The New York Attorney General's ("NYAG") office has announced a settlement with the now-defunct company Devumi, which sold fake followers, "likes" and views on social platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, SoundCloud and Pinterest, using activity derived from fake accounts.

In what is the first finding by a law enforcement agency indicating that such activity constitutes illegal deception and illegal impersonation, the NYAG has stated that selling fake social media engagement and using stolen identities to engage in online activity is illegal.

Devumi's practices were first exposed in a New York Times article. The company sold the activity of fake accounts operated by computers - known as "bots" - or by one person pretending to be many other persons, known as "sock-puppet" accounts. Some activity also originated from fake accounts that copied real people's social media pictures and profiles without the knowledge or consent of the user. This, coupled with the fact that Devumi sold endorsements from social media influencers, without disclosing that the influencers had been paid for their recommendations, was considered to be especially troubling, particularly given that the opinions of influencers can have a marked influence on the reputation and sales for any product, company, service or person they endorse (in this regard, please see our special Client Update concerning influencer marketing).

According to the statement released by NYAG, "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." The NYAG's position demonstrates the importance, which they attach to companies providing services in social media boosting, or using such services, paying special attention to factors such as use of bots and fake profiles.

We will be happy to provide further advice on how to provide or use social media boost services in a lawful way, minimizing compliance risks.

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