Richard Roeper is a nationally known film critic and columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, but now he's accused of buying followers---many not even real--- to further boost his social media profile.
The fact that Roeper's Twitter profile boasts 225,000 followers may not surprise anyone. The surprise is in the details revealed by "The Follower Factory", a lengthy New York Times investigation singling out Roeper and other well known names as clients of a company named Devumi.
The times calls it "a shadowy global marketplace for social media fraud."
Where the 27-year-old owner allegedly cons thousands of clients hungry for social media followers and pockets millions of dollars.
To Columbia College associate professor Anne Marie Mitchell it's not a shock.
"You know that's the thing about Facebook and Twitter," she said. "They've created this sort of wild west mentality with no regulation at all, so it's rife for profiteering, it's rife for companies to come along and say look we can help you."
The New York Times reports for a few hundred dollars each Devumi bundled and sold Roeper and other clients thousands of followers to boost their Twitter accounts, many of them fake identities simulating real people.
These accounts are counterfeit coins in the booming economy of online influence. The Times reports reaching into virtually any industry where a mass audience, or the illusion of it, can be monetized.
"It's been a race to the top financially, but I'd say almost a race to the bottom ethically and morally," Mitchell said.
In the meantime, Sun-Times editor-in-chief Chris Fusco says the situation is still under investigation.
"We became aware over the weekend of issues relating to Rich Roeper's Twitter account," Fusco said in a statement. "We're investigating these issues. We will not be publishing any reviews or columns by Rich until this investigation is complete."