Reports says about 48 million Twitter users are fake

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Within the sports field, The New York Times profile identified ESPN's Joey Galloway, MLB player Brandon Phillips, Ohio State quarterback Tate Martell, and former Baltimore Raven/ESPN analyst Ray Lewis as those who have been clients.

The paper linked the "follower factory" to a host of celebrity accounts. It interviewed some of the real social media users whose profile pictures and biographical details had apparently been stolen.

Hollywood stars, athletes and social-media influencers want to increase the number of Twitter followers they have and how many "likes" and retweets their posts receive.

Mr Schneiderman said he was concerned that such "opaque" operations were undermining democracy.

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 Times story says business and court records show Devumi has more than 200,000 customers.

The use of automated bots and accounts on sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been thrust into the public consciousness in recent months as major social media sites have confirmed that such tools were deployed during the 2016 Presidential election, and after bots were used for online public commenting periods, and other events. While based in Florida, Devumi claims on its website to be based in New York City. The company uses algorithms to determine this, he says, such as checking how active an account is, its creation date and if the user only retweets, without posting original content.

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

Whose accounts have been linked? The thinking is people are more likely to follow or retweet these accounts because they already seem more credible and important.

"We became aware over the weekend of issues relating to Rich Roeper's Twitter account".

As of Monday afternoon, Symon had 949,000 Twitter followers. She said it was "an experiment I did several years ago to see how it worked".

Also on the list is Richard Roeper, the veteran columnist and film critic at the Chicago Sun-Times, which said it will not publish any new pieces by Roeper until their investigation into his 226,000-follower Twitter account is complete.

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