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BREAKING: Senators Want FTC Investigation Into Bogus Social Media Followers

Reports are that two senators are asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate a company that sells allegedly fake Twitter followers, retweets, likes and other social media actions. This comes in the wake of a New York Times report that revealed that dozens of public figures may have purchased social media followers.

Sens. Jerry Moran and Richard Blumenthal said in a letter to FTC Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen that Devumi, the company that is the subject of the report, has been deceiving consumers via fraudulent practices.

The senators wrote, “[t]his company seems engaged in unfair or deceptive practices, and we urge you to use all the tools at your disposal to take immediate action to investigate this company, along with any other similar services, and shut down any fraudulent practices they are engaged in.”

They also stated that the practices probably linked to widespread consumer harms. “The inflated number of followers, retweets, and the like enabled by Devumi’s services have the effect of distorting the online marketplace and creating a false sense of celebrity, credibility, or importance in people, companies, or institutions that may not deserve it.”

According to the reports, Devumi has sold myriad fake followers that are similar to the accounts of genuine people. The company also sells LinkedIn connections and YouTube shares and likes.

While the FTC may be taking a close look into the matter, there are no official indications that a formal investigation has been initiated.

Reports are that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has opened an investigation into the company that allegedly sells “bot” accounts by impersonating using stolen identities. “The internet should be one of the greatest tools for democracy — but it’s increasingly being turned into an opaque, pay-to-play playground,” Mr. Schneiderman said.

“The growing prevalence of bots means that real voices are too often drowned out in our public conversation,” Schneiderman said.  “Those who can pay the most for followers can buy their way to apparent influence.”

“The tactics used by Devumi on our platform … violate our policies and are unacceptable to us,” Twitter stated in a message posted on its media relations account on Saturday.

Many believe that the purchase of fake followers constitutes a deceptive business practice, for example, as it pertains to social media personalities who often derive their income from branded sponsors.

News of the investigation comes amid growing concerns about the use of social media influencing the political process.

Contact an FTC compliance and defense attorney if you are interested in learning more about this topic and regulatory enforcement policies.

ADVERTISING MATERIAL. These materials are provided for informational purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice, nor do they create a lawyer-client relationship. No person should act or rely on any information in this article without seeking the advice of an attorney. Information on previous case results does not guarantee a similar future result. Hinch Newman LLP | 40 Wall St., 35thFloor, New York, NY 10005 | (212) 756-8777.

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Richard B. Newman

Richard B. Newman is an Internet Lawyer at Hinch Newman LLP focusing on advertising law, Internet marketing compliance, regulatory defense and digital media matters. His practice involves conducting legal compliance reviews of advertising campaigns across all media channels, regularly representing clients in high-profile investigative proceedings and enforcement actions brought by the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general throughout the country, advertising and marketing litigation, advising on email and telemarketing best practice protocol implementation, counseling on eCommerce guidelines and promotional marketing programs, and negotiating and drafting legal agreements.

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