We’ve all been there – the pic’s gone live and five minutes have passed, but still no likes. You’re nervous that it’s been ignored by the world, that you’ve dropped a bland, socially unacceptable photo. If you’re walking through a mall in Moscow then you might be in luck – vending machines that sell 100 Instagram likes for as cheap as 50 Russian rubles (69p/88 cents), or 100 followers for 100 rubles (£1.38/$1.75) have turned up, as noticed by Russian journalists earlier last week. Russian news site Meduza even made a handy video showing how the machine works.
The company debuted its first like machine in St Petersburg back in November 2016, later spreading its business to Moscow and other cities, but the machines only went viral in the past week. Installing one of them in a mall sets you back 420,000 rubles (£5793/$7372), even though the main component is not the machine itself but the software it uses – which can be bought from the company separately for just £235 and 5 per cent of the monthly proceeds. However, the actual process of gathering likes is outsourced to an unnamed company, where real people distribute likes in exchange for money.
Now there are about 20 vending machines selling likes all over Russia, which amounts to 20 to 50 customer orders a day, says Yusifov. He also stresses that the technology is fully developed and produced in Russia – a point of pride in the times when the push for domestic electronics is so intense that Russian engineers desperately continue to produce the fully homegrown but ridiculously expensive Elbrus computers that cost 199,000 rubles (£2745/$3493) without the display or any of the accessories.
“There are about 20 vending machines selling likes all over Russia, which amounts to 20 to 50 customer orders a day”
But these vending machines aren’t the first time Russia surprised the world with its innovative approach to social media infrastructure. Earlier this year people were both amused and saddened by the newly emerged service that offered Instagrammable flowers for rent. The offer was widely promoted on Instagram around March 8, when Russia celebrates International Womens Day.
The flowers for rent are meant to make it seem like you have someone in your life who would get you gifts, as the description explains: “This bouquet can be yours to take a gorgeous photo! Become a topic of discussion for your friends and make your ex jealous. The price including delivery in Novosibirsk is 100 rubles. Hurry up and place your order via WhatsApp. You can add a BMW car and a handsome man to your order for an extra 500 rubles. #flowersforrent #carforrent #boyfriendforrent.”
Reactions ranged from disbelief to mockery, but many others also picked up on the sadness of our modern condition, people investing money and effort into maintaining a #lifegoals Instagram aesthetic, the intention being to give anyone scrolling a serious case of FOMO, because your life is just that good!
Having given the 3rd interview today on the subject, I'm struck with existential dread. I have myself moved the apocalypse closer.— Alexey Kovalev (@Alexey__Kovalev) June 7, 2017
This digital market fast to react to digital natives’ needs, no matter how desperate – from purchasing likes if your selfie is dying a sorry death, to renting flowers to pretend you’re loved – is due to the Moscow startup scene that has been blooming for at least half a decade now, one that’s attracted money and talent. And while it’s probably creating some pretty depressing jobs (if Yusifov’s claims about all the likes coming from real people are true someone is probably sitting and double-tapping hundreds of blurry snaps of latté art and avocado toast right at this moment), it also remains one of the most young and dynamic industries in Russia, that has already exported some products abroad, like the Prisma and MSQRD apps.