HBO documentary exposes how easy it is for influencers to buy their way to social media fame

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Scene from Fake Famous

Don’t believe everything you see on Instagram. This is Dominique Druckman at a photo shoot that makes it look like she’s relaxing at a spa. 

HBO

Dominique Druckman reclines on a tuft of red and white rose petals, her eyes closed, her skin dewy, a tranquil smile tugging at the corners of her perfectly tinted pink lips.  

According to her Instagram tag, Druckman is recharging at a Hollywood spa, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. She’s in a backyard, awkwardly propped onto a small plastic kiddie pool filled with flowers. A photographer stands over her, angling for the perfect shot. The kind that makes Druckman’s followers believe she’s living a luxurious life they could also have … if they just buy the expensive sunglasses and sneakers she’s hawking.

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At an audition for Fake Famous, Chris Bailey tries to show off his influencer potential. 

HBO

Thing is, many of her followers aren’t real people. They’re bots

Druckman knows this. She’s part of a social experiment chronicled in the compelling new HBO documentary Fake Famous, written and directed by veteran technology journalist Nick Bilton. 

For the film — his first — Bilton attempts to turn Druckman and two other LA residents with relatively small Instagram followings into social media influencers by purchasing an army of fake followers and bots to “engage” with their posts. The three were chosen from around 4,000 people who responded to a casting call asking one simple question: “Do you want to be famous?”  

The documentary, on HBO now, slot online feels plodding at times (or maybe it’s just tedious spending time with fame chasers), but it explores intriguing questions for our influencer-influenced times. Will people look at the trio differently as their follower counts rise? Will their lives change for the better? And in a world where numbers equal fame, what is the true nature (and cost) of fame anyway? 

The questions are worth exploring for anyone who’s felt a tinge of envy scrolling through feeds of glamorous getaways and perfectly made-up miens. At least one of the newly anointed influencers discovers a soaring follower count isn’t good for his mental health.