More than a million followers have disappeared from the accounts of dozens of prominent Twitter users in recent days as the company faces growing criticism over the proliferation of fake accounts and scrutiny from federal and state inquiries into the shadowy firms that sell fake followers.
The people losing followers include an array of entertainers, entrepreneurs, athletes and media figures, many of whom bought Twitter followers or artificial engagement from a company called Devumi. Its business practices were detailed in a New York Times article on Saturday describing a vast trade in fake followers and fraudulent engagement on Twitter and other social media sites, often using personal information taken from real users. Twitter said on Saturday that it would take action against Devumi’s practices. A Twitter spokeswoman on Tuesday declined to comment about whether the company was purging fake accounts.
The singer Clay Aiken, the actor John Leguizamo and the reality TV star Lisa Rinna have each lost a substantial number of followers, according to a review of their accounts. So has Martha Lane Fox, a British businesswoman and Twitter board member. Other well-known users have taken to Twitter in recent days to complain of lost followers, suggesting that a broad swath of people may be affected, not just Devumi customers.
The company’s heightened campaign against bots comes as federal lawmakers and law enforcement officials in two states are scrutinizing Devumi and its competitors online, where numerous websites sell fake followers or engagement on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and other social media platforms.
On Tuesday, Senators Jerry Moran of Kansas and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut — the chairman and the ranking member, respectively, of the Senate subcommittee on consumer protection and data security — asked the Federal Trade Commission to begin an investigation into the “deceptive and unfair marketing practices” of Devumi and similar companies. While Devumi promises customers “100 Percent Active, English Followers,” virtually all of the followers and retweets the company provides are fake, The Times found. Twitter prohibits buying followers of any kind.
The Florida attorney general, Pam Bondi, a Republican, has also begun an investigation into Devumi, joining Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general and a Democrat, who announced on Saturday that he would begin reviewing whether the company had violated state laws against impersonation and commercial deception.
The Times found evidence that the information of Twitter users in every state — including thousands of people in Florida and New York — had been copied onto bots sold by Devumi or rival companies.
SOURCE: NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, GABRIEL J.X. DANCE and RICH HARRIS
The New York Times