The New York Attorney General just announced a groundbreaking settlement over the sale of fake social media engagement.
The NYAG charged Devumi LLC with selling fake followers, "likes," views, and other forms of online endorsements to users of social media platforms. The NYAG alleged that Devumi used bots (computer-operated accounts) and sock-puppet accounts (multiple accounts run by one person) to create the appearance that actual people were following real people's social media accounts and liking their posts.
The NYAG also alleged that Devumi created fake accounts that used real people's names and pictures without their consent. In addition, the NYAG alleged that Devumi sold endorsements from actual social media influencers without disclosing that they had been paid for their recommendations.
The NYAG's settlement with Devumi prohibits the company from engaging in selling fake social media engagement going forward. According to the NYAG, this settlement marks the first finding by a law enforcement agency that the selling of fake social media engagement and using stolen identities in online activity is illegal.
Selling fake social media engagement is deceptive, according to the NYAG, because it affects the decision-making of social media users, including consumers' decisions about what content to look at and what products to buy, advertisers' decisions about whom to sponsor, and the decisions of policymakers and others about what issues have public support.
This action sends a clear message that using fake social media engagement is a deceptive practice. Although the case doesn't define the outer limits of what makes something "fake," the NYAG has clearly staked out the position that using likes and followers created by bots and other fake accounts violates the law.
This case is also an important reminder that agencies and agents that provide influencers to brands, or help boost following and engagement on social media, are responsible for ensuring that the engagement is real and that proper disclosures are included.
Finally, this settlement highlights the fact that the NYAG has really emerged as one of the most important consumer protection agencies in the country right now. I expect that we'll continue to see many important cases coming from this office over the coming months.
"Bots and other fake accounts have been running rampant on social media platforms, often stealing real people's identities to carry out fraud" -- New York Attorney General Letitia James