A scammer told us he’s coining it selling views for Instagram Reels, hours after its launch
- Scammers are already profiting from selling fake views on Reels, Instagram's short-form video feature that only launched on 5 August.
- One seller said they had already made enough from selling fake views for a "good car and a decent home."
- Typically, a customer might pay $5 (R90) for 1,000 views, or $15 (R265) per 1,000 likes.
- A Facebook spokesperson said: "Inauthentic activity is bad for the community and since the early days of Instagram we've invested in ways to identify and remove millions of fake or spammy accounts. We'll continue to build on these technologies, to maintain the best possible experience across our platforms."
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Fake views on Reels, Instagram's new short-form video feature, launched on 5 August, were being offered for sale just hours after it launched.
Alongside websites offering 100 likes on a Reel for 75 cents, managers of large botnets were offering artificial engagement for a price to their followers on protected encrypted apps, Business Insider has learned.
One botnet manager, who asked not to be named, has already received orders from around 80 people booking 11 million views on Reels.
The manager declined to say how much money they gained for those views, though did say their overall business selling engagement on Instagram was "enough for a good car and a decent home."
He charges $5 (R90) per 1,000 views on Reels, up to a maximum of 500,000 views, and $15 (R265) per 1,000 likes on Reels, both paid in Bitcoin (unless you're a loyal customer, in which case he'll accept Cash App, PayPal and credit card).
He runs a network of 500,000 Instagram accounts, and works with external partners when more accounts are needed to bolster views. He advertises his wares on secure messaging app Telegram, and counts influencers with large followings amongst his clientele.
The biggest influencer to ask for help with Instagram Reels so far has 1.5 million followers on the app, he claims.
The manager said it was easy to generate fake views on Reels, claiming it took "a few hours".
"I use my bots for followers' stories' Likes, and now for Reels," he said.
He claimed there was "no protection" against view botting on Reels. "I guess Instagram is happy if we push their TikTok copy."
Facebook, Instagram's parent firm, pushed back on this in a statement, saying it continued to crack down on inauthentic behaviour.
The advertising of fake engagement isn't just bluster: a Reel of a black screen with a sticker detailing the date posted by Business Insider, which the fake engagement sellers offered to boost for free to show how their product was effective, gained 3,000 views within minutes.
Reels is Instagram's alternative to TikTok, where creators post videos up to 15 seconds long and have the opportunity to add background music and filters to the video. In addition, creators can also use Spark AR filters - which overlay augmented reality graphics onto faces - within the app.
It's Facebook's second attempt to try and capitalise on the short-form video market, after the closure last month of its service Lasso, an app that proved unpopular after its launch and had little takeup.
However, Instagram is eager to try and make Reels a success, launching on August 5 with a star-studded video filled with some of TikTok's most popular names.
The Wall Street Journal has previously reported Instagram was offering top TikTok creators hundreds of thousands of dollars to join their app.
The selling of fake engagement is not unique to Reels: the same public-facing site offering likes for Reels also sells views and engagement on TikTok videos - 1,000 views on a video will cost you $1.10. (The Telegram-based view botter for Reels only works on Instagram, saying TikTok is harder to hoodwink.)
However, the speed at which the shadow economy around social media engagement moved to adopt Reels was surprising.
"Me and my team hadn't time to study Reels from this point of view because it's a really new function, [but] I'm not surprised at all: the issue of bots on Instagram is well known," said independent cybersecurity researcher Andrea Stroppa, who has monitored the volume of fake engagement on social networks.
"Instagram during the years improved against bots, but they are not winning," he added. "The problem is related about the security of the app and its AI detection systems.
"While Instagram is improving and we should give credit to its new head Adam Mosseri, on the other side botnet managers are improving using new techniques and technologies like 4G proxies for running fake accounts. It doesn't mean a lot for Instagram but it should be disturbing in my opinion."
A Facebook company spokesperson said: "Inauthentic activity is bad for the community and since the early days of Instagram we've invested in ways to identify and remove millions of fake or spammy accounts.
"We'll continue to build on these technologies, to maintain the best possible experience across our platforms."
While it's early days for Reels, the manager of the 500,000-strong network of Instagram accounts isn't hopeful for its future - at least not without his help.
"It's not popular," he said. "Instagram and people like me will make it popular."
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