Facebook is suing a New Zealand company for US$9.4m ($14.1m) in a California Court, claiming that it sold fake followers on Instagram, which is owned by the social network.

The action was announced in a post today by Facebook Director of Platform Enforcement and Litigation Jessica Romero.

The post does not name the company, but a rep for Facebook has told the Herald that it is Social Media Series - has three director shareholders: Arend Alexander Hubert Nollen of Upper Hutt, Leon Francis Hedges of Upper Hutt and David James Pekka Pasanen of Lower Hutt. Its registered business address is a private home.

The defendants operated a service that provided fake likes, views and followers to Instagram users, Romero alleges.


US legal news website Law 360 says, "Facebook and Instagram said the New Zealanders had run various such schemes since 2015 in violation of Instagram's terms of use, California state anti-hacking laws and the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act."

Social Media Series is alleged to have taken "multiple enforcement actions against defendants for violating Instagram's TOU [terms of use] and community guidelines, including sending cease and desist letters and disabling Instagram accounts associated with defendants and their websites."

But those efforts didn't stop the bot schemes, which racked up an estimated US$9,430,000 in "ill-gotten profits," the social media giants claimed.

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Facebook and Instagram want the defendants banned from Instagram, forced to pay back the nearly US$9.4m sum and pay unspecified additional damages. They are also seeking costs.

Romero says in her post, "The complaint alleges the company and individuals used different companies and websites to sell fake engagement services to Instagram users. We previously suspended accounts associated with the defendants and formally warned them in writing that they were in violation of our Terms of Use. However, their activity persisted," Romero says in her post.

"By filing the lawsuit, we are sending a message that this kind of fraudulent activity is not tolerated on our services, and we will act to protect the integrity of our platform."