If you live in the Bay Area and have looked for something special to spice up a birthday party, you might have discovered the Freakin’ Awesome Karaoke Express, a truck that promises to deliver an unbelievable selection of songs to your doorstep. You might have seen a review on Yelp that said it’s perfect for a girl’s night out or a Facebook review that mentioned it being a crowd-pleaser at a neighborhood block party. You may have been impressed by its 19,000 Twitter followers, and considered hiring this mobile song-slinging truck to drive up to your next outdoor shindig.
What you probably didn’t realize was that there is no such thing as the Freakin’ Awesome Karaoke Express (or F.A.K.E., for short). I made it up and paid strangers to pump up its online footprint to make it seem real. I didn’t do it to scam anyone or even for the LULZ. I wanted to see firsthand how the fake reputation economy operates. The investigation led me to an online marketplace where a good reputation comes cheap.