The BBC recently covered a story on the prosecution of a firm by New York authorities for its sale of fake Twitter followers to unsuspecting customers. The reason that this scheme has attracted the attention of authorities so quickly is that it involved the sale of millions of fake Twitter user profiles. Pursuant to New York state law, impersonation and deception are considered crimes. Demuvi is the name of the company accused of this cyber crime, and it appears to be operating mostly in the shadows.
The way that this scheme generally worked is that bots scoured Twitter for average user profiles that they then copied and altered to create new fake profiles for sale. The most common purchasers of followers from Demuvi were celebrities trying to increase their Twitter following and enhance their overall social media presence and influence. The reason that having a large number of Twitter followers is important to celebrities is that they can leverage their following to get a higher fee as a sponsor of certain brands. Their influence is measured by the number of Twitter users that their posts will reach. In addition to being able to purchase more Twitter followers, customers of Demuvi also had the option to purchase “likes” and “retweets” so that their posts had a broader reach.
While Demuvi gives the appearance of having a legitimate New York address for its operations, authorities think that it is actually based out of Florida and the Philippines. By virtue of Demuvi’s own marketing, the company claims to have more than 200,000 customers who purchase likes and followers regularly. For the low price of only $12, customers of Demuvi could order up to 250,000 new Twitter followers. Some names have been released from Demuvi’s customer list, such as Martha Lane Fox, Hillary Rosen, Paul Hollywood and Randy Price. It is not just celebrities seeking out more social media followers. Politicians have also been flocking to these types of companies for years now to try to reach a broader base of voters.
It remains to be seen how far New York prosecutors plan to go in taking Demuvi to task. They could very well be using this as an opportunity to make an example of companies using bots to steal identities of social media users and create fake profiles. Some of the profiles stolen involve minors, which could open the door to other criminal charges for these fraudulent tech companies.