Rise of the 'swind-fluencers' in the age of hyperreality

Nov 10, 2023
Rise of the 'swind-fluencers' in the age of hyperreality
The aftermath of the Dilan-Engin Polat scandal has ignited vibrant discussions surrounding 'fraudulent influencers,' reawakening the imperative to probe into wealth that contradicts the organic rhythm of life

n the age of social media’s reign, one cannot help but notice a world where dining in chic restaurants, donning brand-name clothing and indulging in expensive skin care and beauty products seem to be the norm, with lavish vacations in opulent hotels and venues being just another casual affair. This life may seem unattainable for the average salaried worker.

As I paint this picture, the concept of “influencer” likely comes to mind. Influencer marketing is an undeniable reality we all must reckon with.

Yet, my true focus here is on a distinct breed of influencers. They project lives of opulence while engaging in schemes and fraudulent activities. These individuals don’t hesitate to showcase this artificial lifestyle to their millions of followers.

In the realm of social media, the line between reality and illusion can blur and some influencers employ deceitful tactics to maintain an image of prosperity that may not align with reality. This juxtaposition of ostentation and artifice adds an intriguing layer to the complex tapestry of social media culture.

We’ve heard and seen plenty of examples of this phenomenon abroad; not all influencers lead genuine lives. Some engage in scheming and fraudulent activities, portraying a facade of luxury that is far from reality. For instance, the notorious case of Anna Sorokin, a Russian-born con artist who, under the alias Anna Delvey, settled in the United States in 2016, assumed the role of an heiress, supported by an impressive “social CV,” and swindled hotels and banks out of thousands of dollars. Her life even inspired a movie adaptation, revealing the darker side of influencer culture.

In my opinion, referring to these individuals as mere influencers may not be entirely accurate. Are they fraudsters? To some extent, yes. However, when the essence of the wrongdoing is intricately entwined with both swindling and being an influencer, the term “swind-fluencer,” coined by my dear husband, seems to capture the essence effectively.

The curious case of Polats
If you reside in Türkiye or follow Turkish headlines, the Dilan-Engin Polat couple, who have been making headlines recently, will likely come to mind.

The Polat couple boasts millions of followers across multiple social platforms. Dilan Polat, who owns a beauty salon and a cosmetic brand, did not rise to social media stardom solely through her own products, of course.

The couple has gained considerable recognition within the Turkish social media scene due to their frequent posts showcasing their extravagant lifestyle. They rented a private jet for their anniversary, featured on a Times Square billboard for Dilan’s birthday and even sipped coffee from gold-rimmed cups in their posts.

The luxury and extravagance in these videos were too attention-grabbing to overlook. It presented a world that ordinary white and blue-collar individuals like us could only dream of. Eventually, it garnered too much attention and the decision was made to strip away the “shiny veneer.”

What lay beneath the sheen? Allegations of forgery, money laundering, credit card fraud, illegal gambling and so on. It is worth noting that some of these charges are still pending, but it is essential to mention that the couple has been arrested. This case has gained significant attention, partly due to being one of the most sensational “swind-fluencer” incidents in Türkiye following the Twitch raid from two years ago.

Furthermore, some argue that the Polats are just the tip of the iceberg, pointing out other influencers.

Take Banu Parlak, who owns a beauty salon and has thousands of followers on social media. Recently, Parlak was taken into custody over allegations of cooperative fraud.

Or the family known recently as “Tayyargiller” in Turkish on social media...

Previously known as Twitter, X witnessed another social media sensation when Attorney Feyza Altun drew attention to social media influencer Özlem Öz and her husband, Tayyar Öz, claiming that they were imitating the Polat couple. Altun highlighted the luxurious details in the posts of the suddenly wealthy couple, stating, “Do the Tayyar family seem familiar to you? They live in poolside villas and drive Range Rovers, all while selling shoddy creams and baby toothpaste...”

Twitch scandal
Utilizing social media platforms and the fame garnered within them for criminal purposes is a far from uncommon occurrence. It’s evident that e-fraud is continually evolving and becoming more sophisticated with each passing day.

Two years ago, a huge and well-organized money laundering scheme on Turkish Twitch, where people can financially support their favorite streamers, surfaced on the well-established online forum frmtr.com. Initially brought to light by renowned Twitch streamer Ahmet “Jahrein” Sonuç, it didn’t initially draw much public attention.

However, when two forum users obtained lists from the Twitch leak of Oct. 6, 2021, revealing the involvement of prominent Turkish Twitch stars, including EasterGamersTV, bacyx, lurzy0y0, tecoNe, Brasco, Lahza and others, who were earning an unusually high amount of Bits, the scandal became more significant.

Following the exposure of fraud involving famous esports stars and leading streamers, fans expressed their disappointment on Twitter using the hashtag “#TemizTwitch” (“#CleanTwitch”). Jahrein played a pivotal role in promoting this hashtag and rallying people for a cleaner Twitch experience, even attracting the attention of the Turkish Parliament.

Hiding in plain sight
I am sure most of you are familiar with the “duck syndrome,” a clever metaphor for the gap between our polished online personas and the realities of our lives. Picture it: ducks serenely gliding across the water’s surface while beneath, their legs work vigorously, hidden from view. It’s a poignant reminder that the picture-perfect moments we share on social media are often the tip of the iceberg, concealing the depth of our experiences.

We often embellish our lives with little white lies, portraying our jobs as passions and turning challenging vacations into beautiful memories on social media. It’s a psychological game we’re all familiar with.

However, when we delve beneath the surface, as in the case of the Polats, we realize the true extent of the danger here. Evil no longer hides; there is no hidden reality.

Living such lavish lives with “ordinary” jobs and earnings was always implausible. Everything done by the Polats unfolded before our eyes, yet we either looked the other way or stayed silent despite our suspicions. It’s hard to say which is worse.

The concept of hiding in plain sight is rooted more in the boundaries of human perception than in straightforward deception. The paradox of being visible yet overlooked stems from our necessity to filter sensory input for our daily navigation of the world.

In the case of the Polat couple and similar incidents, being in the spotlight is also intricately tied to the issue of trustworthiness. Even if we don’t immediately recognize it, dual communication is at play. While opening up their homes, most intimate moments and all their secrets to us, these phenomena are essentially attempting to gain our trust. They leverage this trust to encourage us to let them into our lives.

They don’t hesitate to exploit even their feelings to portray themselves in an endearing light or to finance their luxurious lifestyles when necessary. Moreover, they do all this while seemingly hiding in plain sight, holding our attention for an extended period, effectively diverting it from the attention “they never intended to attract.”

As we explore the social media landscape, we must remain vigilant, for beyond the façade of luxury, there’s often more than meets the eye. It’s essential to scrutinize wealth that doesn’t align with life’s natural flow.

“Swind-fluencer” stories emphasize the importance of authenticity and transparency in building trust and connections. It’s a reminder that in this age of hyperreality, the truly remarkable stories are the ones rooted in truth, vulnerability and the unfiltered essence of human experience.

Source: https://www.dailysabah.com/opinion/op-ed/rise-of-the-swind-fluencers-in-the-age-of-hyperreality