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12 - Good Enough Imposters: The Market for Instagram Followers in Indonesia and Beyond

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 December 2021

Steve Woolgar
Affiliation:
Linköpings universitet, Sweden
Else Vogel
Affiliation:
Linköpings universitet, Sweden
David Moats
Affiliation:
Linköpings universitet, Sweden
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Summary

Introduction

Instagram is a social media platform founded in 2010 and owned by Facebook (Leaver et al, 2020). It allows users to share ‘posts’ (photos and videos with accompanying text) which are then seen by their ‘followers’ (users that have chosen to be notified when a particular account posts new content). With more than one billion users, Instagram has become a major commercial force, not least as the main platform for the rise of ‘social media influencers’ (Khamis et al, 2017) – a term for popular users who are often paid by brands to feature their products in posts – and increasingly important for politicians (Lalancette and Raynauld, 2019). One influential journalist writes that the Instagram app ‘has become a celebrity-making machine the likes of which the world has never seen’ (Frier, 2020: xvii). In line with this, Instagram is at the heart of what has been called the ‘demotic turn’ across the global media landscape, as ‘ordinary’ people have become increasingly visible – initially through reality television shows such as Big Brother, and more recently through social media (Khamis et al, 2017). This has come to form the basis for what has been termed ‘microcelebrity’, a ‘mind-set and a collection of self-presentation practices endemic in social media, in which users strategically formulate a profile, reach out to followers, and reveal personal information to increase attention and thus improve their online status’ (Marwick, 2015: 138; see also Senft, 2008: 25).

Instagram has shaped a more specific form of microcelebrity, which Marwick calls ‘Instafame’, precisely defined as ‘the condition of having a relatively great number of followers on the app’ (2015: 137). Through Instagram and related social media platforms, such metrics – which are publicly listed – have become critical to contemporary forms of celebrity and the broader attention economy in which what is valued is the ability to gather and maintain an interested audience (Fairchild, 2007). Indeed, these metrics, along with the monetary rewards and perks associated with them, ‘encourage people to actively foster an audience’ (Marwick, 2015: 140, see also Gerlitz and Helmond, 2013). The generalized ability to engage with a public has thus dramatically expanded to include not only traditional celebrities (film stars and athletes), but also the broader field of microcelebrities (who may only be famous for being on Instagram).

Type
Chapter
Information
The Imposter as Social Theory
Thinking with Gatecrashers, Cheats and Charlatans
, pp. 269 - 292
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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