Social media bots may seem like a futuristic phenomenon or something belonging only in the TV series “Homeland,” but they’re already here affecting businesses and individuals online.
Last month, the New York Times reported on its investigation into the selling of fake Twitter followers and retweets by an American company named Devumi, which it estimates has at least 3.5 million automated Twitter accounts and at least 55,000 of which that impersonate real people. These individuals probably have no idea that Devumi purportedly uses their names, profile pictures, etc. to create automated accounts to sell to celebrities, politicians, businesses, and others looking to boost their following online.
According to a related New York Times article, there have been a number of both federal and state inquiries into fake social media account practices such as these, including an investigation that the New York Attorney General’s office opened last month into Devumi’s practice of using stolen identities to sell fake accounts, which it believes would constitute illegal impersonation and deception. Social media companies, on the other hand, appear to be grappling with how to best enforce their policies and handle fake user accounts, which can have a significant influence on businesses, politics, and consumer behavior. And influencers themselves, who may believe they are buying legitimate followers, are likely left with questions of their own.
Today’s presence of social media bots requires companies to be even more cognizant of certain practices online. Although social media can be a powerful tool in any company’s advertising or marketing plan, companies need to be careful for example when considering whether and how to purchase social media followers. And, as always, companies should avoid any online practices that appear illegal or fraudulent.