U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) has called on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate and stop companies from selling fraudulent social media accounts that deceive the public.
The FTC must use its authority to protect American consumers from this “unique kind of social identity theft,” wrote Sen. Moran, who joined forces with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in writing a Jan. 30 letter to FTC Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen. Marketing companies that sell such fake accounts are “distorting the online marketplace,” wrote the senators, who have requested a response by Feb. 14.
The senators pointed to a recent news report about the U.S. marketing firm Devumi. Devumi claims to help its clients boost their social media presence, however the report alleges it uses bots and fake social media accounts to achieve this. Then, “Devumi sells Twitter followers and retweets to celebrities, businesses and anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert influence online,” according to a Jan. 27 New York Times investigation piece on Devumi, which the senators cited in their letter.
“Devumi’s fraudulent practices are likely linked to widespread consumer harms,” the senators 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.”
Devumi reportedly has a stock of roughly 3.5 million automated accounts and “at least 55,000 of these accounts use ‘the names, profile pictures, hometowns and other personal details of real Twitter users, including minors,’” the senators wrote, quoting the article, which noted that the automated accounts each have been sold many times over.
Moran, chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security, and Subcommittee Ranking Member Blumenthal requested that Ohlhausen use the statutory authority under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act to investigate and take necessary actions. Section 5 specifically prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce,” according to the FTC.
“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.