Christopher Cashak is apparently the most famous event photographer in the world if you take social media numbers as an indication of fame. He appears to have 253,728 Facebook likes, more than photography legend Mario Testino, and 521,000 Twitter followers, more than Marc Maron.
From the looks of it, Cashak had a modest local business going until earlier this year, photographing events around Scottsdale, Arizona. AZCentral.com, a pretty legit news site, wasn't averse to running his reasonably competent photos of revelers at a smallish nightclub eight months ago.
Also, i t looks like he tried to amp up his image from time to time. In 2011, he—or someone—briefly decided he was the "Sultan of Scottsdale."
Then Cashak posted an odd Facebook status on Halloween of this year: "Social media is rebooting. Older posts were deleted. You loyal followers saw stuff that the newbies will never get to see. Don't forget it." Before that day, he typically got one or two reactions to his Facebook posts—but that post got 407 likes, almost none of which came from anywhere near Scottsdale, or indeed, in the United States. He posted the same message on Twitter, and received more than 600 favorites and retweets, and one reply:
It's not unusual for internet marketing companies to buy their clients a few Twitter and Facebook followers here and there. A batch of 500 Facebook followers is typical, and SEO advice sites acknowledge that it happens, but recommend not doing it. An easy and relatively anonymous way to do it is to set up a burner account and buy them on eBay, but there are many other ways.
But buying hundreds of thousands and ostensibly making yourself into the most popular photographer in the world overnight would make waves. The internet was quick to judge, creating an Imgur post detailing the implausibility of his new fame, and pointing out that his tweet at Jimmy Kimmel about how Cashak should be the "Sexiest Man Alive" winner, received more retweets than any celebrity named in People magazine's contest, including the actual winner, Chris Hemsworth.
I reached out to Cashak to find out what the deal is. He started by giving me a rundown of Twitter accounts with a lot of followers and demanding that those be proven authentic. Then he expressed quite a bit of anger toward internet trolls he says are persecuting him.
"It's easy for the trolls to try and discredit me by screaming the allegation, 'You bought followers.' Did they ask every follower on my account if they were bought? If these trolls can provide real proof that I purchased every follower on my account, please send it and I will comment."
He also claimed that "in recent days, the trolls have started following my social media accounts with fake users in another attempt to discredit me. My team and I are actively removing these bogus followers and reporting them for abuse and spam." Strangely, though, his shiny new website's primary slogan for him is that he's "The most followed event, party, nightlife, and EDM photographer in the world." So despite his social media reach being part of a conspiracy to discredit him, he's still using that as his main selling point.
What his persecutors are after is unclear, but he says it's related to his bold approach to photography. "The media attention I received for daring to be different at EDM events and festivals scared them to their core. They're stuck in the old way of thinking that photographers can't be anything more than a random guy with a camera."
He also told me that his attackers got personal. "The trolls also called me horrible names like 'creeper.' They claimed I'm the baby of 'Spock & Xerxes,' plus a million other frivolous things."
When we were wrapping things up, I asked him, "Just to be clear, do you deny that you bought followers?"
"I do not purchase followers from that eBay seller you cited or similar services offered by other users," he replied.
I clarified: "Did you buy Twitter or Facebook followers somewhere?"
He answered: "I do not pay people to follow or like me."
I gave up at that point. I think he could safely argue that he didn't pay people, individually at least, to follow or like him on social media. No one's saying he did that. It would involve writing a lot of checks.
On the other hand, maybe he's a tenth-level-black-belt media troll, one step ahead of us all. Maybe he's playing a longer game than his critics even comprehend.
But I wouldn't bet on that.
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