The Legal Consequences of Trafficking in Fake Likes and Follows

May 28, 2019

It’s a jungle out there. With marketing saturation at peak capacity, gaining exposure — whether you’re an influencer, retailer, non-profit, writer, law firm, whatever — can feel like an impossible task. The competition for eyeballs is fierce, and some people are turning to fake likes and follows. Cash-for-clout is the new payola. But is it legal?

Facebook Sues Company for Selling Fake Clout

The Case: Sued for Selling Likes

Facebook is suing a New Zealand company that allegedly sold millions of fake likes and follows on Instagram. It’s using a CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) argument, which has worked in the past. Since the law includes vague language like “unauthorized access” and “exceeding authorized access” it’s commonly called upon as a catchall statute for  questionable computer-related activity that doesn’t fit neatly into a box.

Legalese from the lawsuit:

The “fake like” company] violated 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(4) because they knowingly and with intent to defraud accessed Facebook and Instagram-protected computers by sending unauthorized commands to Facebook and Instagram computers. Defendants sent the commands to Facebook and Instagram computers to manipulate Instagram’s service by fraudulently inflating likes of certain Instagram accounts. Defendants did these acts in exchange for profit.

In the simplest terms, Facebook is claiming that the defendant violated California’s version of the CFAA by “accessing” Instagram’s servers. Essentially, Facebook (Instagram’s parent company) is claiming that mere use of its platforms constitutes “access.” If they win on these grounds, expect a slew of digital-media lawsuits to flood the courts, which could stifle innovation and chill competition.

Facebook’s Legal Tactic: Fair or Foul?

Is Facebook’s legal maneuver a straightforward, good-faith claim in service of the company’s stated goal of eradicating “coordinated inauthentic behavior” from its platform?

Some analysts argue that the case is far-fetched and may be an attempted distraction from the social media giant’s other legal problems. But then again, the company included a potential $5 billion fine as a mere footnote in its latest earnings report. In other words: Facebook doesn’t seem all that concerned.

Whatever the motivation, it will be interesting to see where the courts land. Again, if they rule in favor of the social media company, expect an avalanche of “fake like” lawsuits.

Three Legal Reasons Why Buying Fake Likes Is a Very Bad Idea

In the not too distant past, manufactured influence was the norm. At the time, laws and terms of service policies didn’t address the issue, so fake likes were fair game. But regulators and businesses caught on and subsequently implemented rules to kill artificial clout. Nowadays, you risk a lot by going down that route.

  • Buying likes could land you in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission, the federal watchdog responsible for enforcing truth-in-advertising standards. FTC fines are usually in the millions.
  • Falsely inflating social media statistics could also invite competitor lawsuits — especially if Facebook emerges the victor in its claim.
  • When you create accounts on e-commerce and social media platforms, you agree to abide by the site’s terms. If you break those rules, the website can lawfully shut down your account. Your business could be gone with the click of a mouse.

Buying phony clout just isn’t worth it and could land you in legal trouble.

Connect with A Social Media Marketing Compliance Lawyer

Our firm regularly works with social media influencers on compliance, contract, and litigation matters. If you need to formally set up a business and establish a tax position, we can help. Need to secure some intellectual property? We’ve got your back. Slapped with a lawsuit or need to file a claim? We’ll review the case and fight passionately on your behalf. Moreover, instead of trafficking in false hope, we’ll let you know upfront if your case has a chance.

Get in touch today to start exploring your options.

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