Social media’s epic fail

THAT’S THE UNDERBELLY of today’s social media landscape, whether you’re in Canada or Pago Pago.

The deception found by The New York Times in its analysis of fake views on YouTube is staggering. The newspaper identifies Martin Vassilev of Ottawa, Ont., as earning more than $200,000 per year and has sold close to 15 million views on the video platform so far in 2018. His website,, connects customers with services that offer views, likes and dislikes generated by computers, not humans, the Times discovered.

“I can deliver an unlimited amount of views to a video,” Vassilev said in an interview. “They’ve tried to stop it for so many years, but they can’t stop it. There’s always a way around.”

If you feel better about fraudulent behaviour when it’s just something “harmless” like “views,” think again. Ad Age magazine examined Shopify, a Canadian company that simplifies opening a web store. Shopify charges only $30 US a month to maintain the site and can help with shipping, payments and even inventory. More than 600,000 merchants have signed on, and most have no complaints.

“Then there are people like Mike Lindell,” Ad Age reports. Lindell runs My Pillow, which makes pillows, sheets and mattresses. Earlier this year, Lindell noticed that an unidentified scammer had used Shopify tools to set up a near-facsimile of called, which claimed to sell My Pillow products. In April, My Pillow sued Shopify, alleging it supported trademark infringement.

Shopify took down the site, but My Pillow is demanding damages plus any money Shopify made running the bogus store.

Then there is the insufferable arrogance of social media streaming platforms. Spotify, the music and podcast purveyor, wants to add audio ads into the mix — of paying customers.

Normally, when you pay for something to watch or listen to, you expect to be left alone. “The company says it’s running a test in Australia that will allow listeners to skip audio and video ads any time they want, as often as they want, allowing them to quickly get back to music,” according to Ad Age.

Danielle Lee, global head of partner solutions at Spotify, told Ad Age she compares the move to Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” feature, which tailors a playlist to users’ established listening habits. Unlimited ad skipping means Spotify users will be able to hear or watch just the ads they actually like, informing Spotify about their preferences in the process, she says.

The audio streaming platform has also launched a new feature, called “Active Media,” whereby advertisers won’t have to pay for any ads that are skipped. Spotify appears to be betting its ad revenue on its ability to serve enough ads that consumers are willing to hear or see.

Now comes word that Facebook is monetizing its messenger app feature with ad inventory that will be available for sale in 2019. Facebook-owned WhatsApp is creating ad inventory for its Status feature, which allows brands to place their campaigns into the messenger service’s most curated content, according to

Similar to Snapchat and Instagram’s Stories function, WhatsApp Statuses (launched in early 2017) let users assemble a selection of images and videos into a short stream that friends can watch. According to a recent comScore Mobile Metrix report, WhatsApp accounted for 37 percent of all time spent on messenger apps in Canada in December 2017. And Pollara research conducted in May of this year showed 33 percent of Canada’s messenger users are using the service, says

Of course, companies like Facebook, Spotify, Twitter and Google are all racing to build the largest audiences possible, slice and dice their user data and make big profits by turning that information into lucrative targeted advertisements on their respective platforms.

The numbers lately for several big social media players aren’t so good — users are walking away (or not signing up), ad revenues are down, and stock market evaluations are sliding.

According to a new study by Media Technology Monitor, which surveyed 4,000 Anglophone Canadians this past spring, the country’s appetite for social media has been consistent, with a slight dip in penetration over the past year.

The survey reveals just how fickle social media platforms can be. For its recent Q2, Snapchat reported a decline in its daily active users across all key global regions, while Twitter also saw its monthly active users go down, notes

According the The Guardian, the battle to keep the attention of the social media set, and especially younger users, has been getting tougher. Earlier this year a tweet from Kylie Jenner, in which Jenner asked 25 million followers “does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore?” wiped $1.3 billion US off the company’s value.

Facebook was the first of the big three social networks to spark concern as $120 billion US was wiped off its value — the biggest ever one-day drop in a company’s market value — when it reported its first-ever decline in users in Europe in July.

Facebook said the 3 million European users who had abandoned it was the knock-on effect of specific factors including the Cambridge Analytica scandal, first reported by the Observer, and privacy changes — but insisted it was not indicative of a wider growth issue, The Guardian reports.

And those “harmless” views? Ask Dr. Judith Oppenheimer, 78, who paid a company $5,000 US to promote a book she had self-published in hopes of securing a mainstream deal. Her video soon had over 58,000 views, delivered through Devumi.

According to company records, Devumi collected more than $1.2 million over three years by selling 196 million YouTube views. “There was no increase in sales and no book deal,” she told The New York Times.

“Soon after I signed the contract I thought, I’ll have no proof of what they do or don’t do. Now it begins to make sense. They can do it in a day.”

As for traditional print media, national newspapers in the U.K. are experiencing the best start to a year in almost a decade, according to The Guardian, thanks to a combination of factors including an advertiser backlash against Facebook and Google.

Print display advertising in the national newspaper market rose 1 percent to £153m in the first quarter of 2018, the first time there has been an increase since the last quarter of 2010. To put this in context, in the 29 quarters since the 2010 rise, more than half of national papers‚ 15‚ have seen double-digit declines in advertising spend of up to 22 percent.

Sounds like fake digital opportunists are finally getting knock-knocked around.

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