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Meta scores $200k default win against alleged peddler of Instagram Likes

Manipulating users' feelings on a social media platform? That's our job!

Meta scored a default judgment last week against a Belarusian developer who was alleged to have used a network of bots and Instagram accounts he controlled to deliver millions of automated likes to his customers' accounts.

The order [PDF], handed down on Wednesday by US District Court Judge William Alsup, gave Meta the win against Nikolay Holper, who is alleged to be running a "fake engagement service" known as Nakrutka, operating from several different websites that offered services "designed to artificially inflate the 'likes,' 'comments,' 'views,' and 'followers' of Instagram accounts."

Alsup ordered Holper to pay Meta damages just under $200,000: $100,000.00 in statutory damages for cybersquatting; $89,351.00 in attorney's fees; and $10,184.44 in costs – totaling $199,535.44. The judge sided with a magistrate who had made earlier recommendations in September [PDF] to make a judgment against Holper for breach of contract of Instagram and Facebook's terms of service, as well as Computer Fraud and Abuse Act violations, and also granted Facebook's request for a permanent injunction. Magistrate Joseph Spero recommended slicing 40 percent off Meta's request for attorney's fees, but Alsup cut them in half, pointing to 20 billing entries "totaling 4.7 hours" that he said were simply "status updates."

He denied Facebook's motion for statutory damages for an alleged counterfeit trademark on the websites, agreeing with Spero's recommendation that the "Cyrillic text ИНСТАГРАМ appearing on Holper's websites may have the same meaning as 'INSTAGRAM,' but it is a different set of letters with a distinctly different appearance."

The news comes weeks after a New York judge issued a default judgment against two Russian nationals who are alleged to have helped create the "Glupteba" botnet, sold fraudulent credit card information, and generated cryptocurrency using the network.

Unlike Holper, whom the judge confirmed had never appeared nor responded to summons despite what was described as repeated attempts by Meta to serve Holper in Belarus, the defendants in the Google case had representation in the matter, although the judge sanctioned their attorney, Igor B Litvak, for what she described as a "willful campaign to resist discovery and mislead the court." In that case, Judge Denise Cote ruled there was reason to believe the defendants tried to negotiate a swap of one of their laptops for a Google device only "to learn whether they could circumvent the steps that Google has taken to block the malware described in its complaint."

The original complaint [PDF], filed in 2020 and covered by The Register here, alleged the developer had "created an inauthentic experience of Instagram users, and attempted to fraudulently influence Instagram users for his own enrichment."

"Some of the Instagram accounts used by [Holper] were responsible for over 8 million likes over the course of just two days," the filing claimed.

Attached to the filing by the then-Facebook was an angry post, ostensibly written by Holper, which was posted on online forum and complained the platform had sent messages to certain users linked to him for violations of Instagram's terms of service, supposedly saying "no one will be unblocked until Holper's sites are closed." The poster added: "These blatant actions reflect the true nature of Western services and their attitude towards their users."

At the time of publication, The Register can confirm at least one of Holper's websites was still offering "Instagram promotion" services.

We emailed both Meta and Holper for comment. The latter pointed us to this Elon Musk tweet. ®

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