Inside a Million-Dollar Instagram Verification Scheme

Reader Rob D. sent me this extraordinary article by Craig Silverman and Bianca Fortis of ProPublica:

The coveted blue tick can be difficult to obtain and is supposed to assure that anyone who bears one is who they claim to be. A ProPublica investigation determined that Jugenburg’s dubious alter ego was created as part of what appears to be the largest Instagram account verification scheme ever uncovered. With a generous greasing of cash, the operation transformed hundreds of clients into musical artists in an attempt to trick Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, into verifying their accounts and hopefully paving the way to lucrative endorsements and a coveted social status.

Since at least 2021, at least hundreds of people — including jewelers, crypto entrepreneurs, OnlyFans models and reality show TV stars — were clients of a scheme to get improperly verified as musicians on Instagram, according to the investigation’s findings and information from Meta.

The scam required the creation of enough veneer of success to trick Meta’s verification deciders into giving these jokers a badge. It is hilarious to reflect on how successful someone would have to be to afford these services — tens of thousands of dollars, according to ProPublica’s reporting — yet still feel insufficiently notable without a blue badge. I guess fake clout is still clout until it all falls apart.