Fake social media profiles: My own experience with Facebook

Just read this blog in the economist, stating how many social media fans/ followers etc are actually fake machine generated accounts. The Blog mentions that Mitt Romney gained 17% followers in a day and interestingly, a friend tweeted about Mitt Romney losing 11 followers per minute.


Arguably this machine generation of fake profiles, is of some benefit to the organization ( say Romney), but I bet also helps build up the numbers of social media service.
A few weeks ago Facebook prompted me to friend one Harsh Taneja. It was indeed a fake profile of myself. The picture and the “about me” description among other details were scraped from this blog. Interestingly this clone of mine and I also had 7 or 8 mutual friends already. Curious I decided to send a friend request to myself and magically it was accepted in some hours. I reported the profile and I think in a day it was taken down ( as I am unable to find it on searching).

Made me think, it is indeed to easy to create fairly real looking machine generated profiles, given the amount of self descriptions we leave on the web, that can be viewed publicly or semi-privately. And it is quite easy for these profiles to circulate unchecked, as people can entirely miss seeing them, forget to report. In some other cases, they may be of people not on the service altogether ( say people who use blogger but not twitter, and their About Me pages on blogger provide fodder to generate these fake twitter profiles.) Scary!

Finally, I decided to use this service to check my own twitter followers and found that 5% of the followers were fake and another 13% inactive. Perhaps explains why tweeting some random but generic word such as Forex, or Television instantly adds a few followers.

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To become comfortable with the new, learn from the old:FaceBook and the Phone-Book

Recently a friend informed me about how she ‘unfriends’ people in her FB list from time to time. These are mostly people who she doesn’t perceive any reason for them to be in her network. I thought she was an odd one out. But a small survey (among my FB network) revealed that 2/3rd of my 50 respondents deleted existing friend connections regularly.

I do admit that my FB network isn’t exactly restricted to friends. Many, in fact are less than acquaintances. If I run through the complete list, I am sure I won’t remember when I last interacted with at least 50% of the people. Worse for about some10% I even won’t know who they are!
However, it never really bothers me that there are people on my Facebook who aren’t really friends or acquaintances. For reasons I will explain here:

Think of a typical social interaction today – Say I meet a friend’s friend at a dinner. We talk and one of us suggests that we stay in touch. The next day s/he sends me an FB request. We never really interact after that and perhaps ever won’t but remain on each others’ FB.
Rewind 5 years – Same people. Similar meeting place. Similar conversations. One suggests we stay in touch. I take out my mobile phone, ask his/her number and give a missed call. Consequently we have each others’ numbers on our cellphone address books.
Rewind 20 years – We pull out our pocket telephone/address diaries and store (write) each others’ contact details down. ( Someone in the group is organized enough to carry a pen or we ask the bearer at the restaurant!)

At what stage did one delete these so called lapsed contacts from one’s phone or a diary. When one ran into space problems, or bought a new phone or a new diary and had to transfer contacts.

FB basically allows you to create a very elaborate phone diary with extensive details (of course access controlled) that you can link to one another. Yes FB in principal is nothing more than a digital manifestation of the good old telephone/address diary. Except that there is no limitations of size or memory.
Thinking of FB as a the new shared, crowd-sourced phone book, you could perhaps stop deleting your unwanted friends.
Of course do not forget to invoke your privacy settings when you add a connection!