Nasty fake accounts are pushing Gen Z out of social media and into gaming

15 May 2024 by David Fenlon

Toxic environments fueled by fake accounts

With mental health awareness week upon us we have been reflecting on the practical implications of toxic online environments. An apparently small, but very vocal, group in any generic social media community can rain down unpleasantries on individuals hourly if they wish. With the exception of LinkedIn, where unprofessional behaviour will follow your career and sales prospects around indefinitely, many people who troll others don’t even hide their identities on other platforms. The scale of the communities online has created anonymity, especially if your livelihood is not dependent upon your public persona.

This confrontational style facilitated by anonymity has grabbed eyeballs and clicks. Since eyeballs and clicks translate into large advertising revenues and followers for political movements, the door has been opened for enormous numbers of fake accounts to be set up and be poisonous / provocative. These are being churned out by bots on an industrial scale. Instagram had to delete 5.8 billion fake accounts in 2022 (1), and TikTok removed 416 million accounts in the same year (2). This year’s numbers have improved, but they are still astronomical (see table below). This represents an enormous effort by the social media platforms themselves to clean up the environment, but to stamp this out is an impossible task. The implications are that advertisers may be increasingly marketing to fake accounts rather than real people.

Losing their shine: the relationship between big social media platforms and youngsters

Younger generations are becoming far less tolerant of the aggressive sensationalism that is becoming common thoroughfare on some of these platforms. They are also starting to recognize that some of the idealized imagery that lifestyle influencers are pushing are making them miserable (3).1 This is reflected in that Gen Z are allegedly leaving many social media platforms or limiting their usage of platforms (4). Amnesty International’s survey of 13 – 24 year olds 2023 revealed 86% of respondents had previously blocked users in response to content they did not want to be exposed to and more than half of respondents had reported content on Instagram. Many felt however that their reports made across all platforms were either ignored or they continued to be exposed to posts “similar to the reported ones” (5).

This doesn’t necessarily mean the imminent collapse of the big social media platforms – Meta and TikTok are still registering moderate user growth. However, user habits are changing as audiences become more discerning about what they look at. If the trends are anything to go by, advertisers will need to drastically change their approach and budget distribution.

Gaming is a haven for Gen Z, Gen Alpha and Millennials

The world of gaming has become one of the key competitors for the attention of younger audiences. 3.3bn people game worldwide, with a skew towards those under 40 (7). Whilst toxicity exists in these communities and is well documented, it is fundamentally limited. This is because toxic accounts can be blocked easily, and losing all prestige, points and digital purchases is a powerful deterrent. Also, bot use has strictly limited utility. Gameplay takes up over 90% of interactions and whilst bots can be used to win multiplayer games, their effectiveness as social trolls is negligible.

The contrast between gaming environments and social media ones is startling. This is reflected in the table above. Clearly gaming platforms need only block very small percentage of their accounts whilst social media platforms have a bot and account blocking problem which is rife.

It could be argued that social media platforms are more proactive at addressing bot traffic than gaming platforms. But logically this argument doesn’t hold. It would be cripplingly expensive to enter bots into paid for games at scale ($70+ per bot per game), and even in free-to-play games the content is controlled by the publisher, not the audience members. Bots can be used on a very small scale for individuals who cheat, but are blocked very quickly as the community is very good at self-governance in this regard.

Under these circumstances it is easy to see why gaming is held in high regard by Gen Alpha and Gen Z. This is reflected in the fact that 77% of Gen Z say they play video games to relieve stress and anxiety and 65% have developed new relationships through gaming (8). Contrast studies between playing video games and social media consumption have shown that playing video games has a positive effect on mental health whilst the latter has had a distinctly negative effect (9).

Again, this is down to how humans use the platforms, rather than whether the platforms are inherently good or bad in themselves. But it is this human element that may give brands food for thought – if they want to attract Gen Z and Gen Alpha they may wish to review their approach.

It can be difficult “to game” gaming advertising if marketers are savvy

Consequently, brands and advertisers should seriously consider using gaming advertising as an amplifier or even alternative to paid social. At the very least the bot traffic that the advertiser was inadvertently charged would be avoided. Moreover, gaming advertising options, especially outside of programmatic media insertions, offer a media set which is largely unaffected by fraudulent bot activity.

Fundamentally, it is far more profitable for fraudsters with their armies of bots to target website traffic advertising or push promotions on social media platforms. Simply put, gaming is far too speculative and costly with too meagre an upside for bots to drive worthwhile revenue to fraudulent parties. This means any brand advertising is likely to be in a mostly bot free world.

A secondary consequence is that younger audiences have been driven to gaming which can satisfy their main social media needs. Savvy brands are already capitalising on this through having a meaningful presence in these areas. There’s little competition and there is ample opportunity to experiment with differing approaches. These innovative advertisers are experiencing first-mover advantage whilst knowing that the targeted audiences are human.



(3) Various studies and a large body of literature support this, examples include:;



(6); Analysis from;