The Rise of Fake Social Accounts: Why they are a cause for concern and how to identify them

There has been an exponential increase in fake accounts across various social media platforms. Facebook, for example, has reported that approximately 5% of their worldwide monthly active users during Q1 2019 and Q4 2018 were fake accounts. Many of these fake accounts seek to cause harm, and are often used in spam campaigns or are financially motivated. The situation is similar with Instagram and Twitter as well, and all social networks constantly work on developing solutions for the detection and removal of fake accounts.

The rise of fake users poses a huge problem for everyone. Part of these fake accounts are created by hackers, cyberbullies or cyberstalkers to gain access to people’s sensitive, private information. Another part are politically-motivated accounts used to distribute fake news stories. Some of these accounts market fake products through social media ads, directing people to illegitimate websites that sell those same fake products. Other fake accounts are created by so-called social boosting services, used by various people to rapidly increase their following and, thus, their earning potential.

So how can you know if a certain social account is a fake account? Luckily, these accounts are fairly easy to recognize. Here are a few tips on how to identify them and avoid the dangers that come with them:

1. Unusual numbers

If an Instagram or Twitter account follows thousands of people, but has very few followers, and almost no content, that’s a red flag. Similarly, if an account has a large following of thousands of followers, but very low engagement such as 5-10 Likes per post, that’s a cause for concern as well.

2. Profile photos that look like stock images

Accounts that use stock images or celebrity pictures as their profile photos, or accounts with no profile photos whatsoever are most likely not genuine. A quick reverse Google Image search can be very useful in spotting fake profiles that use this tactic.

3. Lack of activity

If an Instagram, Facebook or Twitter account has no activity, and no sign of any posts, but still engages with other users’ posts by liking and commenting using meaningless spam comments, such as a set of emojis or captions such as “great picture”, it’s very likely that it’s a fake.

4. Shady content

If an account posts a random combination of images, such as photos of various people, then a beach photo, then a food picture, followed by a generic quote, it’s likely that it’s as shady as the content on it.

So if you come across social media accounts that use these tactics, your best bet is to report and block them immediately. Less followers is so much better than fake, and potentially dangerous, followers.