The New York Times/ Sapna Maheshwari/ March 12, 2018

In a sunny office in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, Mike Schmidt spends his time ferreting out fake Instagram accounts.

Some are obvious, like the one that had never posted a photo and lacked a profile picture yet followed about 7,500 accounts — the maximum allowed by the social media site. Others were trickier. Mr. Schmidt had to scroll down a little on an account with the name @ailebnoblk before the same stock image of a car showed up three times in a row, a glaring clue that there was no real person behind the profile.

“The amount of bot activity that’s happening on these platforms is pretty insane,” Mr. Schmidt said. “Just the amount of new accounts and times these folks are liking and commenting with spam and positive comments and happy-face emojis.”

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