Young Japanese seek out fake friends for social media posts

JIJI

Photos posted on social networking services have become so dominant in the lives of young people in Japan that they have triggered an unusual business: hiring people to pose as friends to post on Facebook, Instagram and Line.

According to Studio Innovation Inc., which dispatches staff to attend wedding ceremonies as “guests” and offers other offbeat services, requests from clients in their 20s surged to 489 in 2016 from 16 in 2009, when the company was founded.

Of the 2016 total, 201 requests were for the Tokyo-based firm to send people to attend weddings to pose as relatives or friends. Women accounted for some 60 percent of the clients.

A female corporate worker in her early 20s asked the company to send a dozen male and female employees to be guests at her wedding, as she had only a few friends for the event, according to Studio Innovation President Yuichi Ishii.

The company provides six people on average for such events, said the 35-year-old president.

In the past few years, requests to take pictures with the hired guests in order to post on social networking sites have become significant, he said.

“An increasing number of people don’t want their parents or friends to think they have few friends,” Ishii said.

Maki Abe, president of Client Partners Co., a Tokyo-based all-female multiservice company, said the number of requests from 20-something clients came to about 20 in 2016, reflecting an increase since her company was launched in 2009. In the early days of the business, only about 1 in 100 businesses catered to such young clients.

Initially, most clients were men, but women accounted for 60 percent in 2016, according to Abe.

One female corporate worker in her late 20s asked the company to send women to be photographed with her on her birthday so she could upload them on social media.

Another female company employee in her 20s asked for three women to be photographed to make it look like her “friends” were having fun at a girls-only party.

Abe said one of her clients used the services nearly 10 times for that purpose, spending between ¥6,000 and ¥100,000 for a single session.

“The number of people who want to look better than necessary is growing,” she said. “To be honest, I am hoping the number of such requests will fall. I have a feeling that (younger people) feel that they can’t reveal their vulnerable side.”

Megumi Ushikubo, a 49-year-old commentator on youth trends, said Facebook and other SNS services allow people to make their so-called acquaintances visible to others.

“Young people have become afraid of having fewer friends and worry about their communication skills,” Ushikubo said.