The Amazon rainforest is burning to the ground at an unprecedented rate, but don’t despair. With just one “like” on Instagram, you can donate $1; for a follow or repost, you can plant a tree. Making a difference is as easy as tapping your thumb — or so a vast network of scammers on the platform would have you believe.
Instagram accounts falsely promising some form of disaster aid in exchange for likes and followers may seem like obvious hoaxes to most users, but they’re working: Some scammers appear to be turning big profits by exploiting people’s goodwill and Instagram’s inability to regulate the hordes of bad actors among its 1 billion users.
The now-defunct Instagram page @PrayForTheAmazonia managed to hoodwink more than 90,000 users into following its account, which promoted a PayPal account and a fraudulent GoFundMe campaign that claimed to have “partnered with” Rainforest Trust, an environmental nonprofit. Rainforest Trust confirmed to HuffPost that it had no affiliation with the campaign, which received hundreds of donations totaling thousands of dollars before it was taken offline.
In a statement, GoFundMe told HuffPost that “no funds were withdrawn, and all donors will be refunded” and noted that the campaign organizer has been permanently banned from the platform.
Similar Instagram pages have claimed without evidence to have partnered with major organizations such as National Geographic and the Amazon Aid Foundation. One such account posted a screenshot purporting to show a direct message from Justin Bieber in which the pop star supposedly agrees to “personally donate $10,000” if the page, which is still active, can “reach 5k followers by the end of this year.”
None of the Instagram account owners HuffPost contacted agreed to be interviewed.
The Amazon scam “violates our policies and we will remove accounts and content that promote it,” said Stephanie Otway, a spokesperson for Facebook, which owns Instagram.
Instagram has become a home to the so-called “Tragedy Hustle” because, in many ways, it provides an ideal ecosystem for scams and disinformation to flourish without any real accountability. Whether they’re after money, clout or both, it takes relatively little effort for anonymous grifters to create legitimate-looking philanthropic accounts at times when people are seeking ways to support crisis victims, aid hungry refugees or fight raging wildfires.
Opportunistic scammers will sometimes set up disaster relief pages with strategic hashtags and promotional tactics to lure in big audiences at just the right moment, then eventually pivot the accounts to personal or business profiles by changing the usernames and deleting the previous posts, while retaining the followings they deceptively accumulated. If the pages get taken down, there’s often nothing stopping them from starting over — which is exactly what the individual (or individuals) behind @PrayForTheAmazonia appears to have done.
Soon after it disappeared, @CureAmazonia popped up and started promoting the same GoFundMe campaign. It was taken offline at more than 10,000 followers, but it surely won’t be long before another account takes its place. For many large social media companies, deplatforming scammers is a cat-and-mouse game with no end in sight.
Instagram has become one of the major vehicles for spreading disinformation, according to a new report from the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, which points to a “lack of clear strategy for addressing the serious problems inherent in Instagram’s operating model.” Under growing pressure, the tech giant has taken steps to crack down on problematic accounts and to arm users with tools to identify suspicious activity.
Business profiles on the site are required to publicly list their emails or phone numbers, for example, and users can check those accounts’ username histories. This can come in handy when evaluating the legitimacy of proclaimed aid pages. Some of the Amazon scam accounts used to operate under usernames relating to sports news, vegan diets, and other things that are completely unrelated to the Amazon.
But of course, not all of Instagram’s users are familiar with such tools, and the platform is still riddled with successful scammers and their unwitting victims.
Some Instagram influencers have found ways to capitalize on the Amazon #activism, too, through self-promotion cloaked as genuine environmental concern. By using selective hashtags such as #SaveTheAmazon, they can divert masses of people searching for Amazon news to their own faux-outrage content.
Glasgow-based fashion blogger Sheri Scott was widely criticized after posting a photo of herself donning a number of tagged designer brands along with a caption accusing the media of neglecting the fires, Scottish news outlets reported. This kind of sanctimonious scolding — shaming others for their apparent ignorance, silence or inaction surrounding a crisis — has become a sort of trend on social media and a way to effectively pat oneself on the back while getting likes for speaking out.
“The Amazon Rainforest has been burning for 3 weeks straight and we’re only finding out about it now. Even #SaveSpidermanFromSony has been reported more by the media than #PrayforAmazonia and it’s absolutely shameful,” read Scott’s post, which included the hashtags #OutfitIdeas and #OrangeHair. “The world is pretty f**ked up right now and we all need to do what we can to make it right.” (Scott later edited her caption, apologizing for the “tone deaf” hashtags, then removed the post altogether.)
Searching the hashtag #PrayForAmazonia on Instagram yields a collection of informative rainforest-related posts interspersed with pouty selfies, woodland photoshoots and a jarring number of wildfire-inspired makeup looks (with the cosmetic products prominently tagged). Adding a popular hashtag to a post — even if it’s unrelated to the content itself — can increase the post’s likelihood of being featured in Instagram’s public “Explore Tab,” which means increased exposure and ultimately, more likes. Influencers know this well.
We’ve seen these kinds of things before.
After the release of HBO’s drama miniseries “Chernobyl” in May, Instagram models showed up in Pripyat to take broody portraits at the site of the city’s catastrophic nuclear disaster. In June, Instagram accounts racked up massive followings by making empty promises to deliver meals to starving children in crisis-torn Sudan. And in July, when a 17-year-old girl’s gruesome murder went viral on social media, grifters swiftly flooded her Instagram profile with comments feigning sympathy while promising to share the (nonexistent) video of her killing in exchange for follows and likes.
On Instagram, no tragedy is too dire to exploit. And if it’s possible to spin a crisis into dollars or followers on the platform, scammers will find a way to do it.
This story has been updated with comment from GoFundMe.
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These ten enterprise M&A deals totaled over $40B in 2019
It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion. This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would…
It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion.
This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would have been good for third place last year behind IBM’s mega deal plucking Red Hat for $34 billion and Broadcom grabbing CA Technologies for $18.8 billion.
Contributing to this year’s quieter activity was the fact that several typically acquisitive companies — Adobe, Oracle and IBM — stayed mostly on the sidelines after big investments last year. It’s not unusual for companies to take a go-slow approach after a big expenditure year. Adobe and Oracle bought just two companies each with neither revealing the prices. IBM didn’t buy any.
Microsoft didn’t show up on this year’s list either, but still managed to pick up eight new companies. It was just that none was large enough to make the list (or even for them to publicly reveal the prices). When a publicly traded company doesn’t reveal the price, it usually means that it didn’t reach the threshold of being material to the company’s results.
As always, just because you buy it doesn’t mean it’s always going to integrate smoothly or well, and we won’t know about the success or failure of these transactions for some years to come. For now, we can only look at the deals themselves.
Jumia, DHL, and Alibaba will face off in African ecommerce 2.0
The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom. Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition. To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and…
The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom.
Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition.
To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and opportunity, perhaps more than any other market in the world. Across major African economies, many of the requisites for online retail — internet access, digital payment adoption, and 3PL delivery options — have been severely lacking.
Still, startups jumped into this market for the chance to digitize a share of Africa’s fast growing consumer spending, expected to top $2 billion by 2025.
African e-commerce 2.0 will include some old and new players, play out across more countries, place more priority on internet services, and see the entry of China.
But before highlighting several things to look out for in the future of digital-retail on the continent, a look back is beneficial.
Jumia vs. Konga
The early years for development of African online shopping largely played out in Nigeria (and to some extent South Africa). Anyone who visited Nigeria from 2012 to 2016 likely saw evidence of one of the continent’s early e-commerce showdowns. Nigeria had its own Coke vs. Pepsi-like duel — a race between ventures Konga and Jumia to out-advertise and out-discount each other in a quest to scale online shopping in Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation.
Traveling in Lagos traffic, large billboards for each startup faced off across the skyline, as their delivery motorcycles buzzed between stopped cars.
Covering each company early on, it appeared a battle of VC attrition. The challenge: who could continue to raise enough capital to absorb the losses of simultaneously capturing and creating an e-commerce market in notoriously difficult conditions.
In addition to the aforementioned challenges, Nigeria also had (and continues to have) shoddy electricity.
Both Konga — founded by Nigerian Sim Shagaya — and Jumia — originally founded by two Nigerians and two Frenchman — were forced to burn capital building fulfillment operations most e-commerce startups source to third parties.
That included their own delivery and payment services (KongaPay and JumiaPay). In addition to sales of goods from mobile-phones to diapers, both startups also began experimenting with verticals for internet based services, such as food-delivery and classifieds.
While Jumia and Konga were competing in Nigeria, there was another VC driven race for e-commerce playing out in South Africa — the continent’s second largest and most advanced economy.
E-tailers Takealot and Kalahari had been jockeying for market share since 2011 after raising capital in the hundreds of millions of dollars from investors Naspers and U.S. fund Tiger Global Management.
So how did things turn out in West and Southern Africa? In 2014, the lead investor of a flailing Kalahari — Naspers — facilitated a merger with Takealot (that was more of an acquisition). They nixed the Kalahari brand in 2016 and bought out Takelot’s largest investor, Tiger Global, in 2018. Takealot is now South Africa’s leading e-commerce site by market share, but only operates in one country.
In Nigeria, by 2016 Jumia had outpaced its rival Konga in Alexa ratings (6 vs 14), while out-raising Konga (with backing of Goldman Sachs) to become Africa’s first VC backed, startup unicorn. By early 2018, Konga was purchased in a distressed acquisition and faded away as a competitor to Jumia.
Jumia went on to expand online goods and services verticals into 14 Africa countries (though it recently exited a few) and in April 2019 raised over $200 million in an NYSE IPO — the first on a major exchange for a VC-backed startup operating in Africa.
Jumia’s had bumpy road since going public — losing significant share-value after a short-sell attack earlier in 2019 — but the continent’s leading e-commerce company still has heap of capital and generates $100 million in revenues (even with losses).
Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate
Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between. It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in…
Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.
It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in this coming year’s technology exit market. Expect the NYSE and Nasdaq to compete for the listing, bankers to queue to take part, and endless media coverage.
Given that that’s ahead, we’re going to take periodic looks at Airbnb as we tick closer to its eventual public market debut. And that means that this morning we’re looking back through time to see how fast the company has grown by using a quirky data point.
Airbnb releases a regular tally of its expected “guest stays” for New Year’s Eve each year, including 2019. We can therefore look back in time, tracking how quickly (or not) Airbnb’s New Year Eve guest tally has risen. This exercise will provide a loose, but fun proxy for the company’s growth as a whole.
Before we look into the figures themselves, keep in mind that we are looking at a guest figure which is at best a proxy for revenue. We don’t know the revenue mix of the guest stays, for example, meaning that Airbnb could have seen a 10% drop in per-guest revenue this New Year’s Eve — even with more guest stays — and we’d have no idea.
So, the cliche about grains of salt and taking, please.
But as more guests tends to mean more rentals which points towards more revenue, the New Year’s Eve figures are useful as we work to understand how quickly Airbnb is growing now compared to how fast it grew in the past. The faster the company is expanding today, the more it’s worth. And given recent news that the company has ditched profitability in favor of boosting its sales and marketing spend (leading to sharp, regular deficits in its quarterly results), how fast Airbnb can grow through higher spend is a key question for the highly-backed, San Francisco-based private company.
- 2009: 1,400
- 2010: 6,000 (+329%)
- 2011: 3,1000 (+417%)
- 2012: 108,000 (248%)
- 2013: 250,000 (+131%)
- 2014: 540,000 (+116%)
- 2015: 1,100,000 (+104%)
- 2016: 2,000,000 (+82%)
- 2017: 3,000,000 (+50%)
- 2018: 3,700,000 (+23%)
- 2019: 4,500,000 (+22%)
In chart form, that looks like this:
Let’s talk about a few things that stand out. First is that the company’s growth rate managed to stay over 100% for as long as it did. In case you’re a SaaS fan, what Airbnb pulled off in its early years (again, using this fun proxy for revenue growth) was far better than a triple-triple-double-double-double.
Next, the company’s growth rate in percentage terms has slowed dramatically, including in 2019. At the same time the firm managed to re-accelerate its gross guest growth in 2019. In numerical terms, Airbnb added 1,000,000 New Year’s Eve guest stays in 2017, 700,000 in 2018, and 800,000 in 2019. So 2019’s gross adds was not a record, but it was a better result than its year-ago tally.
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