Gaming the System

Are you on Instagram or Twitter? Do you sometimes get connection requests from completely random strangers? Why would anyone randomly want to follow you? We all want to believe that we’re fascinating people, but sadly that has nothing to do with it. They’re gaming the system. Let me tell you how that works.

I create an Instagram account and I follow a thousand people. Usually when someone follows you, you almost instinctively follow them back, right? Let’s assume a success rate of 60%, so out of the thousand people I’m following, 600 follow me back. Obviously, that number can be much higher.

When I have reached a specific number of followers – something in the range of 100,000 or even half a million, I can turn around and sell that account. There are companies and startups, and even scammers who will pay a lot of money for a pre-built account. The higher the number of followers, the higher the price tag. Imagine a company (or scammer) instantly having access to spread their message to that many people.

They’ve gamed the system.

So, how can you tell if someone’s doing this? Well, on Instagram and Twitter it’s actually quite easy. Check their profile.

  • Do they have any posts? Either they have none or just one or two.
  • Are they following anyone? Usually this number is low as well.
  • Do they have any followers? Bingo! This is the true mark of someone who is gaming the system.

Social media is rife with companies and people who are gaming the system. From those who purchase positive reviews on sites like Google, Amazon, Yelp, etc. to recent news of a specific company who had their employees up-vote the company’s products.


Even gamers work the system. I used to play an online war game with multiple servers. There were two ways to “game” the system. The secret to being successful was to have a powerful hero since that would almost guarantee successful outcomes in skirmishes. I became an expert on training my heroes and as a result often had a couple of top ten heroes on the server. If I was leaving the server, I would turn around and sell my hero. Yes, it was against the rules and I had to exploit a loophole to actually transfer the hero to another player, but it could be done, and was. I also was really good at starting and building new accounts. People would anxiously wait for a server to open so they could get to work right away. Anyone coming late to the server was at a disadvantage because their account was smaller and they had less weapons and fortifications. I would start up to ten accounts on a server and if a friend joined my alliance after the server had already started, I would transfer control of one or more accounts to them. We were gaming the system.


There are a myriad of other ways to game the system – some of which we have started to take for granted. For example, you know those surgeons that have such great success rates? What if I told you that many doctors or surgeons are selective in which patients they’ll accept? Complex medical problems? You might need to find a different specialist. Poor prognosis? It will be much worse because of the time it will take to find a surgeon who isn’t gaming the system to make himself/herself look better. This is especially true with the newer private/public hospital and medical partnerships. Results mean money.


Another way is with standardized testing. Many schools in North America are allocated funding based on the academic results they achieve. The higher the scores, the more funding they receive, and all of this is measured with standardized testing. What if I told you that many of these schools actually lower the bar and start excluding some lower intelligence students from the testing? It’s easy for a teacher to do – just state that you believe Linda Smith has a learning disability or ADD, and they are automatically excluded. Some teachers probably start preparing for this at the beginning of the school year.


Anytime numbers are used to justify anything, the system can be gamed. Let’s look at libraries for example. Everyone thinks that circulation statistics prove the library’s value to a community, right? Well, some libraries will boost those numbers and the staff will check out the max number of books every few days, and return them the next day without having read a single one. Don’t those circulations statistics look great though?


Every system in the world has loopholes but that doesn’t mean it’s right or even ethical to use them. It’s like counting cards at a casino, or using weights on a roulette wheel – it’s a less obvious way of cheating, but it’s still cheating. Politicians seem to be the worst, which is why we now need ethics commissioners at every level of government, from municipal to federal. Because it isn’t just the little guys who game the system to scam us, it’s happening at the top, it’s complicated, and it’s big. Using loopholes to hide your money in tax haven countries in order to avoid paying taxes is the biggest example of someone (usually politicians and their rich friends) who is gaming the system.

Corporations & Politics

Even corporations game the system. When they get a government in power that isn’t friendly to corporations because of environmental protections or workers’ rights, they may not hesitate to let their businesses decline and post losses for four years. After a weakening economy and the resultant job losses, they can then point to the current government and lay the blame on them and their policies. People tend to behave a bit like sheep in these situations and do an about face and vote in the very government they were trying to get rid of four years ago, for the sake of the economy, their jobs, their healthcare, etc.


We’ve all heard about various methods of voter fraud and voter intimidation that some political parties will stoop to, as well as mass misinformation campaigns. People read headlines and aren’t always astute enough to separate the truth from the spreading propaganda.

What’s the Solution?

Maybe we need to have a new law about gaming the system. It could be applied anytime someone uses a system in order to achieve a desired outcome that was never the original intention, something less stringent to prove than outright fraud. Something we can use to charge all con men and scam artists, from the explicit to the implicit.

Let’s think about that.

Graphic By Madhumathi S V – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.





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