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Social media’s black market

There  is a social media black market. A relatively obscure company has been accused of selling fake Twitter followers and bots and profiting heavily. The fake accounts automatically increase the following of anyone who wants to appear more popular online and is willing to pay. Devumi has sold millions of fake followers on social media platforms, but has done so at expense of real users and copying their personal information.

According to the New York Times, New York attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, has opened an investigation into Devumi, which has profited by stealing people’s identities.

“Impersonation and deception are illegal under New York law,” Mr. Schneiderman wrote on Twitter. “We’re opening an investigation into Devumi and its apparent sale of bots using stolen identities.”

While many social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, prohibit buying followers, Devumi and dozens of other sites openly sell them. A New York Times’ investigation confirmed that business and court records revealed Devumi has more than 200,000 customers, including reality television stars, professional athletes, comedians, TED speakers, pastors and models. The records show they purchased their own followers. However, in some instances, their other people, such as employees, agents or public relations companies, did the buying. For an affordable amount, Devumi offers Twitter followers, views on YouTube, plays on SoundCloud and endorsements on LinkedIn.

Devumi has an estimated stock of at least 3.5 million automated accounts, each being sold numerous times and the company has provided customers with more than 200 million Twitter followers. Even Devumi’s website promotes a fake home base of New York City, while it’s actually located in Florida.

However, Devumi’s founder, German Calas, denied that his company sold fake followers and said he knew nothing about social identities stolen from real users. “The allegations are false, and we do not have knowledge of any such activity,” said Mr. Calas.

Devumi isn’t the only company creating fake accounts, as there are dozens of others and this investigation is the latest in a series of federal and state inquiries into the commercial and political abuse of fake social media accounts.

Social media companies, including Twitter and Facebook, have drawn strong criticism and scrutiny for not taking enough steps to combat the fake accounts.

“The internet should be one of the greatest tools for democracy — but it’s increasingly being turned into an opaque, pay-to-play playground,” said Mr. Schneiderman.

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