Bob is the flashy type. I don't think I know anyone else whose daywear includes red velvet suits with Gucci runners. His pictures carefully detail a life lived after dark, an apparently endless succession of bottle-serviced tables and peroxide girls with coke eyes. Since I left London, our chats are limited to Facebook. Sometimes I'll get home late and find him online, and he'll talk me through nights with clients buying hookers on company cards and running up bar tabs at notoriously debauched London cabaret club the Box.
I regard Bob's life with a mixture of horror and awe. He likes to show off, but knowing a private jet starts at around £5,000 per flight, I doubt even he would be able to pay for one.
The truth is a little more complicated. It turned out Bob had used one of several recently founded air travel startups to buy a place on the return leg of a private jet's journey, then took the Eurostar home. It works like this: the jet is hired to fly somewhere by a client who puts up big money. But the client won't be flying straight home, so the jet ends up traveling back empty on its return leg. Companies like Victor, Lunajets and Empty Leg Market offer cut-price private air travel as long as you're happy to go where they're already flying. Prices are higher than a normal flight, but lower than renting your own jet: when I checked the deals included Avignon to Geneva for £475, and Palm Springs to Las Vegas for £250.
Within an hour of posting pictures from his trip, Bob says he was messaged by no less than 16 girls asking if they could have rides on the next one. Grand online gestures like these incur an intensely jealous fallout: on Facebook the pictures have attracted a kind of bland, glassy eyed benevolence that can only be fake, with comments including "You deserve it, you work hard", "Lucky you!" and the downright sinister: "It's amazing you worth millions (sic) and still don't have a girlfriend... I so hope one day you will meet a special woman that loves you for you." (Doesn't this person realise ballers don't have "special women" who love them? They have party girls on every continent.)
Faking it on social media is nothing new: it's normal even for celebrities to be caught out photoshopping selfies, or even posting photos that are years old as "new". As the watches on famous ballers' wrists get flashier, and the asses of the girls they party with get bigger, Bob's response is fittingly ludicrous. Call off your weekend, cough up a few hundred in exchange for tickets to god knows where, lie to your friends and selfie the shit out of the trip. Value for money can be calculated in the resulting Likes and female interest.
Nobody needs a private jet, and even genuine Instaballers can't afford them. Bob himself admits "to own even the smallest type of jet it's half a million dollars, plus $2,000 per hour in the air... You'd pretty much need to be a billionaire." The budget return leg trips offer a service perfect for our Catfish age, where it's all too easy to fake your own pictures: they go one step further by faking a real experience. The try-hards look relatively normal when so much of Instagram is posed already – they woke up like this, hideously wealthy, with their dollar bills neatly pressed and stacked.
A typical Instagram post from bona fide #RKOI @akinbelfon17 (Click to enlarge)
Arguably Bob's little trick is no more deceitful than buying a suit in the sales, or getting your MacBook second hand on eBay. But it lends a new dimension to the common demand "pictures or it didn't happen". When I ask if the experience was worthwhile, he replies: "It's an investment. The trip (to Rome) cost about £2,000 for the weekend, but the pictures will last a lifetime. And they look like they cost five times that." He's already putting them to good use: aside from the Facebook admirers, Bob assures me that his Plenty of Fish account is "on fire" since posting them.
"The key thing is there's a limit to how much you can fake a picture," Bob tells me. If only Soulja Boy and his watch seller knew as much. I wonder if a trip designed to be captured on camera takes away from the experience, or if it's the closest most of us will ever get to a real celebrity's lifestyle, one full of stunts designed only to look good on camera. Bob says he wants to use his new pictures to attract gold-digger girlfriends, then call them out on how fake they are. I don't know if he's bullshitting or not, but when ask if the whole thing was just an exercise in trolling, he answers, "I don't know. Life hacking with a bigger budget, I guess."
More from VICE: