Digital Deceit: Business of Likes, Followers 

From getting fake followers, ‘likes’, comments and reviews on social media platforms to having a rival’s website crashed, every service is up for grabs in the digital market. A special investigative report by Tehelka SIT

Celebrities and social media influencers from all over the world have time and again made it to the headlines for buying “views” or followers on various social media platforms. The enhanced number of views and likes on social media is the easiest way to get noticed. It is also a common practice among social media influencers and celebrities looking for popular brand endorsement deals.

Buying “likes”, followers and views for social media accounts is not new or uncommon in India. In fact, it is as simple as going for a google search saying “buy followers India” and a plethora of sites involved in this business pop up. Though this practice has been prevalent in India among various social media influencers for quite some time now, some recent turn of events has put the spotlight on Bollywood. On July 20, singer Bhoomi Trivedi filed a complaint alleging that someone had created a profile on Instagram using her name and photos. The profile so created was being used to scam others. Following investigations, the police zeroed in on a 21-year-old boy. After questioning him, the police found out that he was working for a website which was a part of a larger international racket involved in creating fake profiles and supplying fake followers, likes and views.

Another recent case is that of the famous Bollywood rapper Badshah who has claimed that his song video “Pagal Hai” got 75 million views on YouTube, on the very first day it was aired. Several reports also claimed that this had made it the most popular first-day video on YouTube. Following investigation, the Mumbai police found that Badshah paid a total of Rs 72 lakh to various sites that generate fake views to create ‘views’ on his video.

However Badshah is not the only one resorting to these social media shenanigans. Many stories have been written about how India’s leading politicians have many fake followers, sometime almost half of their entire so-called ‘following’ is comprised of fake followers. But why only online? Look at offline! One of the most common methods in political rallies and campaigning is to fill the stadium/venue with ‘heads’ – people who have no clue what is happening on stage, but are lured with money, alcohol and food to the rally site. They are actually fake listeners, offline, to an event. Is this legally wrong? Of course not. Is it ethically wrong? Yes, indeed.

Badshah is using the bandwagon effect to boost his profile. The world record could be added to his list of achievements, and could be used to enhance his bargaining power with brands and agencies, for promotions.

Film producers in India use it all the time. When they claim their movie is a Rs 100-crore film, they are indirectly implying that since so many people have seen it, the film must be really good. And that sends a FOMO sign to others who may not have seen it. If the Rs 100 crores were legitimately earned (and had not resulted from fudged accounting, which is illegal), then this is a perfectly good way to create FOMO.

But in Badshah’s case, he did the fudged-accounting equivalent online to get his “Rs. 100 crores”, that is, the world record, using fake views and likes.

Simply put, it is not illegal to buy likes, followers or views for your social media accounts per se because there is no specific enactment or a legal provision that directly prohibits or prosecutes such an act. But a complaint can be filed under section 468 of the Indian Penal Code against a person creating a fake account for the purpose of increasing the followers’ count or the number of views. This particular section of the code deals with the offence of forgery for the purpose of cheating.

Need for a legal remedy

For tackling a situation like this, India needs a legislation that exclusively deals with this problem. Like the protection from online falsehood and manipulation Act [POFMA] which was notified by the Singapore government in October 2019. This Act has incorporated measures to detect, control and safeguard users against coordinated counterfeit behaviour. The Act also addresses the concerns pertaining to misuse of social media accounts and bots. Another notable example is that of the United States of America who did not have a law dealing with this area of law until recently. But in 2019, vide a preceding setting settlement, the United States of America has prohibited the sale of fake followers, “likes” and views on social media platforms using fake activity from false accounts.

But in India, the sale of fake followers, “likes” and views on social media platforms is continuing unabated. The higher the number, the more valued an entity you become. ‘Influencers’ (who act as potential advertisers for brands), especially, are always on the lookout to increase their followers to boost their social media presence. And when there is demand, there is supply as well. In Delhi, there are several ‘digital media consultancies’ that proclaim to ‘sell’ followers. These organisations have turned this demand into successful money-making venture.

Tehelka carried out an investigation to unearth the truth. And came out with startling revelations. The Delhi based consultancy claims to provide followers, fake reviews, views, likes and comments on popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram for predetermined amount. We posed as potential clients and met Suhaib and Uzair, the two partners of Delhi based MDEEZ, E-commerce solutions software company. This meeting was held in a five star hotel of Delhi.

We told Suhaib and Uzair that we are coming up with a news website and a You Tube channel. And from day one of their launch , we want to generate social media views, likes, comments, followers in lakhs for our product. Suhaib and Uzair immediately said “Yes” to our demand and told us that everything is possible with money. Without any hesitation, they orally agreed to become our consultant. And told us that we have to pay them money to meet our demand as everything is “Paid” on social media. The duo after knowing our budget started narrating the services they will provide to us.

When asked how they will provide one lakh views to our YouTube channel from day one of its launch, Shoaib and Uzair explained it in detail simultaneously.

Reporter…. “Maan lijiye mujhey day one par apney channel par one lakh views chahiye…pehle…din…youtube par…jab mainey channel launch kiya pehla video dala day one, I need one lakh views on youtube”.

 Shoaib…. “Bilkul possible hai sir… per views inka charge rehta hai….theek hai sir…apka reach kitna pahuch raha hai ye hamarey budget par depend karta hai… hum jitna budget lagayengey utna reach pahunchega.”

[According to Shoaib, one lakh views on day one launch of our YouTube channel is very much possible, but the reach will depend on the amount of money we spend. What is our budget?  For generating views, we need to spend money. The more we’ll spend, more reach we’ll have]

Reporter… “Samjha nahi main aapki baat 24 hrs main?”

Uzair… “Aapka kehna ye hai aapko lakhon views chahiye…

Reporter… “Day one sey”.

 Uzair…. “Mainey video daali.. 12 ghantey main mujhey itney chahiye. Main expect kar raha hoon 12 lakh views chahiye. Wo cheez to achievable ho jayegi. Hum lagayengey paisa wo views aa jayengey”.

[ We’ll put money and will get 12 lakh views on day one on our video, explained Uzair]

As the meeting progressed, Shoaib opened up and admitted that in some cases, he will manage “Fake Reviews” for our product.

Shoaib… “Aur is tarah se kuch cases main fake reviews bhi dalwaney padte hain”.

Reporter…. “ Fake reviews…wo kaisey?”

Shoaib….. “Uski bhi sir service hoti hai. Particular kuch data hamarey paas hai, usey use kar sakte hai. Fake reviews dalwaney padte hain. Uskey bhi sir charge hain, Rs 100 per view ya jo bhi charges hain. Kyunki ismein genuineness tabhi aati hai jab aapka IP track hota hai. Aapka IP, aapka email ID track hota hai. Agar wo ek hi bande se karwa diya 100 page banwakey to wo fake lagta hai. Down kar diya jaata hai, originality laaney ke liye inke jagah jagah par alag IP address par log baithey hotey hain inke properly, wo reviews dalwatey hain”.

[Shoaib: In some cases we will manage fake reviews for our product. To look genuine we will manage Fake reviews from different IP addresses, otherwise we will be caught. And our website will be blacklisted. The cost of one fake review will be Rs 100.]

Shoaib further explained the reason of “Fake Reviews”.

Reporter…. “Kis cheez ke reviews?”

Shoaib….. “Sir for example jaisey hamara koi brand chal nahin raha, kisi brand ko chalwaney ke liye fake reviews dalwaingey”.

[Shoaib explained that to make our brand run, we will go for fake reviews].

Shoaib now explain what “BOT” are.

Reporter-  “Aur usi k liye hum log aapko hire bhi kar rahe hain, jo bhi budget hoga aapka ..ab wo chahe fake ho ya genuine ho, wo sab aapko dekhna hain, bas aap ye dhyan rakhiyega, jahan aap fake use kar rahe hain wo cheez kahin pakad mein na aa jaye”.

Shoaib-  “Sir yahi yahi yahi important hai…. warna to sir hum apne end se bhi karwa saktey hain… but basically hamarey bande bethey hain alag alag jagah par, alag alag IDs par, wo har kisi k hotey hain, properly setup hai wo isi cheez k liye hotey hain, unka kaam hi hai sir alag alag jagah par reviews dalwaney ka”…

Reporter-  “Unko bot boltey hain na?”

Shoaib- “ Haan”

Uzair…  “Organic reach paid ho jayegi issey”.

Shoaib-  “Sir ye 2 type k hotey hain, ek to original hotey hain, jo original hotey hain. Bots mein pakad ho jaati hai, unpar aap itna faith nahi kar saktey, jo chotey level pe hotey hain”.

Reporter- “Nahi to aap jo fake bata rahe hain wo fake hi to hue”.

Shoaib- “Inko sir aap terminology de saktey hain but sir ye hain original”.

Reporter- “Aap keh saktey hain bot hain.”

Shoaib- “ Aap keh saktey hain but hamarey liye to fake hi hain”.

[Shoaib explains as to how people at different locations with different IDs  write fake reviews for the brand. He calls them BOT ]

As the meeting with Shoaib and Ozair progresses, they continue telling us the inside story of how social media is managed. In this chain they now revealed how the videos on social media get viral.It’s all paid, not organic according to the duo.

Reporter-  “Accha iskey elawa agar humko video viral karwaney hain”

Uzair- “Viral karwana hai?”

Shoaib- “ Sir viral karwaney ke liye na strategy alag rakhi jaati hai….. jo bade bade page hai na unko paid advertising karwaye hai.. unko alag alag”.

Uzair-  “ Aajkal memes se bhi cheezein viral hoti hain…wo strategy bhi lekar chalna padta hai..

Shoaib- “Wo bhi sir.”

Reporter-  “Achcha ye viral bhi paid hi hoga?”

Shoaib –  “Sir wo organic bahut kam case mein hota hai…har cheez ka viral paid hi hota kuch nahi hota….pata hai sir jo viral cheez viral ho rahi hoti hai na usmein 3-4 log bethey hotey hain unko pata hota hai viral karwani hai wo paid hi hota hai.”

Reporter- “Apne aap kuch nahi hota organic kuch nahi”.

[According to Shoaib and Ozair, no video is getting viral on its on. It’s all paid. Even memes are used for getting things viral]

Shoaib further revealed that through  money, he will help us in changing image. According to him, negative marketing is good for anyone.

Shoaib- “Image to sir badalti rehti hai, paisey dekar trending karwa dengey acchey se, zyada log ke dimag mein pahucha dengey, acha paisa laga dengey sir wo badal jayegi..basically sir negative marketing bahut acchi cheez hoti hai, jo hamarey bare mein galat kar raha hai na wo hamara fayda mein hota hai”.

[Shoaib said that with money he will change the image of our brand. He will get our brand trend on social media with money, so that people will come to know about our brand ].

Shoaib and Ozair will not only build the image of our brand with money on social media, but will damage the image of our rival brand on social media, that too with money. And they explain their plan with the example of a “Chef”.

Reporter- “Achcha agar kisi ko badnaam karna hai to kaise karengey, viral karwana hai video”

Shoaib- “Sir ye unke liye advantage bhi ho sakta hai. Agar already set up hain to, lekin wo hi hai sir paid advertisement, aap kis kis se karwa saktey hain, bade logon se burai karwa saktey ho, ek tarah se sir research hoti hai”.

Uzair- “Hamarey content ke hisab se sir, jaisey ki agar hum chef ki baat kar rahe hain, ek chef ko badnaam karwana hai, uske khaney ki doosre chef se burai karwa lo uski, wo automatically badnaam ho jayega, wo already 3 lakh reach hoti hai”.

Reporter- “Wo chef hai aapke pass?”

Uzair- “Bilkul”.

Reporter… “ Wo chef agar mana kar de”.

Uzair- “Nahin mana karega sir, ek mana karega to doosra haan karega, aisa thodi hai ki ek hi chef hai, hamarey pass multiple log hain.”

Reporter- “ Matlab agar mujhe kisi ke five star hotel ke khaney ki burai karwani hai, khana bahut achcha hai, to ye main kaam aapko de doon, aap chef se karwa denge.

Uzair- “Haan sir”.

Reporter- “Chef n mana kar diya?”

Uzair- “Sir ek chef nahi hai”

Reporter- “10 n mana kar diya..?”

Uzair-  “Kuch aur tareeka istemaal karenge.”

Shoaib- “ Paid advertisement bhi hai sir, paid adv chala diya, fake reviews kara diye, kisi ko agar down grade karna hota hai, aap online presence pe attack kartey hain, ya image pe attack kartey hain, online unki jo portals hain ya cheezein hain, unpar fake reviews daal saktey hain. Wo automatically down grade ho jaata hain”.

[Shoaib and Uzair now explain their plan as to how they can defame our rival product on social media with money. They gave an example of a Five Star Hotel chef as to how they will hire other branded chef to give negative reviews of the other hotel chef’s good food on social media with money]

Shoaib and Ozair further revealed as to how they will fix our content to trend on twitter.

Reporter- “Aur twitter par trend kaisey hoga koi bhi cheez”.

Uzair- “ Twitter par sir wo hai tweet karwana padta hai sir, tweet karwana padta hai sir uske liye bhi hiring hoti hai,…aap dekho political parties bhi karti hain, tweet karwana padta hai multiple logon se.”

Shoaib- “Tweet ka content de diya sabko fix..har banda wahi dalega”.

Reporter-  “Aisey log hain aapke pass?”.

Shoaib-  “Sir ye bhi use karney padtey hain outsource companies hain, fake reviews yehi log kartey hain”.

[ According to Shoaib and Ozair, they will hire companies who will get our content trend on twitter. These companies have multiple people to whom they provide content, and these people tweet the same content on Twitter from different locations.]

Shoaib now revealed his next plan: How to get the rival website crashed.

Shoaib-  “Ye bhi hota hai sir agar downgrade karna hai kisi ko, agar kisi website ko downgrade karna hai to aapke pass scripts hotey hain, hand scripts wo run kara ke kisi ki bhi website  downgrade karai ja sakti hai”.

Reporter- “Samjha nahi mein”.

Shoaib- “Sir aapka rehta hai server space hota hai kisi bhi website ka, aap access kar rahe hain server par hit kar rahe hai, mein access kar raha hoon server par hit kar raha hoon, jitney zyada log server par hit kartey hain utna server sambhal nahi paata, theek hai sir, kuch scripts banai jaati hain, downgrade karney k liye, ye apna chalatey hain apney computer se high power pe, wo ek k baad ek hit kar raha hota hai, wo dikhta aisey hai ki lakhon log website par aa gaye hain, unki website pe aur website crash ho jaati hai. Server down ho jata hai”.

Reporter- “Matlab agar aapko apne competitor ki website down karwani hai to aisey hum karwa saktey hain.”

Shoaib- “Hmmm…aisa kara jaata hai, ho sakta hai hamarey saath bhi ho kuch cases mein, hamey sir server change karna hoga fatafat se”.

[We can downgrade our rival’s website by hitting their server. More and more people will hit their server which will make their website crash]

Now Shoaib revealed how he will manage Fake negative and positive comments for us.

Reporter- “Achcha agar hamey comment chahiye apni kisi content par positive, wo kaisey milengey?”

Shoaib- “Sir positive comments, same tarika hai uske liye bhi, basically users ko target karwana hai, reviews wala tareeka hai jahan se reviews miltey hain …inke apne rates alag alag hotey hain wo dekhney padhtey hain.”

Reporter- “Achcha ye bhi paid hoga comment wala?”

Shoaib-  “Ji paid rahega sir kyunki, agar hamey comments karwaney hain to ya to hum genuine logon se karwaengey, genuine logon se aap kitney karwa logey? maximum …aap man lijiye 100 se karwaengey, 100 se hum karwaengey, 200 se karwalengey, insey hamara kaam nahi honey wala, hazaron hotey hain”.

Reporter- “Wo fake hongey?”

Shoaib- “Haan”

Reporter- “Wo hain aapkey pass?”

Shoaib- “Sir wo insey hi milta hai”.

Reporter- “Company ke account ke through” ..

Shoaib- “ Company ke through hi milta hai, unsey tie up karna …aur jo rehta hai inka cost”.

Reporter- “Kitna rehta hai inka charge 1 comment ka”.


Shoaib- “ Inka alag alag rehta hai..100 – 150 ke aas pass maan lijiye…

Reporter- “Ek comment ka?”

Shoaib- “Ji”

Reporter- “Usmein positive bhi karwa lein, negative bhi?”

Shoaib- “Ji ji”

Reporter- “Kisi ko gali bakwani hai to wo bhi ho jayega?”

Shoaib… “Ji bilkul”.

[According to Shoaib, on our own we can only manage 100-200 genuine comments on our contents. For a larger volume of comments we will take companies help, who will manage fake comments for us. The cost of one comment will be between Rs 100 to 150. In these we will get both positive and negative comments. Positive comments for us and negative for our rival. We can also abuse others on social media through these paid comments, adds Shoaib. ]

We now met Manish Kumar. The owner of  Delhi’s another Digital marketing company “My IT Techy”. This meeting was also held in a five star hotel of Delhi. Like Shoaib and Ozair, we told Manish also that we are coming up with news website and a YouTube channel. And from day one of its launch, we want views, subscribers, likes, followers etc.. all in lakhs. Manish agreed to our demand and immediately told us his plan of generating lakhs of views on our YouTube channel from day one of its launch.

Reporter- “Achcha ye views humko day 1 se lakhon mein chahiye. YouTube pe day 1 se.”.

Manish –  “On every video”

Reporter- “On every video”

Manish-  “Ho jayega”

Reporter- “Jaisey aapney example diya tha, Badshah ka video dala tha”.

Manish- “Haan”

Reporter-Ladki pagal hai, lakhon views aa gaye they”.

Manish – “Haan around 30 lakhs… wo ek baar mein nahi letey lekin dheerey dheerey le letey hain”.

Reporter- “Waisey hi lakhon views chahiye day 1 se youtube pe, wo kaisey aayengey?”

Manish- “Starting se agar leke chalengey to kar saktey hain, agar maan lijiye agar aap lakhon mein baat kar rahe ho, 1 lakh tak to hum kar saktey hain.”

Reporter- “Day one se”.

Manish- “Day one se.”

Reporter- “Lekin wo organic to hongey nahi”

Manish-  “Organic bhi aatey hain aur Bots bhi aatey hain, Bots as compared to organic humey cheap padhtey hain, hotey organic hi hain, par wo country cheap de rahi hai jahan se wo views aa rahe hain.

Reporter- “Achcha jo Bots hongey wo aapke direct contact mein hongey ya aap company se service logey?”

Manish- “Service hai wo aap bhi use karogey, mein bhi use karunga, koi bhi use karege, uske panel provider hai.. kisi bhi company mein aap search karogey, sabka price same hoga.”

Reporter- “Matlab aap ye keh rahe ho jo day one se 1 lakh views aayengey hamarey youtube pe.”

Manish- “Haan de sakte hai”.

Reporter- “Usmein Bots hongey”

Manish- “Sir agar mein 300 dollar spend kar raha hoon for 1 lakh views, ya 2000 mein spend kar raha hoon to wo hi cheez mein 100 dollar mein bhi le sakta hoon. Wahi viwers mein 100 dollar mein bhi le sakta hoon, 100 dollar bhi lag rahe hai mere aur 500 dollar bhi, price ka differentiation hi yahi hai ki jo jitna cheap brand le raha hoon uski koi guarantee nahi hai, bots mein bhi wahan pe wo”..

Reporter- “Aap bol rahe hain Bots jo hain wo sastey hotey hain”.

Manish- “sastey hotey hain”.

[Manish guaranteed us that from day one of the launch of our YouTube channel, he will generate lakhs of views for us, like rapper Badshah generated for his video “Ladki Pagal hai”. He said he will arrange bots for us through service provider companies, which will be cheaper for us.]

During the meeting Manish assured us that we will not going to be penalised for using bots.

Reporter- “Aur… doosra ye bataiye kahin pakde to nahi jayengey hum?”

Manish- “Nahi.. aisa koi issue nahi hai.”

Reporter- “Bots jo karogey aap hamarey usmein youtube ki policy, instagram ki policy ya facebook ki policy ka violation ho raha ho”?

Manish- “Nahi…widely use ho raha hai”

Reporter- “Matlab”

Manish- “ Matlab maximum log use kar rahe hai, ye sari services max log use kar rahe hain”

Reporter- “Nahin mein bots ki baat kar raha hoon”.

Manish- “Sari services sab use kartey hain”

Reporter- “Aisa na ho koi block kar de?”

Manish- “ no”.

[Manish told us that for using Bots on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube etc is not going to get our website or youtube channel blocked as everybody is doing this.]

Manish further revealed with authority that the easiest thing for him is to bring followers on Instagram and Facebook.

Reporter- “Instagram page bhi bana saktey hain aap” ?

Manish- “Ji banega bilkul banega”.

Reporter- “Uskey followers kaisey aayengey?”

Manish-  “..Hmmm.. sabse easy kaam facebook or instagram hi hai.”

Reporter- “Wo easy hai…facebook or instagram ke liye followers lana?”.

Manish- “Wo easy hai.. wo ho jayega”.

Manish – “Wo to sir aap bolo abhi 10 hazaar followers, mein abhi daal dunga”.

Reporter- “Instagram pe, wo kaisey…Bots?”

Manish-  “Bots bhi hain acchey wale bhi hain,…matlab sabse easy hota hai sabse zyada market mein trend hi yahi hai. sabse zyada log services use kartey hain wo Instagram ki hi kartey hain. Instagram aajkal humans mein kafi famous hai.”

[Manish said the easiest thing for him is to bring followers on Instagram and Facebook, which also include bots. He told us that hecan give us 10k followers there and then]

The above three characters are just tip of an iceberg. There are plenty like them claiming to generate fake followers, likes and views. Buying fake likes, views, or comments on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube etc, is in theory against their terms of service. However, buying real IG followers from reputable companies like those recommended is not against their term of service at all.

There’s no crime being committed, you won’t get in any legal trouble. But you need to remember, social media companies are privately owned. Using their site is like being on private property. You need to follow their rules or they can prevent you from using their property.