It was an occasion for shock and outrage: in early August, our Twitter and Facebook feeds were suddenly overrun with thinly veiled ads for the 2013 Chevy Cruze, ads touting features such as “Siri Eyes Free integration” and the “chance to win a two-year lease.” Ads coming from friends whose accounts we know and trust.

That they had been hacked seemed the only credible explanation. And then a realization: our friends—some of whom are journalists, we were particularly pained to see—had been bought. In exchange for the free use of a Chevy Cruze for a few weeks and $400 compensation, influential Houstonians were willing to flood us, their loyal followers, with endless #cruzehouston hashtags and status updates—all as part of their agreement with General Motors.

Things soon got ugly, predictably, with spats breaking out all over the rarefied world that is Houston’s social media elite. Words like “shill” and “sell-out” were lobbed like grenades. Feelings were hurt. Friends were unfriended and unfollowed. The social network streams and their turbulent waters did eventually calm, once the cars were returned, but, a nagging question persisted. Had risking one’s social media reputation been worth it? 

Whether Chevy’s showrooms will be flooded with 2013 Cruze-seekers entranced by their buddies’ relentless plugging is anyone’s guess. But we’re pretty sure they aren’t rushing out to purchase the 2012 model. GM issued a recall for nearly 300,000 of the cars on August 17. 

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