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Yesterday, ProPublica published a fascinating expose on the biggest Instagram verification scam ever uncovered. It spanned some 300+ accounts all of which were associated with a couple of opportunistic promoters playing on the hopes and fears of wannabe influencers who, despite striving with all their might, couldn’t legitimately break through into the highest echelon of social media status: The Blue Check. 

Hard to know where to begin with this story… Is it just a sign of the times? A case study in incentives? A Matryoshka doll of digital deceit? All of the above? 

Here’s where it gets especially interesting. One of the tactics employed by the operation, on behalf of a jeweler, a plastic surgeon, an OnlyFans Model, among others, was to exploit streaming services and “create fake musician profiles.” 

You have our attention… 

The article continues, “the songs uploaded to client profiles were often nothing more than basic looping beats or, in at least one case, extended periods of dead air. They credited composers with nonsense names such as “rhusgls stadlhvs” and “kukyush fhehjer.”” 

I’m partial to the work they did on behalf of Dr. Martin Jugenburg , aka DJ Dr. 6ix, because despite the considerable effort that went into faking his DJ street cred, he elected (demanded?) to use as his profile picture, well, just take a look for yourself. Rock & Roll, sir. Rock. And. Roll.

Anyway, I digress. 

We’ve talked before about the incentives to commit streaming fraud. They exist along a continuum ranging from financial gain to an inflated perception of success, or both. Dozens of different tactics may be used to achieve these ends in all cases.  

We thought we’ve seen it all. But this is a first. 

These devious social status seekers were able to use a three-step process to end-around the gatekeepers at Instagram. 

First, they exploited the ease with which anyone can create a fake artist persona and put music onto a mainstream DSP using one of countless independent distributors. 

Second, they targeted their fake music and artist alias with illegitimate streams to drive up the perception of popularity. 

And third, they showed the Instagram team the evidence of their “successful” music career and status as musicians to circumvent the KYC steps of the Instagram verification process. 

It really is like a Russian nesting doll of fraud. 

It’s also yet another example of the incentives that exist to engage in streaming fraud and manipulation. As more social status – real or not – is derived from life online, it stands to reason that this will not be the last case like this that we hear about. “Show me the incentive, and I’ll show you the outcome,” quipped Charlie Munger. Wonder if he’d have seen DJ Dr. 6ix coming? 

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