Facebook and Instagram Sued Chinese Companies Selling Fake Accounts, Likes and Followers

The defendants also allegedly infringed on trademarks, cybersquatted

The lawsuit alleged that the defendants falsely represented themselves as 'Facebook China Regional Strategic Partners' VladSt/iStock

Facebook and Instagram filed a lawsuit late last week in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against four companies and three individuals based in China, accusing them of promoting the sale of fake accounts, likes and followers on the two platforms, as well as on other online services including Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, Apple and Amazon.

Paul Grewal, Facebook’s vice president and deputy general counsel, litigation, said in a Newsroom post that the defendants were also accused of infringing on Facebook and Instagram trademarks on their websites, as well as using Facebook-branded domain names to operate those sites.

The four companies named in Facebook’s suit were: 9 Xiu Network Science and Technology (Shenzhen) (also known as Jiuxiu Network Science and Technology), 9 Xiu Feishu Science and Technology, 9 Xiufei Book Technology and Home Network (Fujian) Technology.

And the three individuals were: Wei Gao (also known as Gao Wei), CEO and sole shareholder of 9 Xiu Shenzhen since June 2017; Zhaochun Liu (also known as Liu Zhaochun), CEO and sole shareholder of 9 Xiu Shenzhen prior to June 2017; and Zhaoping Liu (also known as Liu Zhaoping), who began registering the domain names and managing the websites contained within the complaint in May 2017.

Facebook and Instagram alleged in their complaints that the defendants used the following websites to advertise the fact that they created, controlled, maintained and made available for sale fake and inauthentic accounts on Facebook and Instagram, as well as on Twitter, Google Voice, Gmail, YouTube, LinkedIn, Apple, Amazon, Pinterest, Snapchat and other online services: 9xiufacebook.com, 9xiufacebook.cc, 9xiufacebook.net, maihaoba.cc, myfacebook.cc and myhaoba.com.

According to the lawsuit, these accounts were sold in packages or bundles, in bulk quantities, with pricing determined by account attributes including age, followers and geographical location.

Facebook and Instagram also alleged that the defendants advertising marketing tools and services aimed at increasing likes, comments, friends and other activity on Facebook, Instagram and other sites, accepting payment via accounts established with Alipay, PayPal and the Bank of China.

Finally, the lawsuit alleged that the defendants falsely represented themselves as “Facebook China Regional Strategic Partners” and advertised fake accounts that could not be detected, disabled or suspended by Facebook, charging a premium for these accounts.

Grewal wrote in the Newsroom post, “Inauthentic activity has no place on our platform. That’s why we devote significant resources to detecting and stopping this behavior, including disabling millions of fake accounts every day. (This) lawsuit is one more step in our ongoing efforts to protect people on Facebook and Instagram.”

Facebook and Instagram urged the court to issue a permanent injunction barring the defendants and their “agents, servants, employees, successors and assigns,” as well as all other persons acting in concert with or in conspiracy with the defendants, or affiliated with them, from:

  • Infringing activity including advertising, franchising, selling or offering for sale any goods or services in connection with Facebook or Instagram trademarks.
  • Any activity that ”lessens the distinctiveness or tarnishes” Facebook or Instagram trademarks.
  • Registering, using or trafficking in any domain name that is identical to or confusingly similar to any Facebook or Instagram trademarks.
  • Creating or maintain accounts or accessing Facebook or Instagram in violation of their terms of service.

Facebook and Instagram also sought: damages for the defendants’ trademark and service mark infringements, to be trebled due to their willfulness; all profits resulting from that infringement and the defendants’ other illegal acts; $100,000 in statutory damages for every infringing domain name; an amount sufficient to reimburse Facebook and Instagram “for the costs of corrective advertising”; damages sufficient to compensate them for breaches of their terms of service; prejudgment interest on all damages; reasonable attorneys’ fees; costs of the lawsuit; and “all such other and further relief as the court may deem just and proper.”

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.