Facebook sues over sale of fake likes and followers to Instagram users

By filing the lawsuit, Facebook wants to send a message that such fraudulent activity is not tolerated on its services.
By filing the lawsuit, Facebook wants to send a message that such fraudulent activity is not tolerated on its services.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (DPA, AFP) - Facebook is suing a company and three individuals based in New Zealand over allegations they sold fake likes, views and followers to users of its photo-sharing platform Instagram, it said on Thursday (April 25).

The company said it suspended accounts associated with the defendants, who had been formally warned that they were in violation of the company's terms of use, "however their activity persisted".

"By filing the lawsuit, we are sending a message that this kind of fraudulent activity is not tolerated on our services, and we will act to protect the integrity of our platform," Facebook director of platform enforcement and litigation Jessica Romero said in a blog post.

Ms Romero did not identify the company or the individuals names in the legal complaint, which accused them of using fake businesses and websites to sell “engagement services” to Instagram users looking to buy status.

Such activity violates terms of service at Facebook-owned Instagram.

“We previously suspended accounts associated with the defendants and formally warned them in writing that they were in violation of our Terms of Use, however their activity persisted,” Ms Romero said.

Users with large numbers of followers are often able to attract lucrative sponsorship deals and sell products on their platform if they are considered to be influencers.

She described the lawsuit as part of an ongoing effort to prevent fraudulent activity at its family of services, which includes photo and video sharing social network Instagram.

Last year, Instagram said it would step up its efforts against users artificially increasing their follower numbers as Facebook dealt with the aftermath of a number of scandals, including the Cambridge Analytica data-sharing one.

The company has also been removing pages, groups and accounts showing "inauthentic behaviour" in countries including the Philippines, Russia and Iran, following accusations that the platform played a role in influencing 2016's US presidential election and the Brexit referendum.