Have you ever wondered how some social apps manage to get millions of users in a short time? Well, it turns out that some of them are not as genuine as they seem. In this article, I’ll reveal how IRL, a popular social app that claimed to have 20 million users, was actually using bots and inactive accounts to inflate its numbers. I’ll also show you what you can learn from this case and how to avoid falling for such scams in the future.
What is IRL and what did it do wrong?
IRL launched its group messaging app in 2016 to inspire users to hang out “in real life” (that’s what IRL stands for). The app aimed at Gen Zs who are said to be using the big social media apps less than the older generations. The app allowed users to create and join events, invite friends, chat with other attendees, and discover new activities.
The app raised more than $200 million in venture capital from investors like SoftBank, Founders Fund, and Goodwater Capital. It also boasted a $1.17 billion valuation and 20 million monthly active users. But, an internal probe by IRL’s board of directors revealed that 95% of the app’s claimed users were “fake or from bots,” The Information first broke the news.
How did IRL use fake profiles to boost its numbers?
According to The Information, IRL used several deceptive tactics to create fake profiles and events on its platform. Some of these tactics included:
- Creating fake profiles using photos and names of real people scraped from other social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
- Using these fake profiles to create events and invite other users, creating a false sense of popularity and activity on the app.
- Manipulating its app store ratings and reviews by incentivizing users to give positive feedback or by using bots to post fake reviews.
- Violating Apple’s guidelines and privacy policies by accessing users’ contacts without their permission and sending them spam messages inviting them to join the app.
- Misleading investors and advertisers by inflating its user base and engagement metrics.
How was IRL exposed and what happened next?
IRL’s troubles started when some of its employees raised questions about the authenticity of its user base. In response, the company laid off 25% of its staff, or around 25 employees, in late 2022. Around the same time, the SEC opened an inquiry into the company for violating securities laws and misleading investors.
In April 2023, a former worker sued IRL, claiming that the company’s user base was hugely boosted by fake accounts and that they were punished for openly talking about it. The lawsuit also claimed that IRL’s CEO and co-founder Abraham Shafi had a history of fraud and misconduct at his previous ventures.
By June 2023, IRL’s board of directors benched Shafi and named an interim CEO. The board also conducted an internal investigation that confirmed the allegations of fake users and bots. As a result, IRL announced that it was shutting down its app and returning its capital to shareholders.
What can you learn from this case and how can you avoid falling for such scams in the future?
IRL’s case is a cautionary tale for both users and creators of social apps. Here are some lessons you can learn from it:
- Be careful and critical when using social apps and platforms. You should always check the credibility and reputation of the app before downloading it, read the reviews and ratings carefully, and protect your personal information and privacy.
- Don’t trust everything you see online. Some social apps may use fake profiles, bots, or other tricks to create a false impression of popularity or activity. You should always verify the authenticity of the profiles, events, or messages you encounter on these apps.
- Don’t fall for incentives or rewards that seem too good to be true. Some social apps may offer you money, gifts, or other benefits to join them, rate them positively, or invite your friends. These may be signs of a scam or a scheme to manipulate you or your contacts.
- Don’t invest in or advertise on social apps without doing your due diligence. Some social apps may inflate their user base or engagement metrics to attract investors or advertisers. You should always do your own research and analysis before putting your money or your brand on these apps.
In conclusion, IRL was a social app that used fake profiles and deceptive tactics to attract and retain users. This case shows how important it is to be careful and critical when using social apps and platforms. You should always check the credibility and reputation of the app before downloading it, read the reviews and ratings carefully, and protect your personal information and privacy. If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your friends and let me know what you think in the comments below. And if you want to learn more about how to spot and avoid fake social apps, sign up for my free newsletter today.