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SOcial Media Blackmail 1 SOcial Media Blackmail 1

Abuse of Power: The Rise of Social Media Blackmail

SOcial Media Blackmail 1

Social media blackmail.

When called anything other than blackmail, it’s something that people normally talk about with a positive sentiment. Ordinary people who get extra “power” by being good at social media making big businesses bend at their wills – it’s the way we want it, “sticking it to The Man.”

It’s also something that falls under the category of “what’s wrong with social media in 2011”.

First, a brief story:

Using “Klout” To Whine And Moan

Klout Score

There was a time when ordinary people would have to break the law or win the lottery to get the attention of the masses. Social media has made it possible for ordinary people to become “famous” on the Internet simply by getting other people to follow them and posting interesting comments or links.

In most ways, this is a good thing, but it has also put feelings of privilege, empowerment, and delusions of grandeur into the minds and hearts of many of these people. The ability to use  some power (real or not) for one’s benefit is not new to social media. The access to that power, however, is.

Sites like Klout allow people to demonstrate their “influence” and thus propel them higher in the minds of businesses. They are, based upon high Klout Scores, influencers. Whether that’s a good thing or not is up for debate, but I regrettably used mine the other day and drifted over to “the dark side”.

When one of my websites went down I started getting the runaround from the hosting company. They were having me jump through what I considered unnecessary hoops to get my site back live. It had a traffic spike from Google because on the day that Tumblr went down, my site was ranked well on Google for the term “Tumblr Down”.

Tumblr was back up and the traffic was going to die, but the hosting company still wanted some other verifications that I had done some technical things in the back end. Despite several email communications, it seemed as if my site would not be up for 48 hours or more.

So, I hit Twitter.

I encouraged friends to Tweet at the offender. I was receiving no replies myself at first, but I continued to press. Then, a friend Tweeted this:


Within 10 minutes an administrator was put on the case, my site was brought back online, and they had cleaned some malicious code that was on a different site on my server. They even cleaned up code in my footer, just for good measure.

At first I was elated, then I felt bad. What happened? I was nice, then rude, then nice again in emails with tech support, but it didn’t work. I was Tweeting and getting retweets directed towards them. It wasn’t until a friend “flexed my muscle” that I had action… instant action. A day’s worth of back and forth culminated in a resolution based on one Tweet and one link to an indicator that I had some sort of power.

I committed social media blackmail.

Why Klout is Good

Klout Techi

Klout and other indicators of social media influence are good because they give ordinary people like me the ability to somehow “rub shoulders” with real celebrities and influencers. It lets others know how “important” you are in the social media world so they know whether or not to take you seriously (which can also be classified as a bad thing).

The algorithm behind Klout looks at different indicators and patterns on Twitter and Facebook and calculates scores based upon these indicators. Compared to most of its competitors, I must admit that Klout does the most realistic job at truly understand social media influence as well as classifying people based upon their activities. Are you a Networker or a Specialist? A Curator or a Pundit? Klout knows.

Many companies are starting to look at a user’s Klout score to find people who can help them through brand advocacy. A friend with a Klout score in the 70s was offered a chance to drive a major luxury manufacturer’s new car for a month if he would talk about it online, good reviews or not, simply because of his score.

Giving regular people the opportunity for some perceived level of influence is opening doors for those who would normally be, well, normal. Businesses are starting to understand that these influencers can often reach a lot of people with their opinions and therefore getting in favorably with them is a good thing.

Why Klout is Bad


Are you this guy? If you have the right Klout score with the proper mix of interactions, you will be classified as such.

Does someone with a Klout classification of “Celebrity” have the ability to sway judgments and decisions of others? We discussed the positives of this where companies give privileges to influencers in exchange for their engagement. There is, unfortunately, a dark side.

Most Klout scores are in the 20s or below. Active social media users are normally in the 30s and 40s. A Klout score over 50 means that you have some influence. 70+ is incredible. 80+ is rare.

Nobody has a Klout score over 90.

Those who have a Klout score over 50 (or other indicators such as a lot of Twitter followers) can often use this to make unnecessary demands on businesses. What company would want someone Tweeting their disgust with a product to 50K Twitter followers?

It has given people the ability to blackmail businesses to get their way. Another friend had expected a discount based upon checking in at Radio Shack on Foursquare. The offer was only open to certain items and said so on the offer, but that didn’t stop him from Tweeting at Radio Shack and letting them know that he was right and they were wrong.

Radio Shack offered him a $50 gift card. The discount would have been $60, so he asked for more.

He received a $100 gift card.

Many would call it good customer service, but here’s the catch. If you follow some of the interactions by Radio Shack, they don’t offer gift cards to solve issues very often. In many cases, there is no visible response (which likely means direct messages or responses from other accounts).

Radio Shack has some of the best Twitter marketing campaigns on the Internet. Adrian Parker has done a phenomenal job at creating relevance for a brand that many thought was getting left behind a couple of years ago. Still, that understanding of social media means they understand Klout. And understanding of Klout leaves them open to social media blackmail.

Social Media Blackmail

Social Media Blackmail 2

The last thing I would want to do is to give a “roadmap” on how social media blackmail works. This entire section of the article has been rewritten a couple of times because, as one friend put it, “Don’t tell them something’s bad then show them how to do it.”

Most companies are smart enough to not fall for scams that are targeted towards getting something out of them for free. They’ve been dealing with similar attempts since before social media and will continue to deal with them when (if) social media dies.

While there are techniques that people use to get what they want, let’s focus on what’s important. Don’t do it. Even if you have influence or are working to attain it, use that “power” responsibly. There are more important things in this world than getting stuff for free.

With great power… never mind. I’m not going there.

  1. Wow….that is a crazy interesting aspect of social media. My klout score is 27, which isn’t bad considering I don’t use Facebook. The host story is depressing because the person had to threaten to have something done. THAT pisses me off. Care to reveal who that host was?

  2. It would seem that you have also touted Klout here in this article, a site which in itself is a bit of using your clout is it not? I started to open a profile thereupon after a recommendation by a twerson, an stopped halfway through, and didn’t complete it because feel it is irrelevant. Two things strike me here:

    A. There may have been no relativity between Cryderja’s Tweet and the Server Co bringing you back up online. It could possibly been a coincidence, and aside from them admitting that the caved to some so called pressure, what you did was hardly blackmail.

    B. Normal everyday citizens have used traditional media any infinite numbers of times, shall we say bajillions of times to get what they want, and they have been considered savvy citizens, not blackmailers.

    So i applaud you for good headline writing, on that score you receive a Sarcastic Sam A- rating. Great eye catching stuff. On the storytelling, a straight A. I liked the Star Wars metaphor of going over to the darkside, however, it was a bit overdramatic, and I think melodramatic as well.

    Yet it is precisely JD that your headline talent and storytelling capabilities are so awesome that I must give you a B- if not a C+ for Thesis/Conclusion of this article. Your conclusions as stated by me above are probably just drawn from your own “delusions” that there was even any social media manipulation whatsover. Absent any real proof, or say a mildly trending topic status on Twitter, I doubt the server company responded b/c of one tweet by Mr. Cryder. It is assuming alot from your readers to believe this story, and how that particular story relates to Klout was never explained in any detail whatsover.

    I found a great storyteller, I follow you already on Twitter, and now I have a place I can go for entertaining perspectives and new twists. Thanks for taking the time to write, I appreciate you, and I appreciate your article. And I thank you for taking the time to make me think.

    I tweet as Samuel_Clemons Best Regards, Sarcastic Sam Editor/Author

  3. Interesting article. I do feel that if you have a large online social backing that you do have influence over web savvy companies. If they are not familiar with social media marketing then you may not have much power no matter what your social media status is. I also like the quote from Han Solo, Starwars – Empire Strikes Back “everyone gets delusions of grandeur” :).

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