5 Symbols of Free Speech You Won't Believe Are Mass-Produced

#2. Celebrity Personalities Are a Joke

Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images

We've seen it a million times: A child star hits 18 and decides to swap her childish "Disney" image for a new, sexy one. The media jump to attention (see "boobs," above), and newscasters interrupt dull reports about some nuclear meltdown to discuss Former Child Star X's Hottie Makeover. Is she being manipulated by a cruelly exploitative industry? Is she simply expressing her healthy adult sexuality? Nobody asks if she's just signed with Larry Rudolph. They should probably ask that.

Aviceda, via Wikimedia
The Internet reached its millennial quota of sexy ex-Disney-star performance images
in November 2013, so here's a picture of a button quail.

Britney Spears' and Miley Cyrus' "sexy" makeovers both happened right after they hired Rudolph, a guy who has made a career out of celebrity rebranding. Each woman's rebranding started with a "controversial" performance at the VMAs, and both involved vaguely phallic objects that people could giggle about while still safely showing them during news clips. Rudolph's trick works because people love to argue, and they especially love arguing about things that involve partial nudity. While media commentators angst about sexuality and exploitation, Larry and his clients are laughing all the way to their gold-dust-snorting parties.

Michael Kovac/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

"I just bought a whole new set of organs."

Rudolph is just one example of a "reputation manager," a professional whose job is to make sure his celebrities stay in the news and try to prevent them from killing too many people on film. If things don't work out and Justin Bieber beheads one too many hostages on camera or something, reputation-management companies also offer SEO services that manipulate what people can find out about their clients online.

So, if you're a famous actor and beloved of the liberal establishment, you might pay a reputation company a couple of thousands of dollars a month to ensure that the first few pages of Google results for your name don't mention that you were once arrested for tying up and terrorizing a woman for hours.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Unrelated picture.

Well, no big deal. Everyone knows Hollywood is fake. But at least regular Joes on the Internet writing about their local novelty cupcake store can be trusted. Except you know what else is fake?

#1. A Whole Lot of Online Reviews Are Manufactured


Much like celebrities do, professionals, small businesses, and multinational companies can all hire people to "manage" their online reputation. At its most honest, this means small businesses trying to delete the 10 bad reviews left by that one customer they kicked out after he wouldn't stop yelling racial slurs at the pizza oven. At its worst, it means hiring people to write dozens of positive reviews on sites like Yelp and Angie's List, all talking about how your poultry-canning company is awesome and totally did not give any of their family members any intestinal parasites at all.

Sean MacLeay
"I didn't really need that third of my liver anyway."

This fakery has even extended to book reviews: Authors can hire companies to write anywhere from one to hundreds of reviews on Amazon and elsewhere praising their poorly written novel for changing their life. And don't think you can spot every spurious review by its suspicious enthusiasm and poor grammar: It's been estimated that about one-third of the product reviews online are probably fake.

Tim Boyle/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"Screw the people on Cracked. James Frey is a total badass." -an Amazon review, probably

Social media is another area that now has fewer trustworthy ingredients than that old Soviet MRE you found buried behind a toilet in Afghanistan. Want to be more popular on Twitter? A company in Bangladesh can get you 10,000 followers for $20. Others can find people to like you on Facebook or to click on your YouTube videos, because apparently that high number is worth all of the lonely nights you'll spend crying and eating ice cream flavored with your own self-hatred. Social media sites and Google are constantly trying to detect this stuff and boot off fakes, but it's not easy when you're up against people with more money than dignity. At this point, all we can hope for is that some of the Twitter-following spambots gain angry sentience and destroy us all before it's too late.

C. Coville got Twitter followers the hard, old-fashioned way: by posting pictures of unusually fat birds.

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