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#16: The case of fake IMDb credits
I was casually browsing IMDb when I landed on the page for an upcoming Ranbir Kapoor starrer movie “Animal”. I saw the cast details and I found a face and a name I didn’t recognize.
Finding out about this guy led me to a whole new world of how so many young Indian men from small towns are gaming the system to manufacture their own fake online clout.
So who is this guy? I had not heard of him before and he is named in the “Top cast” category for this movie, alongside Ranbir Kapoor.
I checked his IMDb page and this is what his bio and filmography look like.
According to this, he has acting credits in some big-budget productions. I am beginning to suspect that this could be a case of IMDb vandalism. IMDb allows anyone to add and edit pages. They don’t allow you to see the edit history of a page though like Wikipedia and evidently, the edits are not reviewed effectively either.
I googled this guy.
Wow, so Google has a knowledge panel on him (on the right). There are also links to his music on various music platforms. Okay, so probably he is pretending to be an actor on IMDb but according to his google search results, he is actually a legit musician?
Skimming through the search results, I found biographies written about him on a few websites of doubtful credibility. Like this one on a website called issuewire.com
I looked at his Youtube and other social media profiles and he doesn’t have a lot of followers or any music content on there. I shazamed a couple of his songs and they’re just copies of existing random music mashed together with some audio editing tool like Audacity. Possibly to avoid getting copyright notices. Hmm.
I think I am now beginning to get a clearer picture of what's going on here. He set up a profile on a bunch of different music streaming platforms. Uploaded remixed mash-up of existing songs using some audio editing software. Published biographies and profiles about himself on sites that do not verify submissions. Set up an IMDb page with fake credits. All this to trick google into believing he is a person of eminence.
You must’ve seen Google knowledge panels on the right or on top of the page (on mobile) when you google a famous person. The way it works is it gathers information from various online sources and uses that information to show a “knowledge panel” alongside the search results.
Our guy here has manufactured his stature online by feeding misinformation to the sources that Google uses to construct a knowledge panel. He has fooled the mighty google search algorithms into believing that he is a person of certain notability.
If I am honest, I am impressed by his ingenuity and also slightly worried how easy it is to do this.
No disrespect to him, but I'm not convinced this person thought of this whole scheme on his own. I went back to his IMDb and checked the cast details of some of the movies he is part of. And I found a few dozen profiles with the exact same modus operandi.
For instance, check the cast details of the movie K.G.F: Chapter 2. The ones marked in red boxes are all fake credits that I could identify. A few more are listed in other crew of this movie like Production Management, Sound Department, Music Department, etc. They’re everywhere!
And this is from one movie. If you open the cast/crew details of any recent big Indian movie on IMDb, you will find there are imposters all around. It’s very easy to find them. All of their IMDb bios are written in an identical style.
They all seem to have these things in common:
They’re all part of the cast or crew of a bunch of big-budget Indian movies with no or vague mention of their roles in these movies
They’re all young men in their late teens or early twenties mostly from small northern Indian towns
They’re all musicians or Youtubers with songs listed on all major music streaming platforms
They all have biographies and profiles on the same handful of websites that read exactly the same as if they were all copied from one another
THEY ALL HAVE THEIR OWN GOOGLE KNOWLEDGE PANEL.
These boys seem to have done a number on Google here. I wanted to see how deep this hustle goes.
Most of these guys I found had a biography of themselves like the one in the screenshot above written on “issuewire.com”. It is a website that allows you to submit your own press release which is then distributed to search engines and other news platforms.
When you sign up to this website, they give you one credit to publish your first press release for free. Which would explain why all these guys have one.
So I googled “Indian singer” and limited the search to issuewire.com. And I found hundreds of such biographies. Almost all of them were created within the last year. I opened a few of these pages and all of their biographies are written with a similar template.
Then there is another one filmfreeway.com, a website for filmmakers to submit their films to film festivals globally. But this website has hundreds of profiles and biographies of young Indian men who have nothing to do with filmmaking.
They also have profiles on a few other wiki websites and some random Indian news websites.
They’re doing this because these websites have no verification or review process for submissions but they have a high SEO ranking which tricks the google search algorithm into believing these citations as legit proof of their notability.
I searched for “Bangladeshi/Pakistani/Nepalese singer” too on these websites, and it yielded similar results. It seems this hustle is known in certain circles in all of South Asia.
Because there are so many people using the same MO, it makes me think there has to be some discord server or telegram channel where this hack is getting shared. To use the infamous Delhi Police terminology, is there “a toolkit” that all these boys are using?
I searched Youtube and found a few tutorials explaining how to carry out this entire operation in the minutest detail. For instance, check this playlist from a young Bangladeshi Youtuber explaining (in Bengali) how to get your own Google knowledge panel from scratch in an eight-part video series.
Because I understand Bengali, I skimmed through these videos, and wow, they’ve nailed the process of hacking Google knowledge panels. At one point in the series, he says that other people are charging more than 2.5K rupees for doing this. I can totally imagine some techbros running this business of extorting money from unassuming young and upcoming online creators with a promise of online clout.
It’s hard out there to build your own online presence, especially when there are already so many influencers and creators vying for the same attention. People are trying to use all the tools at their disposal to stand out. And not all of the guys I found are total imposters. Some of them are genuine content creators with a lot of followers on Instagram and Youtube.
Having their own Google Knowledge Panel gives them legitimacy in the eyes of their followers. This is why many of them have links to their Google knowledge panel on their Instagram bios saying they’re verified by Google. This is a way to show their followers that they have credibility.
In a world where your online clout is everything, these young boys have figured out a way to manufacture a fake one for themselves. I laud the effort they’ve put into the whole scheme, but in the end, they are frauds who are misleading their social media followers with information about themselves that’s just not true.
A few months back, there was some noise when a Google knowledge box identified Kannada as the ugliest language in India, prompting outrage in Karnataka. Google had to issue an apology. These knowledge panels are automated. They’re not always accurate and use questionable sources. And as shown by these guys, they can be easily manipulated.
Because of the failure of these platforms, time and again, to effectively review the content that they show us, the onus then falls upon us to perform our own due diligence before believing any goddamn thing we read online. It’s a mad world out there, stay safe!