An extensive report in the New York Times on Saturday detailed how various celebrities, politicians, businesspeople, and other figures from the world of music, film, and entertainment have been buying Twitter followers to give the false impression of popularity.
The report specifically alleges that a company called Devumi has played an integral role in selling fake followers and bots for just pennies apiece, helping to bloat the follower counts of popular―ostensibly, at least―Twitter profiles.
Furthermore, the report claims that actual people are suffering social media identity theft as a result of these practices, having their names and photos attached to bots who follow people and retweet things entirely outside their control. For example, one woman cited in the Times story, named Jessica Rychly, reportedly had her image and name attached to a fake account that was promoting cryptocurrency, Canadian real estate, and graphic pornography.
Tens of thousands of celebrities, businesspeople, musicians, models, porn stars and 'influencers' bought millions of fake Twitter followers, some of which had stolen the identities of real people. This is the most fun I've had working on a story in a while https://t.co/W8DxNXH89z
— Rich Harris (@Rich_Harris) January 27, 2018
Devumi, according to the report, has denied the allegation that it sells fake Twitter followers and says it has no knowledge of fake accounts attached to real people’s identities. German Calas, the company’s founder, denied those claims in an email to the Times last November.
“The allegations are false, and we do not have knowledge of any such activity,” Calas reportedly said.
The report lists some prominent people who’ve either personally purchased fake followers or have had followers purchased for them by others, and the names are familiar. For example, ex-NFL star Ray Lewis reportedly has a surplus of fake followers, as does actor John Leguizamo and model Kathy Ireland.
In the aftermath of the release of the report, some social media users also pointed out perhaps the biggest fish on Twitter has more than a few fake followers to his name―specifically, President Donald Trump. A quick fake follower audit suggests that as many as 17 million of Trump’s 47 million total followers are fake.
Twitter issued a response to the report on Saturday morning, describing Devumi’s alleged fake follower business as “unacceptable” and insisting it’s “working to stop” such practices.
“The tactics used by Devumi on our platform and others as described by today’s NYT article violate our policies and are [unacceptable] to us,” the company said in a tweet from its official public relations account. “We are working to stop them and any companies like them.”