Eric Schneiderman, New York’s chief prosecutor, says that his office has opened up an investigation into a company that sells fake social media followers. This company, called Devumi, offered social media users the opportunity to purchase as many as 250,000 followers for about 12 dollars each. Of course, these “followers” are simply automated accounts (sometimes referred to as “Bots”). These bots can even provide positive feedback for the account in the form of likes, retweets, and positive comments.
Devumi has been very active on Twitter, but has sold its fake followers on other social media platforms as well. These include Pinterest, Youtube, LinkedIn, and Soundcloud. On its website, the company claims that it has served over 200,000 customers. They justify their actions by claiming that they are just helping artists and “other pros” to gain more exposure. However, Eric Schneiderman tells a different story.
According to Mr. Schneiderman, Devumi has been stealing personal information from actual social media users, duplicating that information in “Bot” accounts. The prosecutor’s report claims that Devumi has about 3.5 million automated accounts, and that about 55,000 of them were duplicates of real users whose information was stolen. Although selling followers is against Twitter’s rules, the accusations of mass identity theft represent a serious crime. Devumi admits that they sell followers using automated accounts, but denies all allegations of identity theft.
The BBC report on this investigation (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-42853067) lists just a few of the celebrity accounts that apparently did business with Devumi. Among numerous entertainers and journalists, the list also includes a member of the British government. Martha Lane Fox is a member of the UK’s House of Lords, one of the two houses of parliament. The prosecutor’s report claims that she made a series of purchases from Devumi over the course of a year, and that she even received 25,000 new followers in a single day. CNN journalist Hilary Rosen bought over 500,000 fake followers as well.
In an era where social media popularity can be a valuable thing, perhaps it should not be surprising that someone would do this. A celebrity’s Twitter followers are seen as a direct indicator of that person’s relevancy in popular culture. Naturally, accounts with more followers and more positive feedback receive certain advantages and benefits, such as job offers, sponsorship deals, monetization, and a higher level of credibility and respect in general.