How the murky world of selling followers on social media works

Buying followers brings false credibility to influencers and brands

Buying followers brings false credibility to influencers and brands

Photo: Pixabay

How to get views, followers and likes on social media? There are companies that specialize in selling false engagementwhich is illegal.

O volume of followers legitimizes the figure of the influencer and even the advertiser brand, making business profitable in various sectors. When this engagement is not true, consumers, and even voters, are being deceived.

Part of this work is performed by robots, software that impersonates humans on networks. Another part, by people who can receive less than BRL 0.01 per task such as liking, following, viewing and commenting.

It is not difficult to hire these services: the report did a simple search on the Google, which returns several ads from companies that provide this service, with companies such as Seguidores Up, Seguidores Eternos, Agência Pop Up and SocialFast. You can buy 10,000 followers on Instagram for just R$179, pay in installments and even choose between Brazilians and foreigners.

Google result for buying social media followers

Google result for buying social media followers

Photo: Playback / Google

This scenario returned to the news with the action of Meta, owner of the Facebook, Instagram and WhatsAppfiled in August of this year, against the Brazilian companies MGM Marketing Digital Ltda and Igoo Networks.

In a note on the company’s website, Jessica Romero, Legal Director of Meta, says that the motivation was the identification of services provided by these companies selling likes from followers and fake views on Instagram, which violates the platform’s terms of use. A practice known as “click farms”.

The ongoing lawsuits, according to Romero, also allege violations of Brazilian law, since those involved used unauthorized automation (use of robots). And on top of that, some of the services asked for login credentials from Instagram users.

This practice may violate the requirements of the General Personal Data Protection Law (LGPD). The law dictates that there must be transparency, purpose and legal basis (justification) for the processing of personal data. The principle of necessity must also always be respected, that is, only strictly necessary data must be processed.

Fuel for lawsuits

Some of the Facebook and Instagram terms of use that fueled Meta’s lawsuits say that users may not use their products to cheat, act illegally, deceptively or fraudulently, or violate someone else’s rights (including using of someone else’s content without proper permission). It is also prohibited on social networks to data collect of the products using automated means, without the prior permission of the platforms.

There are also bans on creating fake accounts; collect information to which the user should not have access; or buy, sell or transfer accounts.

To ensure that the content people see on its platforms is authentic, Meta makes it clear that it may remove content or restrict or delete accounts if the terms or community guidelines are violated.

In a note sent to ByteMeta says it is very important that interactions on Instagram and Facebook are genuine, and for that they work to keep the community free from inauthentic behavior: “False engagement services, which artificially increase the popularity of an account through purchase and selling likes, comments and followers violates our Terms of Use, as do attempts to buy, sell or transfer any element of your account.”

Meta further states that it directs significant resources towards combating abuse on its platforms and, when detected, considers all applicable options, including suspension and removal of accounts. In some cases, they take legal action against those responsible.

Lack of transparency with buying followers can harm influencers on Instagram

Lack of transparency with buying followers can harm influencers on Instagram

Photo: Claudio Schwarz / Unsplash

“express” credibility

We are living in a society eager for transparency, argues Patrícia Peck, a lawyer specializing in digital law. “The distortion of reality, that is, the fabrication of a false reality, is not acceptable. That way, anyone can acquire fame and relevance,” she says.

For the lawyer, a profile that buys many followers gains the power to manipulate credibility, which affects the ethics and transparency of social networks. “Would we have the same opinion if we knew how many likes are spontaneous and how many likes are bought? Would it affect public opinion? We cannot legalize deception.”

Elizabeth Saad, professor at ECA-USP and coordinator of the COM+ Research group, also alerts to the importance of transparency in networks. “Click farms sell not only to influencers, but to agencies and even brands. Everyone, therefore, needs to review their strategies to preserve credibility.”

More quality, less quantity

For Saad, the fact of following an influencer on the network with a large number of followers makes no difference: “What matters is empathy, the feeling of belonging to the huge volume of followers. The vast majority do not even read the post, because they are enchanted by the character”.

Another relevant point highlighted by the teacher is that the brands seduced by the volume of followers do not always appreciate the importance of connecting the influencer profile with the product. “They hire celebrities who clearly don’t have that alignment, but focus on their undeniable audience potency.”

Edgar Rebouças, Research Coordinator of the National Network to Combat Misinformation (RNCD), says that there is nothing new on the subject. “In the 1970s, Canadian researcher Dallas Smyhte wrote a fundamental text on the audience as a commodity, contributing to the construction of a political economy of communications”, he argues.

Rebouças highlights that the objective of any communicator is to attract an audience to capture business as sponsors and advertisers. “The products are bait to sell the audience. This is what happens in social networks in the influencer strategy. And the more qualified it is, the more expensive.”

There is light at the end of the tunnel, experts believe. According to them, the current situation may change with the approval of the Fake News Law by the National Congress, which provides for inhibiting the functioning of inauthentic accounts on the networks. But, they warn, discussions around ethics and credibility on social media for creating a new culture are just beginning.

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