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Attack of the Fake Medium Accounts

I’m being followed by the Stepford Wives.

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

Here’s something Medium Staff might be interested in. In the last 12 hours I have nine new followers. Great! I love new followers. Except there was something strange about these particular followers:

  • All have basic American female names.
  • All have profile photos of young-to-middle-aged white women. A search on tineye.com reveals that some of these photos came from stock image services or website templates.
  • None have profile descriptions.
  • None are medium members.
  • All are following hundreds of people but have tens of followers.
  • All have their first article posted after March 1, 2019.
  • Their post headlines show the kind of bland self-help pap that represents the worst of medium, with titles like “How to Start Feeling Confident, Worthy, and ‘Enough’,” and “How to Get Out of Your Own Way and Let Your Life Shine.”
  • None of their posts have subtitles.
  • All their posts have a quotation as the first line, consisting of a quasi-profound sentence in quotation marks, with the source of the quote set off using a tilde (~). The Like this : “I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.” ~Hafiz of Shiraz
  • Searching the web for full sentences taken from random spots within their articles reveals the same content posted on tinybuddha.com, but credited to different author names. Like this, or this, or this.

In other words, these have all the markings of fake accounts. They look innocuous, if rather bland, when seen individually, but taken in aggregate, they look suspiciously homogeneous. Having nine such accounts follow me in a day is super weird.

I’m trying to think of a name for this group. The Basic Bot Brigade? The Stepford Wives? The Medium Mules? I have decided not to list the accounts here because I don’t want to drive views to them, but the signature should be recognizable. Medium Staff should have the resources to look at my recent followers and see what I’m talking about.

What’s going on here?

These accounts have all the markings of a content farm. Content farms have normally been used in the click-based advertising world to generate search-engine views and clicks.

But what’s the purpose? Here are some hypotheses that are hard or impossible for me to verify:

  1. These are partner accounts — their posts are paywalled — and they all share the same bank account and they’re just applying content farming to the Medium partner program.
  2. This is the beginning of a “marketing service” for Medium posts that will offer claps-for-hire or followers-for-hire. In order for such a service to work, the accounts need to look believable and have a certain amount of cred, which they would establish by following people and posting stories. A surprising number of people have clapped for their idiotic stories, BTW.

What next?

I’m not sure. First, block all the accounts, but I’m not looking forward to it, just because Medium’s click-heavy UI will means I will have to click into each user’s profile page in turn and block it then go find the next one and block it. For the current nine bots, I expect like 100 clicks.

Beyond that, though Medium Engineering gets on this and finds a way to shut this crap down across the platform. It devalues the whole experience.

fiction author • computer scientist • sometime ai researcher • rock guitarist • jp.fosterson@gmail.com

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