Hoping you have never done this, but if you have it's now not only bad behavior, it's officially illegal.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Buying and Selling Followers and Likes Ruled Illegal in Precedent-Setting Case
Andrew Hutchinson, socialmediatoday.com

This could make business a lot more difficult for those selling fake social media followers and likes.

In a case related to the New York Times investigation into American company Devumi, a court has ruled that Devumi can no longer operate in the same way as it had been, essentially outlawing the sale of social media followers and likes.

As explained on the website of NY's Attorney General:

"Attorney General Letitia James today announced a precedent-setting settlement over the sale of fake followers, “likes,” and views on social media platforms, including Twitter and YouTube, using fake activity from false accounts. The settlement prohibits Devumi LLC and related companies (“Devumi”) from engaging in any of the same misconduct going forward. This settlement marks the first finding by a law enforcement agency that selling fake social media engagement and using stolen identities to engage in online activity is illegal."  

That could certainly dissuade a lot of people from using similar services moving forward. Of course, this is only one region, and it would not apply to those operating outside the US. But still, it's a significant step for the industry, moving closer to a form of regulation over what goes on within social platforms themselves.

The case stems from a New York Times report published last January, which identified a range of celebrities and "influencers" who were actually customers of Devumi, a fake seller operating in the US.

As explained in the report:

"Devumi sells Twitter followers and retweets to celebrities, businesses and anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert influence online. Drawing on an estimated stock of at least 3.5 million automated accounts, each sold many times over, the company has provided customers with more than 200 million Twitter followers, a New York Times investigation found."

According to Mashable, Devumi shut down last August due to negative publicity in the wake of the NYT expose, but the company had generated around $15 million in revenue from dealing fakes.

The ruling is a positive step for the broader digital marketing sector, particularly given the rise of influencer marketing, which sees brands paying big dollars to reach audiences through prominent users. In order for that spend to be effective, the influencers you employ have to have actual influence, which they won't if all of the accounts they're reaching are actually bots. The major social platforms are always conducting their own actions to eliminate fakes and cheats, but the fact that it's becoming an actual legal concern could help that push significantly.

So, if you're using fakes, now's the time to cut them off. It can be difficult to rid your profiles of fakes you've purchased, but with more focus being put on the industry, it's likely to become a bigger concern in future, and such rulings could affect all who've bought their audience.