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Appearing wealthy on social media has become its own industry – Maclean's



“Hey yo, rich boy check,” says a male voice.

A violin plays the first few notes of Luigi Boccherini’s Minuetto as a well-dressed, well-coiffed teenager flashes images from his lavish lifestyle: crystal chandeliers, Lamborghinis, indoor pools.

Welcome to the #richboycheck hashtag on TikTok, a social media platform popular with teenagers, where the apparently wealthy “flex”—slang for showing off your wealth—while others mercilessly mock them. On display are wads of cash, Rolexes and closets stacked with designer sneakers. (Also on trend: satirically writing “GUCCI” onto a piece of paper and sticking it to your hoodie.)

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Whether they are being gawked at, idolized or made fun of, there is a clear fascination with the hyper-connected nouveau riche—the often-youthful Instagrammers who let you see inside their mansions; the YouTubers who let you peer inside their closets.

READ: Has social media become a full-time job for teen girls?

But if Instagram is your lens on the world outside your bedroom or neighbourhood, you are viewing a warped reality. A project called Inequaligram, run by the City University of New York, looked at 7.5 million Instagram posts shared in Manhattan in 2014 and concluded that wealthy neighbourhoods were dramatically over-represented in posts, including those from people who lived in poorer parts of the city.

At a time of soaring income inequality in North America, as more and more wealth is concentrated in the hands of very few, the hive mind seems to have reconfirmed that affluence, however elusive, is the ideal. That it is better to filter out poverty. That the “vagabond shoes” and “little town blues” are easily swapped out for “king of the hill, top of the list,” to channel Frank Sinatra.

Multi-billion-dollar industries are built around the “influence” peddled by popular online figures whose followers have never laid eyes upon them in real life and who almost always appear independently wealthy. Some are explicitly, openly fake: an uncanny-valley “robot” called Lil Miquela has 1.9 million Instagram followers, to whom she recently recommended the Samsung Galaxy S20.

Instagram post from @lilmiquela, promoting Samsung Galaxy (@lilmiquela/instagram)

It’s hardly surprising that people will go to lengths for a slice of that pie. So what does the modern wannabe do? It isn’t hard to imagine the rationale. If everybody who is online broadcasts the best version of themselves, why not go a step further and look like the person you wish you were? Why not drop a few hundred bucks and feel like a Kardashian for half an hour? If you take a picture, it’ll last even longer.

For people who want to take a shortcut, the concept of “fake it ’til you make it” leads to heavy-handed Photoshopping at one end of the spectrum, the temporary rental of luxury goods, services and venues somewhere in the middle and—driven by insecurity, narcissism or gullibility—pyramid schemes and criminal fraud at the other.

READ: The Canadian YouTube star with a day job at the federal government

But a dive into flex culture suggests something deeper is going on. No matter their motives, people are selling some version of themselves. Their brands, put on the altar of a fickle internet, are a reflection of their innermost desires—or at the very least their perceptions of success.

Social media is a hall of funhouse mirrors, an endless glittering Midtown Manhattan. People stretch and distort themselves. They exaggerate and inflate. If they’re not careful, they can have a hard time finding the exit.

“The logic behind it, bro? This faking it until you make it thing? It’s a serious thing, bro. It works, bro, for some reason.”

That’s what YouTuber ChristianAdamG concluded after a social experiment last spring. He tried faking wealth on Instagram by using Photoshop—putting himself in a private jet, driving an exotic car, standing next to celebrities—and, at the end of a week of twists and turns, landed a couple of thousand new followers. His video documenting that experience has more than 5.6 million views.

YouTuber ChristianAdamG posting a before and after of how he faked wealth on his social channel (ChristianAdamG/YouTube)

YouTuber ChristianAdamG posting a before and after of how he faked wealth on his social channel (ChristianAdamG/YouTube)

There’s a cottage industry of how-to guides that share tips for looking rich on the ’gram, like a video titled “10 Ways to Look Expensive on a Budget” (1.5 million views) from a YouTube account called the School of Affluence. Most of the advice doesn’t require you to be a gifted photo editor. Just to be bold. For example, visit open houses to look like you live in a swanky place. When rapper Lil Tay emerged as an internet star at the age of nine, she was branded as a Louis Vuitton-wearing L.A. rich kid. But really, her mother was a Vancouver realtor with access to a penthouse.

Some advice is off-the-wall—take a toilet seat and make it look like you’re sitting by an airplane window. But some of it makes sense. Want to seem like you can afford a Hermes bag? Try one on at the store and take a picture. Just don’t buy it. Want to seem like you dine at high-end restaurants? Post Yelp reviews, with a #richkidsofinstagram hashtag on your posts for good measure.

Those willing to spend can pull off the appearance of luxury without owning a Rolls Royce. In Vancouver a Porsche Convertible will put you back more than $600 for a 24-hour rental. But won’t you feel like a million bucks? There are penthouses on Airbnb. Designer outfits from Rent the Runway. Private jet companies that will let you pose on the leather seats, even if the plane doesn’t take off.

With your foot in the door as a perceived influencer—it helps, by the way, to be beautiful—it is possible to join a strange ecosystem of social media users who collaborate with each other, and with businesses, offline. Influencers attend real events as special celebrity guests, basking in each other’s influential glow, putting on a show for thousands of gawkers whose susceptibility to their glowy influence is almost impossible to measure.

Justin Plosz, 36, hosted an infamous party at a sprawling mansion last June in Anmore, B.C., in the hills above Coquitlam. It was billed as a launch for his public relations business and a birthday party for his friend.

Neighbours and local politicians were incensed after sports cars and helicopters disrupted the town. One of the helicopter pilots was a convicted drug dealer, the Vancouver Sun reported, and an ambulance was called to the party after a suspected drug overdose occurred.

Plosz, a former used-car salesman from Saskatchewan, has no regrets. He got some new clients, and besides, the party paid for itself. “The expenses never really came from me. A lot of the companies were just happy to be there. They showed up, they put up promo tents, they brought beautiful girls, backdrops, everything. So there was not a lot of overhead,” he says.

Another “crazy” mansion party is in the works for Toronto this June. Plosz is branding it the “Exclusive Mansion Helicopter Show 2020” and is inviting Instagram influencers to sell sponsorship space on posts that advertise their attendance. His dreams of bigger and better stunts include “a military tank blowing something up” or “arriving at a crazy boat party in a military submarine.”

Like anyone on Instagram, Plosz, who has the requisite photos with yachts and sports cars, is projecting a highly curated version of himself. “It’s a character. It’s what people want to see, so then that’s what you show them,” he says. “People want to be entertained; they don’t want to be educated.”

Instagram post from @liltay (@liltay/instagram)

Instagram post from @liltay (@liltay/instagram)

If your “character” brings you success, it’s easy to feel positive, Jennifer Shapka says when I tell her about how Plosz sees his own schtick. “I wonder though, had things not worked out, whether he would be feeling so positive, and able to separate himself so comfortably from his online persona.”

Shapka, who teaches developmental psychology at the University of British Columbia, says there’s no academic research yet on why people take pains to flex online. But she thinks it’s a combination of exposure to celebrity lifestyles and the knowledge that ordinary people, like never before, can use online personas as a vehicle for success.

“There are so many YouTube-famous, Instagram-famous people now who were just regular kids who somehow made it. So anyone can do it,” says Shapka. “It’s really infiltrated, this idea that fame and fortune is just a few clicks away.”

It’s also perfectly normal for kids to try out different identities as they grow up, she notes. “But when we add in the technology and we add in social media, you can try out idealized identities of yourself, ones that you think are going to draw friends and enhance your popularity. It is really just sharing what you think people want to see.”

People who lean into inauthentic online identities when they’re young may start to “feel fake all the time,” Shapka adds, “so I would worry about their development in terms of being able to form relationships. All your relationships would feel false. Your sense of self would feel false.”

Eleftherios Soleas, a PhD candidate at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., who is researching motivation, has studied the phenomenon of graduate students using social media to flex—at least, to boast about their success, if not their Chanel outfits. On social media, academic peers see the glass of Prosecco a successful graduate student raises in celebration, not the late nights they spent rewriting articles. And because those onlookers are comparing themselves to someone else’s highly curated best moments, it makes them feel inadequate. “They’re drinking pulpless orange juice,” Soleas says of social media users. “All of the sugar and none of the fibre.”

Trying to appear successful on social media could be a way for people to feel better about themselves, Soleas says. “If you look like you’re doing it, you feel like you’re doing it.” Or they may simply enjoy the rush of positive feelings that can come from likes or comments.

Before launching into guidance on how to find designer look-alike fabrics, YouTuber Mirella Derungs, wearing flawless makeup and a glittering choker, gets right to the heart of it in a video titled “How to Look Rich AF!” (“AF” being web slang for “as f–k”).

“I notice people like to follow people who look rich, who look as if they have their sh– together, who look as if they know what they’re doing in life,” she says earnestly, “who have goals and are working on something. People just like to follow successful people. Because it makes them feel inspired.”

Where’s the blurry line between paying to enjoy a luxurious trip and paying to brand yourself as the type of person who can afford to hang out in hangars and pose in the wilderness with a chopper in the background? Either way, you’re probably taking selfies.

For people aspiring to build careers on the strength of their Instagram popularity in an influencer industry worth some $13 billion annually, that line doesn’t necessarily exist. Plenty of businesses are ready to cash in on the advertising potential.

Over the last three or four years, Sky Helicopters, a heli-adventure and tour company in Vancouver, has partnered with influencers, sometimes offering discounts or freebies in exchange for public recommendations to followers. “It’s hard to put a monetary number to the business that you get from that,” says George Lacny, the company’s marketing director. “It’s just one of many different avenues that any business today has to understand.”

Figuring out who is legitimate (and not just looking for a free vacation) comes down to “good detective work,” says Lacny, like checking for suspicious patterns in likes and comments. That’s important because some aspiring influencers cross into actual fraud.

People can buy fake audiences for their accounts in the range of US$10-15 per 1,000 followers. A 2019 study from CHEQ AI and the University of Baltimore predicted that influencers who bought followers or engagements from bot farms would swindle advertisers out of US$1.5 billion this year.

Fellow internet users do a good job outing and shaming people who are fabricating their wealth. The New York Times reported last fall that Instagram account @BallerBusters was finding and revealing fraudulent influencers, or “#FlexOffenders,” for a large audience. Instagram and TikTok comments are rife with accusations of fakery.

Anna Sorokin returns from a recess during her trial at New York State Supreme Court, in New York, Monday, April 22, 2019. Sorokin, who claimed to be a German heiress, is on trial on grand larceny and theft of services charges. (Richard Drew/CP)

Anna Sorokin returns from a recess during her trial at New York State Supreme Court, in New York, April 22, 2019. (Richard Drew/CP)

But sometimes it becomes a police matter. Anna Sorokin, a.k.a. Anna Delvey, was convicted in New York last year of theft and grand larceny for manipulating banks, hotels, a jet operator, restaurants and individuals out of more than US$200,000 using a fake identity she created online. In one case, she emptied out a hotel minibar, consuming $6 Diet Cokes and asking that the fridge be refilled. In another, she dined-and-dashed on four glasses of wine, two smoked salmon sandwiches and a fruit salad. The Russian immigrant, who was posing as a German heiress, was sentenced to at least four years in prison.

During his opening statement, Sorokin’s lawyer Todd Spodek said there’s a bit of Anna in everyone. “Through her sheer ingenuity, she created the life that she wanted for herself,” he said. “Anna was not content with being a spectator, but wanted to be a participant. Anna didn’t wait for opportunities, Anna created opportunities. Now we can all relate to that.”

Spodek invoked Frank Sinatra and the dream of climbing to the top of the heap: “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere!”

This article appears in print in the April 2020 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline, “Flex culture for rent.” Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.


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US not worried about Iran at World Cup despite social media furor – ESPN



AL RAYYAN, Qatar — US defender Walker Zimmerman said he and his teammates have no problem with the pressure that comes with a must-win game.

The US men’s national team will face Iran at the Al Thumama Stadium on Tuesday, with a spot in the knockout rounds on the line. Iran is one point ahead of the Americans in the standings thanks to Team Melli’s 2-0 win over Wales, making the game a must-win for the Americans, while a draw will likely be enough for Iran to advance.

“Our goal is obviously to win the World Cup, and in order do that, we have to get to the knockout stages,” Zimmerman said. “For us, our knockout game comes one game earlier. You look around at a lot of different teams and groups and they’re all going into their third game, most of them with having to get a result. Whether that’s a tie or win, there’s going to be pressure, there’s going to be an intensity. For us, that’s a win. And we have no problem with that, starting our knockout a little bit earlier.”

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– World Cup 2022: News and features | Schedule | Squads

For all the focus on the US attack going into this World Cup, they have been rock-solid defensively through two games so far, conceding just Gareth Bale‘s penalty in the opener against Wales. But Zimmerman’s fellow center-back, Tim Ream, remains wary of Iran’s attack.

“Obviously there are a couple of very good players up front [including Mehdi] Taremi with his finishing, so he’s one to be aware of,” he said. “But this game is going to be about us and about what we need to do and what we have to do to advance and to win. Being aware of their compact shape and their counter attacking is going to be key.”



Herculez Gomez praises the United States’ performance in their 0-0 draw with England at the FIFA World Cup.

On the flip side, the US have struggled to score goals, with Tim Weah’s tally against Wales the only time they have broken through. The chances have been there, with several notable ones against England, but overall the team has lacked precision in the final third. Set pieces, long a strength for this American side, could play a factor as well.

“There have been a lot of moments in transition where we can be a little bit sharper,” Zimmerman said. “We can pick out that final pass, and hopefully create more. But set pieces is a huge strength for this team. And so, having to go back and look at the plays, watch all of them, see what we can do differently, see what areas we can hit … we want to make sure everyone is doing their job.

“It’s going to come down to the little things on set pieces and so we definitely need to work on those, and make sure that that can be a real strength of ours, because I think we have the personnel to score goals off of set pieces.”



Tim Ream and Walker Zimmerman offer their support to the Iranian people after U.S. Soccer removed social media posts including the Iranian flag without the Islamic Republic symbol.

USSF backs down following uproar over Iran flag

After posting images on social media with altered images of the Iran flag, which had removed the emblem of the Islamic Republic, the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) removed the posts and replaced them with the actual flag after considerable blowback on Sunday.

The Islamic Republic emblem, designed in 1980, is four curves with a sword between them. It represents the Islamic saying “There is no god but God” and honors the date on the Persian calendar when the Islamic Revolution took hold.

The USSF initially posted the images with the center image on the Iran flag removed, though an image on the team’s website still included an unaltered image. A USSF spokesperson said the intention in removing the emblem was to show support for protesters in Iran pushing for more equal treatment of women following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been detained by the country’s morality police. The ensuing protests have seen at least 450 people killed since they started as well as over 18,000 arrested, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, an advocacy group following the demonstrations.

Iran’s government reacted by accusing America of removing the name of God from their national flag. According to the official Iran news agency, Iran threatened to file a protest with the FIFA ethics committee, while a report from The Associated Press also stated that Iran was threatening legal action.



USMNT captain Tyler Adams looks ahead to the USMNT’s decisive final Group B clash with Iran.

A USSF spokesperson said that the decision to alter the Iran flag was made by the federation, in conjunction with experts on Iran. The spokesperson added that neither US manager Gregg Berhalter nor the players had any prior knowledge of the decision, which was confirmed by both Ream and Zimmerman during Sunday’s availability.

Iran’s players have attempted to walk a fine line between supporting the protesters while also not running afoul of the Iranian authorities. Iran’s players didn’t sing the national anthem ahead of their opening game against England, though they did sing the anthem before the second match against Wales. Fans in support of the Iran government also harassed protesters at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium on Friday in the lead-up to the Wales game.

The USSF spokesperson said that the decision to take down the posts was an internal decision and was not due to outside pressure. The spokesman added that the USSF still supports the protesters in Iran, and the maneuver will likely add more fuel to a match already fraught with political overtones. Zimmerman emphasized that the team is focused on Tuesday but remains in support of women’s rights.

“I think it’s such a focused group on the task at hand, but at the same time we empathize, and we are firm believers in women’s rights and support them,” said Zimmerman.

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Media go for drama on Victorian election – and miss the story – The Conversation



For the best part of two weeks, Victorian voters were told by the media that the election on November 26 might result in either a hung parliament or a minority Labor government.

In the event, the Labor government was returned with a reduced but clear majority, the size of which is not yet known, while the Coalition has suffered a crushing defeat.

How could the pre-election coverage have been at once so breathless and misleading?

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The short answer is because of a combination of groupthink and wishful thinking. Unpacking this requires the disclosure of a few trade secrets.

Two days out from polling day, the Herald Sun published an analysis of some focus-group research by RedBridge Group, carried out over the past two years.

Read more:
Attacks on Dan Andrews are part of News Corporation’s long abuse of power

It stated the likeliest scenario on November 26 would see Labor with 43 seats and therefore forced to form a minority government, given it requires 45 seats for a majority. The best-case scenario for Labor was 48 seats and a return to government in its own right.

Earlier in the campaign there had been loose talk in the Herald Sun, based on no particular data, that there could be a hung parliament.

Then in the last week, a Resolve Strategic poll for The Age showed the primary vote for Labor and the Coalition tied at 36%.

It seemed the race was tightening and perhaps a hung parliament or a minority government were real possibilities.

For the media, this is exciting stuff. It suggests drama, suspense, uncertainty – all powerful news values.

So at rival newsdesks, one can imagine an element of consternation. A chief of staff (COS) can be imagined ringing a state political reporter:

COS: “See the Herald Sun has a survey suggesting a minority government?”

Reporter: “Yeah, but some of it’s two years old.”

COS: “Yeah but a minority government. That’s big. I think we have to have something.”

Reporter: “All right. Something.”

COS: “I mean, we’ll look like dills if we don’t have something and it happens.”

Hours later at news conference, where decisions are made on what stories go where, everyone around the table has seen the Herald Sun. At The Age they’ve also seen the ABC pick it up and at the ABC they’ve seen The Age pick it up. Each reinforces the other’s assessment of the story’s credibility.

The chief of staff assures conference that state rounds are on to it. Minority government becomes the story. Its origin in qualitative data, some of which is two years old, stoked up by the Herald Sun as part of its relentless campaign against the Andrews government, is forgotten or overlooked.

Evidence to support the minority-government hypothesis is assembled, especially the Resolve Strategic quantitative data showing the primary votes neck-and-neck.

News conference’s resident Cassandra raises a voice. “What about the two-party-preferred?”

Editor: “What about it?”

Cass: “Every poll we’ve seen so far has Labor ahead by up to ten percentage points. And they’re up to date, not weeks, months or years old.”

Editor: “So you’re saying we should just ignore the RedBridge stuff?”

Cass: “No, but you can’t ignore the two-party-preferred either.”

Editor: “All right. Put in a parachute about the two-party-preferred but lead on the minority government. I mean there could even be a hung parliament. We’ll look like dills if we downplay this.”

Yep. And that’s how you look when wishful thinking and groupthink cloud hard-minded analysis of all the available data. Taken together, the data showed the likeliest (but journalistically least interesting) outcome was the return of the government with a reduced majority.

Read more:
How Dan Andrews pulled off one of the most remarkable victories in modern politics

Not only did the two-party-preferred vote not tighten appreciably, but the primary vote turned out not to be neck-and-neck. This is not hindsight. The discrepancy between the two should have raised a red flag: how could the primary vote be neck-and-neck when the two-party-preferred gap was so large?

In fairness, it was reasonable to suppose this could just be a function of how the minor party and independent preferences would flow, which was unknowable at the time. But this seemed not to enter the discussion about the prospect of a minority government.

And a hard-headed look at the RedBridge focus-group data would have revealed to a dispassionate analyst that once the more far-fetched cases had been eliminated, Labor was likely to end up with somewhere between 47 and 50 seats.

The ABC’s election analyst, Antony Green, is giving Labor 52 seats at this stage, with 68% of the vote counted.

Even more curiously, the hung parliament and minority government possibilities were initially generated by the Herald Sun, which acted throughout as a propaganda arm of the Liberal Party. Why on earth would respectable and usually reliable elements of the media such as The Age and the ABC buy into this nonsense?

The answer is that it is an abiding weakness in newsroom decision-making to prefer the most dramatic possibility, however remote, over the most mundane but strongest probability.

It is a further weakness to wish not to be scooped on the most dramatic possibility, even at the expense of misleading your audience, looking foolish in the aftermath and buying into scenarios created by your most politically partisan and least reliable media rival.

The result was a feverish outburst of speculation in the final week of the campaign that fed into questioning of Andrews about whether he would entertain doing deals with crossbenchers if Labor could not muster the 45 seats necessary to form government in its own right.

He batted it away with his customary dismissiveness, and who could blame him?

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Your Employees Might Be ‘Quiet Quitting’ On Social Media. Here Are The Signs



The word “sentiment” is an important one in technology. It means an interpretation about feelings, attitudes, or the general vibes toward a given situation. For those on social media, sentiment can reveal intentions and future decisions.

As one example among thousands, you can usually pick up the sentiment about a political candidate, product or service, or celebrity on social media. Right now, all eyes are on Elon Musk and what appears to be a very public shift in sentiment toward his ability to lead a company.

Sentiment is all about tone. The words people use in their posts, whether they are critical or positive, and even if they post short comments or elaborate more can reveal a lot. Artificial intelligence does an adequate job of analyzing sentiment but has a long way to go.

Many leaders struggle with this topic. Sentiment is hard to pin down and quantify, which means it is hard to put on a spreadsheet. Managers in business prefer hard data and facts that can be relayed by email or in a Word document; they are not as focused on the superficial, emotional stuff.

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And yet, there’s a lot to learn about employees who post on social media and what they are saying in public spaces like Twitter where it’s easy to follow their posts.

Recently, the concept of “quiet quitting” came into the spotlight, likely because of the pandemic and other factors like the recent economic downturn and inflation.

Your employees might be having a rough period; they might be ready to find greener pastures. People are struggling out there, and when they start thinking about moving on to another role, it’s often hard to predict what they will do.

On social media, it’s perhaps a little easier.

One of the most obvious signs that an employee might be dissatisfied is when the tone of his or her posts turns negative and sour. When an employee suddenly switches from positive messages about the office or their work to a different tone that’s more pessimistic, it might indicate job dissatisfaction.

Here’s one example. Let’s say you normally see posts from an employee about sports or television shows. Maybe you’re used to seeing positive posts about business trends. Then, you start seeing negative posts about inflation, the cost of goods and services, or how salaries are not keeping up with the cost of living. You might want to address the problem, at least by asking how an employee is doing.

Employees tend to share their true feelings on social media, looking for some commiseration. Some even know you might be following their posts, which is why they might be sharing negative thoughts about their job, the office, or their coworkers.

Maybe the employee is trying to get your attention in a subtle way. Usually, it’s the switch in tone and sentiment that’s the dead giveaway.

“Went to the office today and was really bored” might be a post that is meant to air some deeper feelings about the work the employee is doing. Even more direct posts about the management structure, office politics, and products you make are signs the employee might be thinking of quitting at some point, or is already on the hunt.

Have you noticed the sentiment change for someone at your workplace? It might be time to pull up a chair, ask some honest questions, and get to the bottom of the issue.

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