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Facebook sues Instagram bot sellers in New Zealand


Facebook has sued a New Zealand company that sold fake likes, shares, and followers on Instagram, saying that “we will act to protect the integrity of our platform.” It alleges that Social Media Series
Limited — a company run by Arend Nollen, Leon Hedges, and David Pasanen — spent years flouting Facebook’s requests to stop selling fake, automated engagement through sites with names like Likesocial.co and IGFamous.net. The suit asks a US court to stop the company’s behavior and award damages for manipulating the Instagram platform.

According to Facebook’s complaint, Nollen, Hedges, and Pasanen have been running social media bot operations since mid-2015. Facebook sent the team a cease and desist notice in early 2018, leading the group to shut down their original sites. But they continued operating through a new storefront using a fake company name, even after having many accounts banned and “millions of artificial likes” blocked. As the screenshot below shows, users could buy between 50 and 2,000 fake Instagram likes for between $10 and $99 per week.

The group “used a network of bots and Instagram accounts that they controlled to deliver millions of automated likes to their customers,” writes Facebook. “Some of the Instagram accounts controlled by Defendants were responsible for tens of thousands of likes on a daily basis.” Facebook estimates the operation earned around $9.4 million through fake social media engagement.

Facebook is suing the group for breach of contract since they violated Facebook and Instagram’s terms of service. More controversially, it argues that they violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) by using bots to inflate customers’ engagement after getting banned from the service. In Facebook’s words, they “sent ... commands to Facebook and Instagram computers to manipulate Instagram’s service by fraudulently inflating likes.” The CFAA was designed to prevent computer intrusion, and Facebook is pushing that definition to its limits, just like Amazon-owned streaming service Twitch did in a 2016 suit against bot operators.

This is the second recent suit that Facebook has filed over fake accounts. Last month, it sued several Chinese companies that sold likes and followers on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and other platforms. As before, Facebook calls this “one more step in our ongoing efforts to protect people and prevent inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram,” in addition to automated blocking and other moderation options.

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