Real Money, Fake Musicians: A Million Dollar Verification Plan on Instagram

Real Money, Fake Musicians: A Million Dollar Verification Plan on Instagram

To over 150,000 followers on Instagram, Dr. Martin Jugenburg is the Real Dr. 6ix, a well-dressed Toronto plastic surgeon posts photos and videos of his work sculpting the chest, tummy tucks and lifting the faces of his primarily female clients.

The influential Jugenburg physician’s tendencies led to a six-month suspension of his medical license in Ontario in 2021 after he admitted to Imaging patient interactions Sharing photos of procedures without consent. I apologize for the fall and he is currently facing class action From patients who said that their privacy had been violated.

But on Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, and in nearly a dozen sponsored posts scattered across the web, Jugenburg’s controversial career history has overshadowed a new identity. On those platforms, he was DJ Dr. 6ix, a house music producer celebrating “The innate ability to create music” And from “He assures his followers that his music is completely unique. “

She’s an unconvincing figure – perhaps even less so once his “music” is turned on. But that was enough to secure what he wanted: a verification badge for his Instagram account.

The coveted blue tick can be hard to come by and is meant to confirm that anyone with one is who they claim to be. An investigation by ProPublica has found that the suspect Jugenburg character was created as part of what appears to be the largest Instagram account verification scheme ever exposed. With generous funds, the operation turned hundreds of customers into music artists in an attempt to trick Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, into checking their accounts and hopefully pave the way for lucrative endorsements and desirable social status.

Since at least 2021, at least hundreds of people — including jewelers, crypto entrepreneurs, OnlyFans models, and reality TV stars — have been clients of a scheme to get improperly verified as musicians on Instagram, according to investigation findings and information from Meta.

The verified Spotify profiles of MTV
Zoom / The verified Spotify profiles of MTV “Siesta Key” stars Mike Vazquez and Lexi Salameh have been removed following the arrival of ProPublica.

ProPublica

In response to information provided by ProPublica and the results of its investigation, Meta has so far removed verification badges fraudulently from more than 300 Instagram profiles, and continues to review the accounts. This includes the accounts of Mike Vazquez and Lexi Salama, who are both stars of the MTV reality show Siesta Key. Instead of getting their TV work verified, they were misclassified online as musicians in order to get verified. They lost their badges about two weeks ago and have not responded to requests for comment.

Jugenburg did not respond to a phone message left at his Toronto clinic or to emails detailing evidence that he paid to check his Instagram. He told the media that Strongly intends to defend Himself against the class action.

The scheme, which will potentially generate millions of revenue for its operators, shows how major social media, search and music platforms can easily be exploited to create fake personas with real-world consequences, such as monetizing a verified account. It also highlights how Instagram’s growth and peculiarities have combined with poor customer support and lax oversight to create a thriving black market in verification services and account takedowns for hire.

Influencers, social figures, models, entrepreneurs and all kinds of influence stalkers rely on Instagram to flaunt their lifestyle, generate income, and create a personal brand. Some influencers and models have told ProPublica that they are facing a barrage of scam accounts trying to run scams to deceive their fans. They are also at constant risk of malicious actors creating evidence and submitting user reports to persuade Instagram to ban their accounts. They see the badge as one of the few options available that can help them protect their accounts and businesses. Others covet the blue tick as a status symbol. The result is a steady supply of wealthy clients willing to pay five figures to verify. (Meta hey It said Work to enhance customer support.)

Take advantage of the verification scheme set by ProPublica music platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music, as well as Google search, to create fake music profiles. Songs uploaded to customer profiles were often nothing more than basic repetitive beats or, in at least one case, long periods of emptiness. They credited the composers with meaningless names such as “rhusgls stadlhvs” and “kukyush fhehjer”. Meta employees tasked with reviewing music verification apps seem to have failed to listen to the tracks or look closely.

The people who run the scheme have also purchased articles promoting fake artists and their music on websites, including hip-hop publications such as The Source and ThisIs50.com, a music and culture site affiliated with rapper 50 Cent. They often bought fake comments and likes on customers’ Instagram posts to make accounts appear popular and bought fake streams of songs on Spotify, according to two sources with first-hand knowledge of the process. One source said that some clients have been asked to rent a recording studio and post photos on Instagram that make it look like they’re working on music. (The source and ThisIs50.com did not respond to email requests for comment.)

“You can create a Spotify account or an Apple Music account, boost streaming, and get fake music by clicking for very cheap. It’s fast and easy,” said the source, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.

A Spotify spokesperson said the company has identified artificial streams, which are often created with bots, in many of the 173 profiles provided by ProPublica. The company has removed more than 100 artists from its platform.

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