Reports says about 48 million Twitter users are fake

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An extensive report by the New York Times has revealed the shady business of buying and selling fake followers and bots on social media, exposing several public figures in the process.

"Impersonation and deception are illegal under NY law", Schneiderman tweeted. "We are opening an investigation into Devumi and its apparent sale of bots using stolen identities".

As the New York Times report notes, Twitter and other social media platforms prohibit the buying of followers, yet Devumi is not an isolated case. The real users hailed from every US state, including NY, and dozens of countries, a Times analysis found.

"The growing prevalence of bots means that real voices are too often drowned out in public conversation", Schneiderman said.

It is alleged that others who wanted to increase their follower count, including actors, entrepreneurs and political commentators, could then pay to be followed by the bots.

On its website, Devumi offers customers the chance to order up to 250,000 Twitter followers, with prices starting at $12 ($NZ16.40).

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According to The New York Times, numerous follower accounts impersonate those of genuine people - and have provided Devumi's customers with more than 200 million followers. The Times goes on to say that while there are a number of companies that provide fake followers to paying customers, these companies take advantage of platforms that lend themselves well to fake accounts.

To understand how Devumi works, the NYT itself set up a new Twitter account and spent $225 on 25,000 followers.

However when the Great British Bake Off judge was contacted by the New York Times, his account disappeared, and he told the paper that the "account does not exist".

However, the company told the Times such suspensions are infrequent, because proving who bought the illicit interactions is hard.

On Saturday, Mr Bryce - who is trying to unseat Republican Paul Ryan in Congress - said, on Twitter, that he bought the followers as an experiment in 2015, when he was a blogger. Those numbers are also used as a barometer of how popular individuals are on Twitter - and the more admired they are, the more money they can get paid for say, new movies or endorsement deals. The thinking is people are more likely to follow or retweet these accounts because they already seem more credible and important.

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