In January 2018, the New York Times did an expose on
an obscure American company named Devumi that has collected millions of dollars in a shadowy global marketplace for social media fraud. Devumi sells Twitter followers and retweets to celebrities, businesses and anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert influence online. Drawing on an estimated stock of at least 3.5 million automated accounts, each sold many times over, the company has provided customers with more than 200 million Twitter followers
Almost a year to the date, that same obscure company – Devumi LLC and related companies owned by German Calas, Jr. – including DisruptX Inc.; Social Bull Inc.; and Bytion Inc. – entered into a precedent-setting settlement with New York State Attorney General Letitia James. The settlement found that “selling fake social media engagement and using stolen identities to engage in online activity is illegal” and bars Devumi from engaging in such conduct going forward.
Bots and other fake accounts have been running rampant on social media platforms, often stealing real people’s identities to carry out fraud. . . 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.
Devumi also sold endorsements from social media influencers without disclosing that the influencers had been paid for their recommendations. The NYAG further explained:
these business practices deceived and attempted to affect the decision-making of social media audiences, including: other platform users’ decisions about what content merits their own attention; consumers’ decisions about what to buy; advertisers’ decisions about whom to sponsor; and the decisions by policymakers, voters, and journalists about which people and policies have public support.