New York Attorney General reaches settlement with seller of fake social media followers and “likes”
Settlement against Devumi LLC prohibits it from further sales of online accounts, followers, likes and endorsements
In a press release issued on January 30, 2019, the Attorney General of New York announced that following an investigation of Devumi LLC, it had entered into a settlement that puts an end to the company’s sales of fake activity from fake social media accounts.
The company was found to have engaged in the sale of fake followers, “likes” and views on Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, SoundCloud and Pinterest using fake activity from false accounts (both bots – computer operated accounts – and sock-puppet accounts – one person pretending to be multiple other people). From the Attorney General’s press release:
Devumi LLC and related companies owned by German Calas, Jr. – including DisruptX Inc.; Social Bull Inc.; and Bytion Inc. (collectively, “Devumi”) – sold fake followers, “likes,” views and other forms of online endorsement and activity to users of social media platforms. Devumi supplied the fraudulent activity using bot and sock-puppet accounts. These bot and sock-puppet accounts falsely pretended to express the genuine positive opinions of real people. In some instances, Devumi supplied fake accounts that copied real people’s social media profiles without consent, including their name and picture.
In addition, Devumi sold endorsements from social media influencers without disclosing that the influencers had been paid for their recommendations. This is especially troubling when considering that the opinions of influencers can have particularly strong influence over the reputation and sales for any product, company, service or person they endorse.
These business practices deceived and attempted to affect the decision-making of social media audiences, including: other platform users’ decisions about what content merits their own attention; consumers’ decisions about what to buy; advertisers’ decisions about whom to sponsor; and the decisions by policymakers, voters, and journalists about which people and policies have public support.
Devumi’s practices deceived some of the company’s own customers who mistakenly believed they were paying for authentic endorsements, while many other Devumi customers knew they were buying fake activity and endorsements. Devumi also deceived the social media platforms, which have policies prohibiting fake activity.
Devumi ceased operations in 2018 after the AG launched her investigation, which caused a major decline in sales. The settlement did not address whether the customers did anything illegal. Further commentary can be found here: https://www.manatt.com/Insights/Newsletters/Advertising-Law/Fake-Likes,-Followers-Yield-Real-Legal-Action .