Social Media Platforms Ramp Up Removal of Fake Accounts

On Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, millions of fake profiles take on the identities of authentic celebrities and public figures in music, movies and politics. Such profiles can be a cover for crimes, as when Australian authorities busted a 42-year old man who impersonated Justin Bieber and racked up 900 child sex offenses. Such social media imposters are so rife that Oprah Winfrey has warned her Twitter followers, and her chief marketing officer Harriet Seitler reported that, due to sheer volume, her team only reports the impostors if the miscreants are trying to scam fans.

The New York Times “commissioned an analysis to tally the number of impersonators across social media for the 10 most followed people on Instagram, including Beyoncé and Taylor Swift.” Social Impostor, a company that protects celebrities’ online names, found “nearly 9,000 accounts across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pretending to be those 10 people.”


The individual with the most fake accounts is Brazilian soccer player Neymar, with 1,676 fake accounts. Pop star Selena Gomez came in second, with 1,389; Beyoncé had 714 and Swift had 233. The survey did not include parodies or fan pages.

NYT reports that, “Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have compounded the problem with lax enforcement of their own policies prohibiting impersonators.” Although those interviewed didn’t agree on whether the platforms had improved policing fake profiles, most “agreed that once the sites erased the accounts, they did little to keep those behind them from creating new ones.”

Facebook and Instagram reported they added software “that automatically detected impostors and frauds, which it used to remove more than one million accounts since March.” But in an April earnings report, Facebook estimated its fake accounts as having increased by 20 million, to as many as 80 million, representing 4 percent of the total number of accounts.

Facebook and Instagram depend on users to report suspicious activity and recently added an option to report suspected impostors. “We take the reports really seriously,” said Facebook/Instagram spokesman Pete Voss, who admitted the company is “not going to get it 100 percent right every time obviously.”

The Washington Post reports that, “Twitter has sharply escalated its battle against fake and suspicious accounts, suspending more than 1 million a day in recent months, a major shift to lessen the flow of disinformation on the platform.” The rate, it added, “has more than doubled since October, when the company revealed under congressional pressure how Russia used fake accounts to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.” Washington Post data reveals that the company “suspended more than 70 million accounts in May and June, and the pace has continued in July.”

That seems to contradict the company’s estimation that “fewer than 5 percent of its active users are fake or involved in spam, and that fewer than 8.5 percent use automation tools that characterize the accounts as bots.” The unintended consequence of its currently aggressive tactics may, however “result in a rare decline in the number of monthly users in the second quarter, which ended last week,” according to a source. Twitter’s vice president for trust and safety Del Harvey “said in an interview this week the company is changing the calculus between promoting public discourse and preserving safety.”

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