The Darknet has a reputation of being a space where hitmen, drug dealers, money launderers, and counterfeiters find buyers for their services, all under a cloak of secrecy provided by blockchain technology. However, not everything on the Darknet is quite so illicit. It is also a place where social media likes and shares are bought and sold for the price of a cup of coffee.
@DFRLab took a deep dive into the Darknet to expose the business behind creating fake buzz on Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube.
Twitter bots sold on Hansa market promise thousands of likes, retweets, and followers for as little as $5.50 (USD).
Facebook bots will like your posts and friend you for as little as $5.51 (USD).
Youtube bots promise tens of thousands of high quality views and channel subscribers for as little as $6.48 (USD).
The feedback on vendor pages tells us a lot about Darknet’s clientele. One of the most trusted vendors on Hansa, called DigitalPablo, received the following compliments from its buyers:
The comments show that some of DigitalPablo’s buyers are using its services for “media manipulation”, while others appear to work for digital marketing firms or are self-described artists.
According to vendor stats, individuals in the business of social media manipulation make up to 20 thousand dollars in just six months with relatively little effort.
Darknet is not the only place where you can buy a botnet, they are just as accessible on the World Wide Web. A quick search for “buy twitter followers” reveals 19 million results and four ads on top of Google search results, which signals strong competition among the service providers.
Russia appears to have taken buying followers on social media up a notch. Russia-based journalist Alexey Kovalev recently tweeted about a vending machine for Instagram “likes”:
For 200 rubles ($3.47 USD), a customer can buy 200 likes from the machine, which the customer can immediately use to like any of their photos on Instagram.
The inability by various social media companies to crackdown on this phenomenon leaves the information space created by their platforms vulnerable to manipulation for both monetary and ideological gain. While social media companies grapple with their content policy, people and groups like DigitalPablo continue profiting off social media manipulation.