Inside social media's black market:
The real Jessica Rychly is a Minnesota teenager with a broad smile and wavy hair. She likes reading and the rapper Post Malone. When she goes on Facebook or Twitter, she sometimes muses about being bored or trades jokes with friends. Occasionally, like many teenagers, she posts a duck-face selfie.
But on Twitter, there is a version of Jessica that none of her friends or family would recognize. While the two Jessicas share a name, photograph and whimsical bio -- "I have issues" -- the other Jessica promoted accounts hawking Canadian real estate investments, cryptocurrency and a radio station in Ghana. The fake Jessica followed or retweeted accounts using Arabic and Indonesian, languages the real Jessica does not speak. While she was a 17-year-old high school senior, her fake counterpart frequently promoted graphic pornography, retweeting accounts called Squirtamania and Porno Dan.
All these accounts belong to customers of 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, a New York Times investigation found.
Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.
“We continue to fight hard to tackle any malicious automation on our platform as well as false or spam accounts,” Ms. Binns said.
I'll interpret that for everyone. "As long as we make advertising dollars for imprints on fake accounts, we'll continue to do nothing about this."
Also, impressed by the sweet masthead (is that what we're going to call it?) on the NYT article.
Presumably having some fake followers doesn't necessarily imply you've bought them, because it would make them more plausible & harder to detect if they did spontaneously follow some people.
There is wonderful scope for abuse here, as well: do they sell followers, or rent them? Because if they're selling them they're missing a trick: stop paying the
blackmailrent, your follower count suddenly drops by tens of thousands and your career is over (if your career depended on Twitter).
Finally, can you buy followers for someone else? I can think of some entertaining uses for that.
Yup, the article makes that pretty clear.
I wonder if you can specify what type of follower you can buy. Can I specify that the followers appear to be young African-Americans? Or can I ask for accounts that would fit in well with a more Aryan crowd? Devumi seems to not offer this, but there are other companies out there, right?
What I meant was: if followers are rented and not bought and if you can rent them for other people, then slowly rent more followers for the victim so it looks natural, carefully arranging for the rents to expire over a short period of time.
"JUST SO WEIRD that the New York Times was able to crunch the numbers and see obvious botnets pop out, but Twitter and Facebook are incapable of this. SO WEIRD."
It's almost as if the companies don't actually care as much as they claim to about being a cesspool of spammers and SEO bots.
Actually- they could do something about it. They'd just have to force the same restrictions where you effectively have to get one burner phone per account on users outside the First World. That would be racist, though.
They wouldn't even have to go that far. Put up a CAPTCHA. Put in limits on how many users you're allowed to follow on a new account.
I'm assuming these companies have the work done out of South-East Asia and possibly the Middle East (possibly with the same people working for them, you aren't going to find any actual citizen of the UAE actually working in that country). These are the same spots where you can mass register Twitter accounts without getting phone-locked.
So weird. Except they are capable of that. A few years ago I found 1,000 extra followers on my Twitter account, a significant increase. At the time I had set it up to have Twitter email me for every new follower, which had not happened for any of them. I have to speculate that's because Twitter recognised it as a botnet.
I investigated a few of the new followers. Stock photos and images stolen off of LinkedIn profiles as pictures, and it was clear who had been buying followers. Eventually I found an account owned by a gentleman with an Indian-sounding name openly tweeting about selling followers.
It took me a few weeks because Twitter rate-limits abuse reports but I ended up blocking and reporting all of them because I am that kind of person.
Well that's one way to keep those numbers down.
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."
To quote Neal Stephenson's Anathem, as usual:
I've read this book 3 times and each time I picked up something I missed the previous times. Easily the best SF book in the last long while.