The Dotan Case: can artists actually fake it until they make it on social media?

Dotan

Dotan was the topic of discussion over the weekend in the music industry and on social media in the Netherlands. Ironically, the reason for the Dutch singer-songwriter to be a trending topic, was the false methods he used to try and become a trending topic. Still following!? Well, this is what went down. Dutch news paper De Volkskrant did research on the fan following of the pop artist and found out that his team created an army of at least 140 fake accounts (they have emails to prove that Dotan was the one who asked for the profiles to be created with a list of names) on social media to promote his music and reputation.

Now this undoubtedly makes him look foolish, but is hardly the worst online crime these days. However, these fake accounts, according to De Volkskrant, were used to spread false stories about Dotan with hopes of him making the news or going viral. This leaves us with a lot of questions: Is this a common practice for artists on social media these days? What are acceptable methods of marketing on social media? What ethics can we expect from our pop stars when promoting themselves?

The story of Dotan goes all the way back to 2011 when he released his debut album and hardly anyone in the Netherlands knew who he was. De Volkskrant explains that the first ‘troll accounts’, as they like to call it, originate from that year. So picture a hard working singer-songwriter who cannot seem to get a break and comes up with the idea of creating some accounts to interact with his own posts, in order to make it look like there is an online conversation going on about him (update: he has now admitted in a Facebook video and tv interview that he was responsible for starting this). More comments on your post mean more people are going to see your post, which could potentially result in actual, real people commenting too! So the fake accounts here are used as conversation starters. Admitted, not very chique, but looking at the stage of his careercxxx, sort of understandable.

That is not where it stopped though. Dotan released a second album that did a whole lot better commercially and thanks to some huge radio hits, he became one of the biggest names in the Dutch music industry. At the end of 2015, he performed in Ziggo Dome, one of the biggest concert venues in Amsterdam. And this is where things get really ugly. After the show, one of the now exposed fake accounts posted a story in the comment section of Dotan’s Facebook page about how the singer came to see the fan’s terminally ill brother after the show. In response to De Volkskrant, Dotan admits now that this encounter never happened and that he was not aware of this story being picked up by news media, because he was on a holiday. A quick look at his social media pages however make clear that Dotan is in close contact with his fans (and the trolls) so the idea of him not knowing this story about himself was going around, is unlikely to say the least (update: Dotan regrets that he did not delete the fake story, but still says he was not the one making it up).

Last summer a similar, yet less infuriating, situation happened when Dotan shared on social media that he was sitting next to a fan who was listening to his music during a flight. He shared the ‘letter’ the lady sent him after he left her a note when exiting the plane on social media, a story that was going viral internationally earlier this week. There is no official word yet on if this encounter did actually happen, but judging Dotan’s social media behaviour, it seems quite unlikely. If it wasn’t for De Volkskrant starting their research after they had their doubts about this story, he would not have been exposed and would at this very moment have been enjoying the attention of new international listeners who looked up his music after reading about the plane adventure. So it does actually work (if you don’t get caught)!

I think we can all agree that making up a moving encounter with a leukemia patient is absolutely wrong on so many levels. The fact that this happened at a point where he already ‘made it’, makes it even worse, as he did not ‘need’ it that badly anymore. But what is acceptable? Of course in order to create believable fake profiles, you need to use other peoples’ pictures, which is basically stealing an identity, but the act of starting a conversation to gain more interaction and therefore attention for a new release, might not be an uncommon practice for other artists as well. Let us not forget that although Dotan’s army of fake fan accounts might have helped him get more exposure online, for as far as I know, those thousands of people that showed up at his concerts weren’t all cyborgs and I am pretty sure he did not buy all these albums himself. It is not a case of faking a career, but one of using questionable methods to create a conversation around yourself to boost your career.

What is going to happen if more artists are being exposed for using similar methods? Should we to some extend accept that everyone on social media alters the truth to create the most favourable light for themselves? The biggest artists on the planet have used social media strategies and recorded fan interactions to make it to where they are now and sometimes an already existing fanbase does the work for them (think about trending hashtags on Twitter when Bieber or One Direction dropped a new tune). There is even dozens of examples of labels and artists buying their own releases to chart higher.

While the Dotan case raises a lot of questions about what is acceptable in terms of social media marketing, the reactions on social media after he got exposed at least make clear what is not. In the online world, where fans get to know their pop stars behind the scenes, authenticity is essential. Now that Dotan has fallen of his pedestal and is seen as a narcissist and pathological liar, it is hard to imagine how he will ever overcome this within a career as a pop star. While most of us will realize that the way artists present themselves on their social media is an edited reality, we still want to believe in their authenticity. Dotan lost all credibility in this sense and his case should be a warning for both aspiring and established artists. We can accept our pop personas being scripted, but not completely made up.

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