New York Times investigation exposes the truth about fake Twitter followers

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This week the New York Times published an extraordinary expose into the millions of fake followers that exist within the social media industry prompting New York’s Attorney General to open a full investigation.

The report focused on Devumi, a US company whose website promises to ‘Accelerate your social growth’ with a blend of marketing tactics. What it doesn’t say is that they really sell Twitter followers and automated bots who retweet celebrity and influencer posts in exchange for cash.

This is a topic that PromoVeritas have been concerned about for several years – in fact in 2015, we set up a fake facebook profile, then tested the services of a number of Sellers of Likes to monitor the results. Within a day, our fake profile had over 1,000 new likes, mostly from Turkey and Pakistan.

The US investigation estimates that Devumi has access to at least 3.5 million fake accounts and has provided its customers with over 20 million Twitter followers who seem to be very real on the surface – simply because many of them have been created using identity theft. The New York Times estimated that at least 55,000 of the accounts – pushing everything from pornography to Bitcoin – used real names, profile pictures and other personal details stolen from real-life Twitter users including children.

The report found that Devumi. which offers LinkedIn endorsements, YouTube views and plays on SoundCloud as well as Twitter followers is used by countless celebrity influencers including tech billionaire Michael Dell, Last Minute.Com founder (and Twitter board member) Martha Lane Fox and even GBBO’s Paul Hollywood – who has since deleted his account of 700,000 followers.

New York’s Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman tweeted that “Impersonation and deception are illegal under New York law” and “the growing prevalence of bots mean that real voices are too often drowned out in our public conversation. Those who can pay the most for followers can buy their way to apparent influence”. This highlights the issue that all platforms have with the explosion of fake accounts – just recently the US Congress also revealed that during the final weeks of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign his Twitter feed was retweeted nearly half a million times by Russian bots.

PromoVeritas believe running influencer campaigns and promotions can be a success but only if you play by the rules and manage them carefully. Brand teams can be misled by these fake followers, believing that they are achieving key metrics, with active consumers, when in fact they are not. And media owners can be duped into paying higher advertising rates for sites and profiles that are supposedly very popular, when in fact the only ‘eyeballs’ on offer are those of a robot or a fake profile.

We will be running another of our popular In the Know: Influencer Marketing Breakfast Briefings  to keep our clients up to date with the rules and the risks of influencer campaigns in June 2018, here’s a short video from the last session. To book a place or find out more about how we can help to shape and implement compliant promotions anywhere in the world contact or call +44 (0)203 325 6000.

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