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Selling fake followers and 'likes' is illegal, New York settlement finds

Alyssa Clementi

New York state attorney general Letitia James has reached a 'precedent-setting' settlement with Devumi LLC and related companies, who were accused of selling fake social media followers and activity on platforms such as Twitter and YouTube. According to the settlement, the sale of fake followers and 'likes' is now considered illegal deception, while conducting fake activity with stolen identities falls under illegal impersonation. This is the first case in which a law enforcement agency has found the sale of fraudulent social media engagement illegal.

“Bots and other fake accounts have been running rampant on social media platforms, often stealing real people’s identities to carry out fraud,” said James. “As people and companies like Devumi continue to make a quick buck by lying to honest Americans, my office will continue to find and stop anyone who sells online deception. With this settlement, we are sending a clear message that anyone profiting off of deception and impersonation is breaking the law and will be held accountable.”

Devumi had more than 200,000 paying customers, which included reality TV stars, professional athletes, comedians, models, and adult film stars who bought followers, 'likes', or other forms of social media engagement. The company had labeled itself a social media marketing agency, and used the tagline "Accelerate your social growth". Devumi used both bot accounts and sock puppet accounts - one person pretending to be many other people - on platforms like Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Soundcloud and Pinterest.

According to the settlement, some of the fake accounts created by Devumi stole pictures and information about real people and copied their profile without consent. Devumi, founded by German Calas, went out of business shortly after the state attorney’s investigation began last year.

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