We have (more than) 83 million fake users – Facebook

by Hauwa Gambo

If you’ve observed a Facebook account – especially Corporate – suddenly expand overnight or been promised ‘Facebook Likes’ in 24 hours, well now Facebook explains why.

The company, in filings this week, has confirmed there are more than 83 million fake users on the social network as 8.7% of its 955 million active users might not be real.

This follows aggressive reporting from the BBC that pointed out disrepancies in the Facebook system and which the company promptly denied.

See excerpts from the BBC report today:

Duplicate profiles made up 4.8% of the fakes, user-misclassified accounts amounted to 2.4%, and 1.5% of users were described as “undesirable”.

The estimate came at a time of growing concern about the value of marketing on the platform.

In total, the company said it estimated there were 83.09 million fake users, which it classified in three groups.

The largest group of “fakes” were duplicates, which the company defined as “an account that a user maintains in addition to his or her principal account.”

Others were described as “user-misclassified” where, Facebook explained “users have created personal profiles for a business, organisation, or non-human entity such as a pet”.

Finally, “undesirable” accounts were profiles deemed to be in breach of Facebook’s terms of service. Typically, this means profiles which have been used for sending out spam messages or other content.

Facebook, whose business model relies on targeted advertising, is coming under increased scrutiny over the worth of its advertising model which promotes the gathering of “likes” from users.

When a BBC investigation last month concluded that a rash of fake profiles was a cause for concern for Facebook advertisers, the social network was dismissive.

“We’ve not seen evidence of a significant problem,” a spokesman told us.

Now its own figures show that more than 80 million of its global audience may be in effect worthless to advertisers – either duplicate accounts, or spammers or perhaps cats and dogs.

The problem is particularly acute in developing countries like Indonesia and Turkey where Facebook is enjoying rapid growth.

A number of advertisers have been challenging Facebook to prove that the clicks they are receiving on their ads are “real” – these figures will provide them with added ammunition.

“We generate a substantial majority of our revenue from advertising,” the company said in its filing.

“The loss of advertisers, or reduction in spending by advertisers with Facebook, could seriously harm our business.”

Last month, the BBC’s technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones set up a fake company called VirtualBagel to investigate allegations of fake “likes”.

His investigation found that the large majority of “likes” for the fake firm originated from the Middle East and Asia.

Many users appeared to be false, such as “Ahmed Ronaldo” – apparently a Cairo-based user who is employed by Spanish football club Real Madrid.

Last week, digital distribution firm Limited Press alleged that, based on its own analytics software, 80% of clicks on its advertisements within Facebook had come from fake users.

In a post on its Facebook page, the company said: “Bots were loading pages and driving up our advertising costs. So we tried contacting Facebook about this. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t reply.

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