Many businesses and digital marketers have highlighted the problem of fake social media accounts in the past, and some have even gone as far as to launch public awareness campaigns to try and make the platforms take action. Facebook infamously cost numerous small businesses significant amounts of money because they deliberately inflated their marketing metrics. Some of these independent companies depended on their Facebook users, and the overspends ultimately killed their businesses.
What Are Fake Accounts Used For?
Some fake accounts follow other users and make it seem as if they are attracting far more followers than they really are. In this case, the fake accounts only need to exist, though more professional services will also aim to make them look organic by making them interact with the platform and legitimate users.
Let’s look at how digital marketers use fake social media profiles. When their clients want to assess whether they are getting value for money, they look at the company’s ratings, reviews, and so on. With fake accounts at their disposal, digital marketers can easily manipulate these variables in their favor. Multiple accounts can be easily managed by using proxy providers.
Similarly, fake accounts make other competing businesses look worse than they are. Astroturfing is a common problem on social media platforms, with fake accounts posting what appear to be real opinions that impact coordinated and targeted campaigns.
How It Impacts Legitimate Businesses
We have already mentioned the Facebook ad views scandal, which occurred in 2018. Facebook was providing misleading view counts to advertisers. Anyone who watched 3 seconds of an advert was considered a view, even though a significant portion of these users weren’t viewing more than a few seconds of the ads. It wasn’t until a lawsuit was filed, that the extent of the platform’s knowledge, complicity, and inaction were revealed.
These inaccurate metrics convinced businesses to pour more money into their Facebook advertising. These companies believed that they were getting far better returns than they really were. However, it wasn’t just Facebook’s lax definition of what a ‘view’ was that caused problems – they also failed to account for views coming from fake user profiles.
Social media influencers are individuals who have a significant number of followers, many of whom are highly engaged with the influencer’s content. This means that when the influencer posts an update about a new product or business, they know that a lot of people will notice. Influencers can make a significant amount of money from their social media profiles. However, it is far too easy for influencers to artificially boost their follower count should they choose to, and there doesn’t appear to be any reliable routine vetting of their followers.
Is Reporting Effective?
Every social media platform provides users with tools to report fake accounts. However, even when these accounts are reported, there is no guarantee that they will be taken down. In fact, when these fake accounts are a net benefit to the platform, the operators might turn a blind eye to their existence. This is a particularly sad state of affairs for the legitimate users who have to fend off erroneous account sanctions or suspensions.
Despite these measures, fake accounts are still a widespread problem on just about every social media platform. If you are a digital marketer working with social media, then you might feel obligated to report any fake accounts that you come across. However, this is a losing battle, especially as so many fake accounts seem to remain in operation even after they have been reported.
Ultimately, it is just better to focus on producing worthwhile results yourself without risking your business by resorting to fake accounts. You can then guarantee your clients that they will get total honesty and transparency from you, which is what they’re really looking for.
Ebbe Kernel, the author, is a Swedish data gathering analyst and consultant. He's been working in the field of data intelligence for over ten years and has advised hundreds of data providers and large companies on in-house data acquisition solutions.