Film critic Richard Roeper's Chicago Sun-Times columns have been put on hold, and it's in a kerfuffle over his Twitter account. "We became aware over the weekend of issues," Sun-Times editor-in-chief Chris Fusco says in a statement to the Washington Post, and while they're looking into those issues, "we will not be publishing any reviews or columns by Rich." What raised a red flag on Roeper: a Saturday report by the New York Times on social media's "black market" that named dozens of celebrities, athletes, politicians, and other personalities who apparently paid a firm called Devumi to pump up their Twitter following with fake followers. Actor John Leguizamo, model Kathy Ireland, and ex-American Idol singer Clay Aiken are also among those on the list in this "shadowy global marketplace for social media fraud."
The fake accounts often hijack the real profile photos, names, and other details of actual Twitter users, and they're used as "counterfeit coins" of sorts to build up the mirage of a bigger audience than one actually has. This can prove lucrative in terms of nabbing gigs, endorsements, and social media influence. Twitter prohibits buying or selling followers or retweets, but it says it has a tough time going after abusers. "The allegations [of selling fake followers] are false," Devumi founder German Callas said in November. New York AG Eric Schneiderman isn't so sure and has opened up his own probe into the supposed bot-selling, per the Times. "Social media is a virtual world that is filled with half bots, half real people," a cybersecurity expert tells the Times. "You can't take any tweet at face value." More in the Times, including what happened when the paper purposely became a Devumi customer.