When buying fake subscribers becomes an illegal practice
Four societies in the crosshairs of justice
It’s something that’s probably as old as social media. Or even more. We could go back to Myspace or the Skyblog, a part of the population makes a fix on subscribers, on the number of people who follow them on social networks.
Some companies have made it a business by monetizing a quick gain of subscribers to those willing to pay. These include Devumi and three others headed by German Calas. It offered fake followers and fake likes on Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn or SoundCloud. Thanks to an army of bots, it artificially boosted the popularity of its customers. Between 2015 and 2017, the company reportedly generated $15 million in revenue. It has just negotiated an amicable agreement with the Attorney General of New York, Letitia James, which puts an end to the company’s activities, and above all fixes the fact “not to start again” the same type of benefits. The financial penalty was not disclosed.
Social networks regularly hunt down fake and inactive accounts. For example, it cost the Twitter founder 200,000 followers. Donald Trump reportedly lost 400,000 on the same occasion. A small business that can do damage to the ego, but since we can bet that there will always be people willing to pay, it means that these companies will also find a way to adapt. All the more so when some users of social networks are also paid more or less for a publication.
In other cases, this could also cause problems for some “influencers”, especially those who managed to get nice discounts or eat for free in restaurants thanks to their (false) subscribers, one is indeed quite close to the scam when you think about it. Perhaps one day they will understand that the number of subscribers is much less (in the long run), than the commitment of those same subscribers.
In the United States, justice meddles in fake followers on social networks
Companies that sold fake subscribers to social media users have pledged to the courts not to do it again, as part of an out-of-court settlement that for the first time makes such activities illegal.
Devumi and three other companies run by German Calas were selling fake subscribers and fake “likes” to users of Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and SoundCloud, using “bots” – computer-generated accounts – or “personal” accounts actually generated by one person, the New York Attorney General’s office said on Wednesday (January 30th). Letitia James, in a statement.
These fake accounts, which artificially boost the popularity of users who use them, “proliferate on social networks,” the prosecutor said. “This is the first time that a law enforcement agency has made it illegal to sell false engagement on social media,” she said. According to thelegality.com, this is a common practice on internet.
15 million dollars in accounts and commitment
The text of the amicable agreement between the companies and the prosecutor’s office, of which Agence France-Presse obtained a copy, makes no mention of any sanctions imposed on German Calas. But he gives multiple details about how his companies operate, which allegedly sold about $15 million worth of accounts and social media engagement between 2015 and 2017.
For example, these companies sold “subscriber packages” for up to five hundred thousand dollars on Twitter. A pack of 100 YouTube subscribers sold for $29. Packages of views on the online video platform, popular with artists and influencers, were also on the market.
At a time when social networks are ubiquitous and subscribers often number in the millions, inflating its number of subscribers or views has become very lucrative: a Twitter user followed by a million followers can earn $20,000 or more by advertising for a brand.
The announcement of the settlement amicably with Mr. Calas’s companies, all of which closed in 2018 after the investigation broke out, comes a year after the publication of a New York Times investigation into Devumi. When questioned by the newspaper, Mr. Calas rejected any accusations of selling false accounts.