Senators call for FTC investigation into company selling fake Twitter followers

Senators call for FTC investigation into company selling fake Twitter followers
© Greg Nash

Two senators are asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate a company that sells fake Twitter followers in the wake of a New York Times report that revealed that dozens of public figures purchased social media followings to inflate their prominence.

Sens. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranGOP Senator: 'Very inappropriate' for Trump to discuss allowing Russia to question US citizens Lobbying world This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation MORE (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of a Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, argue in a letter to acting FTC Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen on Wednesday that Devumi, the company at the center of the Times report, has been deceiving consumers and stealing identities.

“This 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,” the senators wrote.

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According to the Times report, Devumi has sold legions of fake followers that in some cases are similar to the accounts of real people. The company also sells Soundcloud listeners, LinkedIn connections and YouTube shares and likes.

“We take requests from Congress seriously, and we are reviewing this specific request but we have no other comment at this time,” an FTC spokeswoman said in a statement to The Hill.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) has promised an investigation into Devumi, accusing the company of engaging in illegal “impersonation and deception.”

Officials argue that purchasing fake followers can be a deceptive business practice for social media personalities who often derive their income from branded sponsors. Those sponsors often weigh an established following in making endorsements.

“Devumi’s fraudulent practices are likely linked to widespread consumer harms,” Moran and Blumenthal wrote. “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.”