How easy it is to become Internet famous

Want to set up a famous Internet identity? All it takes is $68 and an afternoon. Here's what it means.
Written by Tyler Falk, Contributor on

Tens of thousands of followers on Twitter (on a verified account, no less), a personal website listing accomplishments and future endeavors, and, of course, a Wikipedia page. All of these are signifiers of a person who has made it in the digital world.

But things in the digital world aren't always what they seem.

Kevin Ashton made that clear, writing for Quartz, when on a recent afternoon he spent two hours and $68 to create a seemingly Internet-famous identity, Santiago Swallow. It didn't take much: $50 bought him a 90,000 followers on Twitter, $18 got a WordPress site up and running, and the addition of content with some lies about being a TED/SXSW star and an expert in the field of the "imaginary self," and voilà an Internet star is born. (Ashton describes his method for creating Swallow in more detail here.)

Ashton's point, in part, is that we need to be careful how much credibility we give to digital identity.

On social media, it is easy to mistake popularity for credibility, and that is exactly what the fakers are hoping for. To most people, a Twitter account with tens of thousands of followers is an easy-to-read indication of personal success and good reputation, a little like hundreds of good reviews on Yelp or a long line outside a restaurant. Looking online to learn more about somebody has become a reflex—blind daters do it, potential employers do it, potential customers do it.

Given the messy reality of digital identity, this is an especially important point for businesses and organizations putting such an emphasis on the "Twitter resume." Because that job that only accepted applicants with 1,000+ followers? Santiago Swallow would have been all over it.

How to become internet famous for $68 [Quartz]

Image: Twitter/@SwallowSantiago

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards