The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has forced online store Bicep Papa B.V. to stop using fake likes and fake followers when promoting its products on social media platforms such as Instagram. Bicep Papa is the company behind well-known Dutch influencer Mobicep. If Bicep Papa does not stop using fake likes and fake followers, and also does not refrain from using them in the future, the company will have to pay periodic penalty payments up to a maximum of EUR 100,000. By using fake likes and fake followers, Bicep Papa has misled consumers. The online store sells nutritional supplements and related products on the website www.biceppapa.nl, and also advertises on social media. This is the first time ACM has imposed a sanction for misleading consumers with fake likes and fake followers. According to the company itself, Bicep Papa has already stopped buying fake likes and fake followers.
Edwin van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, adds: “Consumers must be able to rely on the information that they see online about the quality and popularity of online stores and their products. The deliberate use of fake likes and fake followers results in consumers being misled. With this sanction, we send a clear signal to both sellers and users of fake likes and fake followers: this has to stop.”
ACM’s investigation into online misleading practices
ACM has established that Bicep Papa used paid fake likes and fake followers to promote its products, such as nutritional supplements, on Instagram. According to ACM’s investigation, Bicep Papa bought 98,000 followers and 27,000 likes between September 2018 and August 2020. These followers and likes are fake, because they do not come from real consumers. Such fake likes and fake followers may give the business and its products a more positive image than they have in reality. As a result, consumers are misled, and that is illegal. ACM has imposed an order subject to periodic penalty payments, thereby forcing the company to stop these practices.
ACM recently tracked down companies that offer fake reviews, fake followers, and fake likes, and has urged them to stop their practices. Some of these companies have already stopped their practices, while investigations into other ones are still ongoing. As part of these investigations, ACM also demanded access to customer files. Based on these customer files, ACM will take action against companies, influencers, and others that use misleading endorsements.
Rules for online promotion
The digital economy is one of the key priorities on ACM’s agenda. In its Guidelines on the protection of the online consumer, ACM has explained where persuasion turns into deception. In those guidelines, it is also explained that the use of fake likes and fake followers is not allowed.
The role of consumers
Through its consumer information portal ACM ConsuWijzer, ACM offers consumers tips on how to distinguish real information from fake information themselves. ACM also welcomes tip-offs and reports from consumers about their experiences with online misleading practices in which fake likes, fake followers, and fake reviews are used. Such information is valuable input for ACM’s oversight activities, and will be used in its investigation into potential violations.