I remember this article from years ago that positive reviews on Amazon were, in fact, authors and their friends and family gaming a system to add glowing reviews when there were none. Or that bad reviews are legit, too.
It's one of thing that we take for granted: that the numbers we see have some tangible basis in reality, forgetting the virtual part of a virtual world. When we look at Wordpress stats, for example, we assume they are real.
I am always surprised how people do not question the potential puffery of Internet titans. We go on their say so, but with a long history of inflating numbers to seem bigger and more inevitable than they are, numbers are a shell game -- the moment you try to pin anything concrete, suddenly, those confident brags reveal themselves into nothing more than a confidence game.
You will never find the peanut, because it's never under those empty shells.
It is the reason I ignore stats on readership: they are meaningless. No one is to say a surge is real or a dearth is real, either.
Often, people will tell me they read a particular article on my site, even when their country of origin wasn't clocked, or there was no hits on the actual article in question -- yet they knew its contents, and let me know.
It is the same with Neilson ratings -- shows that score high are often not the ones people are talking about -- or the ones that get canceled based on low ratings are the ones people are talking about.
It is more likely a scam more than anything.
From book and record sales, to other measures of circulation and ratings, hard numbers have always been hard to come by.
I recently went to a j-talk where the journalists who were supposed to talk about truth in journalism, were lamenting instead on Chartbeat, and how so many articles weren't registering any hits.
I almost blurted out, "And how do you know those numbers are true? What independent digging have you done to verify this fact?"
And often, social media has a very vested interest in making certain numbers appear -- traditional media is their competition, after all.
Inflation and suppression is nothing new. It is important to be skeptical, but journalists needed to be skeptical of the numbers they were given because it is their job to be skeptical.
But, as usual, they appeal to made-up authorities who pretend to be Great Men, when they are merely grifters taking out their shells as they hope you take out your dough.