepared to re-enter. Instagram’s terms of service caused a neat little deus ex machina: I got an email a couple days later notifying me that US $2 had been refunded to my PayPal. When I checked my Instagram account, the fake followers had all disappeared.