Fake engagement is a key issue on social media platforms, with 'influencers' able to artificially inflate their stats, then make money from unwitting businesses by touting their perceived reach.
As such, Facebook's latest legal action is welcome news - Facebook has this week launched legal proceedings against a Spanish-based company called MGP25 Cyberint Services, over the provision of automation software to distribute fake likes and comments on Instagram.
As explained by Facebook:
"The defendant’s service was designed to evade Instagram’s restrictions against fake engagement by mimicking the official Instagram app in the way that it connected to our systems. The defendants did this for profit, and continued to do so even after we sent a Cease and Desist letter and disabled their accounts."
This is not the first time that Facebook has taken legal action over the sale of fake likes and followers.
In March 2019, Facebook filed suit against several companies, following a ruling by New York's Attorney General that selling fake social media followers and likes is essentially illegal. That case followed an investigation by The New York Times into an organization called Devumi which had reportedly provided a paid service to regularly add fake likes, followers and retweets to the accounts of a range of high-profile celebrities and social media influencers.
The New York ruling essentially established precedent that such activity is, in fact, illegal, and it's one of several areas that Facebook has since sought to take more action against, via legal enforcement, as a means to deter future instances of the same.
Of course, buying followers and likes is still possible - a simple Google search will provide you with a range of options to choose from. But hopefully, with increased legal action, Facebook can increase the risk for such traders, and disincentivize operations from offering fake engagement.
Also, it's just rubbish. You might feel a bit better, or look a bit better, with 10k followers instead of 100. But those bot accounts will never engage, they'll never buy your products. They'll also ruin your data - if half your audience are bots, your analytics are pretty much useless.
As a short-term strategy, maybe it looks impressive. But really, it's not helping, and it won't ultimately generate results.
And worse, if you get found out, the reputational damage could be severe.
In addition to this, Facebook is also taking action against the owner of a US-based company for data scraping.
"Facebook Inc. also sued Mohammad Zaghar in federal court in San Francisco for operating a data scraping service called Massroot8. This service asked people to provide their Facebook login credentials on the Massroot8 website. The credentials were then used by Zaghar’s service to scrape user data from Facebook. Zaghar collected the data by using a computer program to control a network of bots, which pretended to be an Android device connected to the official Facebook mobile app."
Data scraping has become a much bigger concern for Facebook following the Cambridge Analytica debacle, and while court rulings on such have presented varying results, in this instance, it seems that the company operated in violation of Facebook's terms, which will likely lead to prosecution.
It's good to see Facebook increasing its action on these fronts. With more businesses shifting their focus to online marketing, as local newspapers and their regular promotional outlets close up, it's increasingly important that the data being presented online is accurate, and reflects real world activity, by real people, while additionally protecting user information.
Weeding these services out will increase trust in online platforms, and ultimately, make social media a more effective and beneficial business tool.