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T he 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. The fake Jessica followed or retweeted accounts using Arabic and Indonesian, languages the real Jessica does not speak.
While she was a 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 Apartment 2H: Turn The Radio Up - Barry Manilow - Barry Manilow 5-6 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. The accounts that most resemble real people, like Ms. Rychly, reveal a kind of large-scale social identity theft. At least 55, of the accounts use the names, profile pictures, hometowns and other personal details of real Twitter users, including minors, according to a Times data Times We Share - The Difference - Speakers And Followers.
Rychly, now 19, said. It is just horrible. These accounts are counterfeit coins in the booming economy of Times We Share - The Difference - Speakers And Followers influence, reaching into virtually any industry where a mass audience — or the illusion of it — can be monetized.
Fake accounts, deployed by governments, criminals and entrepreneurs, now infest social media networks. These fake accounts, known as bots, can help sway advertising audiences and reshape political debates. They can defraud businesses and ruin reputations. Yet their creation and sale fall into a legal gray zone. Despite rising criticism of social media companies and growing scrutiny by elected officials, the trade in fake followers has remained largely opaque.
While Twitter and other platforms prohibit buying followers, Devumi and dozens of other sites openly sell them. And social media companies, whose market value is closely tied to the number of people using their services, make their own rules about detecting and eliminating fake accounts. Calas said in an email exchange in November. The Times reviewed business and court records showing that Devumi has more thancustomers, including reality television Weekend Special - Brenda & The Big Dudes - Weekend Special (File), professional athletes, comedians, TED speakers, pastors and models.
In most cases, the records show, they purchased their own followers. In others, their employees, agents, public relations companies, family members or friends did the buying. For just pennies each — sometimes even less — Devumi offers Twitter followers, views on YouTube, plays on SoundCloud, the music-hosting site, and endorsements on LinkedIn, the professional-networking site.
The actor John Leguizamo has Devumi followers. So do Michael Dell, the computer billionaire, and Ray Lewis, the football commentator Times We Share - The Difference - Speakers And Followers former Ravens linebacker. Randy Bryce, an ironworker seeking to unseat Representative Paul Ryan of El Hijo De Mis Quereles - Antonio Molina - Antonio Molina, purchased Devumi followers inwhen he was a blogger and labor activist.
Louise Linton, the wife of the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, bought followers when she was trying to gain traction as an actress. Kristin Binns, Times We Share - The Difference - Speakers And Followers Twitter spokeswoman, said the company did not typically suspend users suspected of buying bots, in part because it is difficult for the business to know who is responsible for any given purchase.
Binns said. Unlike some social media companies, Twitter does not require accounts to be associated with a real person. It also permits more automated access to its platform than other companies, making it easier to set up and control large numbers of accounts.
Below are three examples of common bot types you might encounter on Twitter and an approximation of the code controls them. And not everything is what it seems. For some entertainers and entrepreneurs, this virtual status is a real-world currency. Follower counts on social networks help determine who will hire them, how much they are paid for bookings or endorsements, even how potential customers evaluate their businesses or products.
High follower counts are also critical for so-called influencers, a budding market of amateur tastemakers and YouTube stars where advertisers now lavish billions of dollars a year on sponsorship deals. The more people influencers reach, the more money they make.
Genuine fame often translates into genuine social media influence, as fans follow and like their favorite movie stars, celebrity chefs and models. Once purchased, the followers can be a powerful tool. Twitter and Facebook can be similarly influenced. Search on Google for how to buy more followers, Cavaquinho - Various - Protagonista Lo Srumento Devumi often turns up among the first results.
Visitors are greeted by a polished website listing a Manhattan address, displaying testimonials from customers and a money-back guarantee. As advertised, the first 10, or so looked like real people. They had pictures and full names, hometowns and often authentic-seeming biographies. One account looked like that of Ms. Rychly, the young Minnesota woman. But on closer inspection, some of the details seemed off. In reality, it sells bots with stolen profiles.
Here are the details that give them away. The next 15, followers from Devumi were more obviously suspect: no profile pictures, and jumbles of letters, numbers and word fragments instead of names. In August, a Times reporter emailed Mr. Calas, asking if he would answer questions about Devumi. Calas did not respond. Twitter forbids selling or buying followers or retweets, and Devumi promises customers absolute discretion. The only way anyone will know is if you tell them. But company records reviewed by The Times revealed much of what Devumi and its customers prefer to conceal.
In interviews, their explanations varied. They bought followers because they were curious about how it worked, or felt pressure to generate high follower counts for themselves or their customers. While some said they believed Devumi was supplying real potential fans or customers, others acknowledged that they knew or suspected they were getting fake accounts.
Several said they regretted their purchases. Ireland has over a million followers on Twitter, which she often uses to promote companies with whom she has endorsement deals. But in January last year, Ms. Ireland had only aboutfollowers. The employee later made more purchases, he acknowledged in an interview. Much of Ms. A spokeswoman said that the employee had acted without Ms. Similarly, Ms. She declined to name the person. Several Devumi customers or their representatives contacted by The Times declined to comment, among them Mr.
Leguizamo, whose followers were bought by an associate. Many more did not respond to repeated efforts to contact them. A few denied making Devumi purchases. They include Ashley Knight, Mr. Trump and motivational speaker whose personal email address was associated with eight orders.
A Twitter account belonging to Paul Hollywood, the celebrity baker, was deleted after The Times emailed him with questions. Many of these celebrities, business leaders, sports stars and other Twitter users bought their own followers, records show.
In other cases, the purchases were made by their employees, agents, family members or other associates. Over two years, Heartland - Tanita Tikaram / The The - In Concert-481 Democratic public relations consultant and CNN contributor Hilary Rosen bought more than a half-million fake followers from Devumi.
Rosen previously spent more than a decade as head of the Recording Industry Association of America. Other buyers said they had faced pressure from employers to generate social media followers. Marcus Holmlund, a young freelance writer, was at first thrilled when Wilhelmina, the international modeling agency, hired him to manage its social media efforts. Holmlund said, a supervisor told him to buy followers or find another job.
Indespite misgivings, he began making monthly Devumi purchases out of his own pocket. Holmlund, who left in late Several Devumi customers acknowledged that they bought bots because their careers had come to depend, in part, on the appearance of social media influence. Hurst did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Devumi also sells bots to reality television stars, who can parlay fame into endorsement and appearance fees. Devumi bots retweeted his complaint 5, times. More than a hundred self-described influencers — whose market value is even more directly linked to their follower counts on social media — have purchased Twitter followers from Devumi. Justin Blau, a popular Las Vegas-based D. In an email, Mr. Blau said a former member of his management team bought them without his approval. A Times spokeswoman said the company sought to verify that the audience of each contractor was legitimate and would not do business with anyone who violated that standard.
Lucas Peterson, a freelance journalist who writes a travel column for The Times, also bought followers from Devumi.
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