Paul Hollywood, James Cracknell and Martha Lane Fox have paid a firm that allegedly uses fake accounts to boost people’s Twitter followings, it has emerged.
They are reportedly among more than 200,000 customers, including reality TV stars, athletes, comedians and models who have signed up to American company Devumi.
The firm, which sells Twitter followers and retweets to anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert influence online, works by using an estimated stock of at least 3.5million automated accounts, a New York Times investigation found.
Great British Bake Off judge Paul Hollywood reportedly bought some of his 600,000 twitter followers from the American website.
Paul Hollywood (pictured), James Cracknell and Martha Lane Fox have paid a firm that allegedly uses fake accounts to boost people’s Twitter followings
By comparison, his Bake Off co-judge Prue Leith has just 20,000 followers. After Hollywood, 51, was contacted by the New York Times, he deleted his account.
Baroness Lane-Fox, who co-founded LastMinute.com and karaoke bar chain Lucky Voice, blamed a ‘rogue employee’ for at least seven batches of purchases using her email address spanning more than a year.
Her biggest increase saw her gain 25,000 followers and was made days after she became a Twitter board member in April 2016.
Baroness Martha Lane-Fox (pictured), who co-founded LastMinute.com and karaoke bar chain Lucky Voice, blamed a ‘rogue employee’ for at least seven batches of purchases
Some claimed they thought Devumi was supplying real fans. British rowing Olympic champion James Cracknell bought 50,000 followers from Devumi in 2016. The 45-year-old, who has 100,000 followers on the website, told the New York Times: ‘I don’t want anybody following me who is not interested in me. It’s fraud.’
He added: ‘People who judge by how many likes or how many followers, it’s not a healthy thing.’
According to data analysis, at least 55,000 of Devumi’s accounts use the names, pictures and personal details of real Twitter users, including children and teenagers.
In the social media world, followers translate into money. The more followers a person has, the more money companies are willing to pay for that person to endorse certain products.
Devumi is thought to sell followers for around 1p per follower. Devumi’s founder, German Calas, denied his company sold fake followers and said he knew nothing about social identities stolen from real users. He said: ‘The allegations are false, and we do not have knowledge of any such activity.’
British rowing Olympic champion James Cracknell (pictured) bought 50,000 followers from Devumi in 2016
A Twitter spokesman said the company did not typically suspend users suspected of buying ‘bots’ [fake accounts], in part because it was difficult for the business to know who was responsible for any given purchase.
Senator Mark Warner, the Virginia Democrat and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has been investigating the spread of fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms, told the paper: ‘The continued viability of fraudulent accounts and interactions on social media platforms… is an indication that there’s still much work to do.’
Representatives for Paul Hollywood, James Cracknell and Baroness Lane-Fox have been contacted for comment.