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Mumbai police bust racket of fake social media accounts, may question celebrities including Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone

Mumbai Police Crime Branch has received two separate complaints, one by singer Bhoomi Trivedi and other by actor Koena Mitra, about fake social media accounts made on their names

Celebrities often brag about their social media presence and number of followers. Their engagement on social media platforms improves the chances of grabbing endorsements and projects. The Mumbai Police Crime Branch has recently busted a racket in which they unearthed more than 50 companies that were involved in selling social media followers, likes and comments. It is alleged that many high-profile celebrities, including Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone, have taken services from them. Police have summoned ten high profile personalities to question them. Mumbai Joint Commissioner of Police Vinay Kumar Chaubey said, “We have investigated and found as many as 54 firms involved in this racket. SIT comprising Crime Branch along with Cyber Cell has been formed which will help in investigating this case.”

What is the Fake social media account case?

Mumbai Police Crime Branch has received two separate complaints, one by singer Bhoomi Trivedi and other by actor Koena Mitra, about fake social media accounts made on their names. Trivedi alleged that someone was bragging about talking to Bhoomi to get her account verified. The conversation was with a fake profile of Bhoomi Trivedi. During the investigation, police found out that the account was created by a man who runs a company to provide fake followers, likes, comments and other social media related services.

Investigators found out that a large number of such companies in operating in India as well as in the international market. Police have shortlisted 54 such companies in India that are involved in providing “fake” services. On 14th July, Central Intelligence Unit (CIU) of the crime branch arrested one Abhishek Davade who provide such services. The 21-year-old service provider was using bots or fake profiles to increase engagement of his clients. To provide such services, Davade was using more than 170 accounts in which he allegedly added more than five lakh followers to make them look genuine.

After interrogating Davade, police found out that he has provided services to no less than 18 celebrities in the past one year. Police also found out that he had made transactions worth Rs. 9 lakh in the last six months. Eighteen celebrities have been so far listed by the police who may get a notice for questioning. As of now, ten of them, including two high profile actresses, will be questioned. Media reports are suggesting that these two actresses are Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone.

Police have also arrested one Kashif Mansoor who was running even bigger racket under his website AVMSMM. He had allegedly sold more than 2.33 crore followers in the past few months. He was arrested from his house in Jogeshwari. Police said that he would be produced in court for further police custody so that they can question him. This is the second arrest in the case. Police have recorded the statement of several customers via video conferencing in the past few days.

How fake engagement works on social media?

Social media is a fascinating world. It does not matter who you are. What matters is how many followers you have and how frequent are you with the engagement on your social media profiles. The more active you are and the more engagement you get from the followers, the better are the chances that you will get endorsements. Those who get such endorsements from brands are known as influencers.

There are different levels of influencers. Micro-influencers are those who have 10,000 to 15,000 followers. Mid-range influencers are those who have somewhere close to 50,000 and five lakh followers. High-profile influencers will have more than 5 lakh followers. Most of these influencers are from film or sports industry. Brands, considering their number of followers and frequency at which they update the profile, approach them for endorsements. Anyone, who has more than 10,000 followers on social media platforms, can be a good source of leads. Bigger brands go for high profile celebrities, and new brands often approach micro or mid-range influencers.

Because of the possible income, the trend of buying followers, likes and other types of engagement has increased in the past few years. According to a report, India ranks third in terms of fake profiles. Analytics firm HypeAuditor said fake engagement is quite popular in the US, Brazil and India. Social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook often delete fake profiles or bot accounts from their respective platforms to ensure fair practice. However, the sheer number of companies indulging in this on the international level makes it almost impossible for these companies to put an end to this fake engagement business.

As per the regulations of the social media platforms, it is not permitted to create fake profiles or impersonate someone else. However, because there is no law in most of the countries against online fake accounts, the culprits are away from the range of law enforcement agencies. In most of the cases, the social media platforms simply remove the accounts and close the case.

Fake profiles or “fan accounts” of celebrities is quite a nascence on social media platforms. They not only impersonate as the celebrities in many cases but also cause major distress in the lives of the celebrities by leaking their personal information, pictures and videos. Such accounts often indulge in cyber crimes and dupe people out of money.

How to detect a fake profile on social media?

There are several websites and tools available which you can use to detect fake accounts or fake engagement. These tools, also known as Social Media Auditors, are often used by marketing companies to see if the influencer is worth approaching or not. However, most of the brands do not bother to check the profiles of the influencers deeper than just checking the number of followers. It can be considered as a fraud on influencers’ part if they are not able to provide the engagement they have promised to project based on the number of followers. However, in the lack of law and lack of knowledge on the brands’ end, so-called influencers often dodge the bullet.

The simplest way to detect fake followers and engagement without using any tool is by checking their engagement. On average, celebrities get five to ten per cent engagement rate based on the number of followers. That means, if the user has one lakh followers, on an average he/she will get 5000 to 10,000 likes on the posts. If the celebrity is active, the engagement rate would be higher. Hypeauditor said in one of their reports that abnormal growth in the number of followers, likes and engagement is also one of the signs of fake engagement.

Now, there is a possibility to buy engagement too. In such cases scrolling through the comments will give you an idea of the engagement is genuine or not. Most of the real users like to post more than “what a picture” or “that’s amazing” type of replies. Also, if you find the same replies from a lot of accounts in comments, there is a possibility that these are fake replies. It also works perfectly on Twitter. OpIndia recently reported about a company that sells RTs, followers and more on Twitter. Political parties often take such services to improve hashtags’ ranking and put them in the trending list.

How much users pay for such engagement?

In general, the price may vary from Rs.100 to Rs.1000 per 1000 followers. It depends on the quality of the accounts that will be following you. To avoid detection, these companies maintain some of the social media accounts to project them as real. The clients who decide to pay more get engagement from such accounts. For likes, the price may vary from Rs.5 to Rs.50,000 depending on how many likes one wants. Some companies even offer comments where you can input a set of comments to post, and their bots post the comments from fake profiles. Is buying followers illegal?

It is an issue for debate. Though no law is stopping from buying or selling followers, if it is used to cheat someone, then under the law, the victim can file a case of forgery, cheating and others. In most of the cases, such services are harmless and used by people to satisfy their own ego. But if someone is creating fake profiles of celebrities to promote their own services, it is not only unethical but goes against the law.

Keeping in mind the vastness of the case, the crime branch has decided to expand their investigation. In the next few weeks, the main concentration may revolve around understanding the racket and interrogating owners and clients of such companies.

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Staff reporter at OpIndia

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