The Facebook Inc. ‘like’ logo is displayed on a computer screen and reflected in water droplets in San Francisco, California, U.S. (Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

Now You Can Be Busted for Selling Fake Web Followers, Likes

(Bloomberg) -- Selling fake followers, “likes” and online views from bogus accounts on social-media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube is illegal, New York state officials said in a first-of-its-kind U.S. settlement.

The deal with a small marketing company called Devumi LLC, which halted operations last year, targets the systematic use of so-called bot accounts that pretended to express genuine opinions of real people to deceive the public, New York Attorney General Letitia James said Wednesday in a statement.

“This settlement marks the first finding by a law enforcement agency that selling fake social media engagement and using stolen identities to engage in online activity is illegal,” the statement says.

In some instances, Devumi stole the online identities of real people, the attorney general said. The New York Times reported last year that Devumi sold more than 200 million Twitter followers, using a database of millions of automated accounts. James said the company shuttered shortly after New York started investigating.

Devumi also sold endorsements from so-called social media influencers without disclosing that the they’d been paid for their recommendations, according to the statement.

Devumi’s lawyer, Jeffrey Alberts, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on the settlement agreement.

“As people and companies like Devumi continue to make a quick buck by lying to honest Americans, my office will continue to find and stop anyone who sells online deception,” James said. “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.”

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