Counterfeit Social Media Accounts

Interesting article on the inner workings of a Facebook account farm, with commentary on fake social media accounts in general.

Posted on June 18, 2015 at 6:29 AM • 36 Comments

Comments

EricJune 18, 2015 7:47 AM

All this does is underscore how useless social media actually really is. But I guess it also is a reflection of the pointlessness of celebrity worship, and how that is being manipulated to sell products.

Dr. I. Needtob AtheJune 18, 2015 7:51 AM

Yes, interesting.

But what I'd find even more interesting is what Facebook might be able to do about it without compromising the privacy of legitimate users.

WinterJune 18, 2015 8:26 AM

@Dr.
"But what I'd find even more interesting is what Facebook might be able to do about it without compromising the privacy of legitimate users."

There are many options to increase the costs of counterfeiting. Weighing likes by previous activity is an obvious one. Using the techniques developed for Spam identification to identify fake likes and followers is another one.

The possibilities are endless.

65535June 18, 2015 8:56 AM

The reason why Facecrook and Twatter don’t care inflated user base because it is in their best interests to have an image of an every growing business model [fake or real].

“It seems impossible that Facebook, with its army of coders and multibillion-dollar war chest, won't eventually crush Braggs and his operation…”

https://theweek.com/articles/560046/inside-counterfeit-facebook-farm

As long as Facecrook’s user base grows so will the Click farms – it is money in the bank. It’s a Pyramid scheme. Shutting them down would hurt business.

Slime Mold with MustardJune 18, 2015 9:32 AM

@ Dr. I. Needtob Athe

"...what Facebook might be able to do about it without compromising the privacy of legitimate users."

Privacy is not a Facebook Value!
http://fortune.com/2015/06/17/facebook-moments-privacy-facial-recognition/

If phony accounts become a liability, I suspect they will start cross referencing commercial databases. If they fund enough politicians, they might get access to the social Security Administration and other governments' data.

TonyinFLJune 18, 2015 9:34 AM

The fact that a 21 year old female college student is just now creating an account should be a red flag to Facebook.

TimKJune 18, 2015 10:27 AM

The full article, rather than the excerpt at The Week also mentions Max Plank Institute research into just how much of any big numbers might be fake accounts:

wumpusJune 18, 2015 10:33 AM

@TonyinFL

As far as I know, google+ no longer requires a real name (and thus allows the possibility of alts). If facebook aggressively bans alts, it might begin to lose users who are starting to see that allowing anyone who knows you in one aspect of life (such as work) to know all other aspects of you life to be an issue.

On the other hand admitting that this is an issue might be so destructive to facebook that they might be willing to aggressively examine new users. This would lead to "onlines" "hacking" (typically guessing passwords, but possibly using keystealing malware) existing zombie accounts (there should be enough out there). Security is hard.

rgaffJune 18, 2015 10:57 AM

@ wumpus

"Security is hard"

Security is not hard to do, it's just nonexistent for those who don't know or don't care, making it hard to get everyone to actually do it.

albertJune 18, 2015 12:05 PM

F***book reminds me of an upstart website with no monetization plan, until the Big Money BSPs got involved. Then they started throwing stuff against the wall, to see what might stick.

My absolute favorite fake SM account is exposed here:

http://popehat.com/2014/12/20/the-curious-case-of-the-t-v-attorney-and-twitter/

This is guerrilla theater at its best. Kudos to Patrick. Brilliant stuff!

[rq]
What does this say about Social Media? Nothing, except it can be fun. Why do folks insist on believing everything they read? Because it reinforces their beliefs? No, people a smarter than that......aren't they?
[/rq]

.
...

EricJune 18, 2015 12:07 PM

I do wonder how long it will be before Wall st figures out that the growth in facecrook and twaddle are driven by fake accounts like this, and the entire business model is based on a lie.

My college age niece tells me she no longer uses fb.

Count 0June 18, 2015 12:14 PM

I wonder if the CIA uses this method to create cover identities or if they just collaborate directly with the service providers.

AlexJune 18, 2015 12:37 PM

I'd argue that the proper way to defeat this would be to overwhelm the puppet creators with insanity.
Rather than requesting "beautiful American women between the ages of 20 and 30", I'd love to see Facebook overwhelmed with "200 albino polymathic waiters", "42 Nobel laureates with Emmenthaler cheese addiction", "15 caryopsis squid with bad breath", etc.

BotnickJune 18, 2015 1:25 PM

Quite possibly the best summary of security issues:

"Every system is made by humans," Braggs told me, "so there is always a way to beat it."

This is the bottom line: un- is impossible. The only thing to do is to make the vulnerabilities so costly (time, labor, money) to exploit that there is no profit.

rgaffJune 18, 2015 1:26 PM

@ Alex

if you're paying for them, I'm sure they'll give you anything you want, even "caryopsis squid with bad breath" :)

Overwhelming works better when it's more or less free though, not when you're paying much to do it.

hermanJune 18, 2015 1:40 PM

Facebook's business model is a kind of Ponzi scheme. They need to show advertisers that they have an ever growing user base, that nobody ever dies, or get tired of them and leave. So they have no incentive to do garbage collection on accounts.

ERJune 18, 2015 2:11 PM

@Count 0 don't know, but after I refused FBI request to "help my country" (not!) in what seemed to be entrapment social media accounts were made in my name, don't know by who, but the coincidence was troubling

DanielJune 18, 2015 2:26 PM

This is just a replay of "clik jacking" which made Google billions. The business model of the internet is based almost entirely on two things: fraud and porn.

tyrJune 18, 2015 4:01 PM


@albert

link was hilarious.

Ithought the whole facebook scam was CIA gives
Zuckerberg money to start Zuckerberg gives a
full feed to Langley. Then instead of doing
some work all the data collection is automagic.

Then the question becomes how do we use this
to influence these self captured ninnies ?

@Daniel

Porn only works if it is illicit and forbidden
so the Net is also the force of anti-porn and
has ruined it as a criminal profit making scam.
That battle is still going on in the noise level.

Note that this puts bluenoses, Grundys, and the
criminal syndicates firmly on the side of the
suppressors. Crime because its bad for business
the rest because guilty people are easier targets
for the rest of their agenda.

Nick PJune 18, 2015 4:51 PM

@ OT

Yeah, that one is *really* gone. After Wayback Machine, I did Advanced Search on about 10 search engines to see if it was cached. Got nothing. See, this is why we needed The Eternity Service haha.

albertJune 18, 2015 5:50 PM

@tyr,

I thought the 'legit' Hollywood studios 'bought into' the big porn studios years ago. There's big money in porn. (Sorry, but I still think 'Porner Bros' is the best company name ever)
.
...

Bob S.June 18, 2015 8:07 PM

"1,000 Facebook likes for $29.99"

The unknowable number of times FB has betrayed, bamboozled, lied to and scammed their own user base makes it quite difficult for me to have even one byte of sympathy for Mr. Z and his shaky marketing company.

Marketers fleecing marketers. It has a sort of harmonic balance to it.

It's a Karma thing.

martinJune 18, 2015 9:59 PM

A very few years ago I lived in Cebu City and worked in Lapu-Lapu City for a couple of years. The article's description of the work environment and work processes is startlingly realistic including the comments about her desire to leave the Philippines and work else where.

I know these comments are not directly related to the subject. . .hence, perhaps not of much interest.

Slime Mold with MustardJune 19, 2015 2:21 AM

@Moderator

Please consider implications of above post(s). Then delete same.

Silent UndergroundJune 19, 2015 1:08 PM

Just Google "buy Facebook likes" and you'll see how easy it is to purchase black-market influence on the internet: 1,000 Facebook likes for $29.99; 1,000 Twitter followers for $12; or any other type of fake social media credential, from YouTube views to Pinterest followers to SoundCloud plays.

Not surprising. And sounds like a problem similar to MMPOG's and gold traders. Unlikely to change, as the demand will be so strong.

@Count 0

"Cult of the Dead Cow" fan?

I wonder if the CIA uses this method to create cover identities or if they just collaborate directly with the service providers.

Intelligence agencies of any level of sophistication have to rely on social media to substantiate legends. They would have to have it go back in time. And they would want it to continue, as long as a legend is alive.

There is key substantiation possibility here, as intelligence agencies want to track back not just individuals, but also networks. So, that can require a small army of plausibly real people. Enormous detail can be put into the back story of someone, including what they did on the first of December in 2010, or what their local dramas are and have been with family and friends.

One reason is because you can really make someone appear very legitimate if they have a fully functioning network now, in the past, and in the future. But, another reason is you can engulf wasted resources by drawing adversary intelligence into entire false networks of people. As the Stratfor hack showed, intelligence agencies most surely are interested in tracking back suspects and their entire networks. The aims of the domestic surveillance program also shows this is taken seriously.

I think the DEA example of trying to pose as a legitimate drug dealer who was real is evidence they do not have these sorts of capacities. Same with the above story of the FBI attempting to engage such efforts. Albeit, either "agency" likely is unaware of anything truly compartmentalized and secret which is already ongoing.

Obviously, for some deep cover agents, such as with some of the Russian agents recently caught in America and expelled, some were here for decades and so had a very "real" network and networks of associates. Most of whom were spying targets, not compadres.


Put another way: if you are suspecting someone is a foreign intelligence agent, and they have a full family, with whom they interact, and years of photographs that seem very genuine, and stories... including the requisite "friends from high school" and other corners of their past, then either the entire network is false, or they probably who they say they are.

"Pictures tell a thousand words". And who would bother to have an entire family backing up a legend?

But, such things could be possible. Merely to exhaust resources, or deliver disinformation. Small "mistakes" could be made that seem unintentional to provide "accidental clues" that nothing is real and certainly not as it seems. Reality is, all too often, the actual real people from a person's past may just be a small handful. Altering photographs or school and work records is trivial.

Again, very many variations on these themes.

Ray DillingerJune 19, 2015 1:47 PM

I'm barely social, so I don't social media. Never have. Too big a waste of time.

Regarding click farms; seriously, is there anybody who didn't already know this? If you set up a system where something that's free to create has monetary value, only a F*^&# idiot would consider the possibility that more than 10% of it might be real. Less, the longer it goes on, and Facebook is already more than a year old.

But perhaps my low opinion of people - the flat expectation that 90% of what they do is fake - is part of why I'm not very social. Seriously though, did you neurotypicals consider this to be somehow not obvious?

Silent UndergroundJune 19, 2015 4:24 PM

@Ray Dillinger

But perhaps my low opinion of people - the flat expectation that 90% of what they do is fake - is part of why I'm not very social. Seriously though, did you neurotypicals consider this to be somehow not obvious?


What do you mean "fake"? Like NPCs in the Matrix? Figments of someone's unconscious mind?

People are only going to show their most outer layers, if that is what you mean. But, there is plenty of sincerity in such things.

Their deeper self will bleed out through that. Who they love, like, dislike. What they love, like, dislike, and hate. On one level. And something else on a deeper level. How much life they have, in general, on a deeper level.

I think if you make yourself a hermit, it can be easy to disbelieve the validity of reality, and the reality of other human beings. In screenwriter, you often see a character made human with humanity details right before they are killed. But, in real life, they are always overfilled with evidence of their person being quite real.


Silent UndergroundJune 19, 2015 5:21 PM

On my comments. I have actually come across this in the wild, and it was very impressive, to say the least A full fledged network where there was extremely persuasive real identities behind it. Jobs, friends, coworkers, fellow ex-students and childhood friends, family, archived photos dating back to their childhood, on and on and on it went. But there were also a lot of cracks. Their childhood self did not look like them, but one would only notice this if someone pointed out to anyone. Same with the family photos. People believe what they are given in context and just tend to not notice these things. Crazy stuff, like photos altered to look like others, or they own photos showing a different person in different times. Often. How often do you look at your own hands? Yet, a study has shown very often people can not pick out their own hands from a photographic lineup. They had a lot of detail, even into hard to see photos on the yearbook. Obviously, this was not just "one", as there was a whole network connected, so it involved a lot of people (and still does). But when you get down to it, it is largely just very generic posts on a daily basis. And a bunch of noise.

CoreyJune 20, 2015 9:37 AM

The number of Social media accounts that are spam have been spiraling out of control for some time. I think there is going to need to be a better way for social media in the future, its almost nothing but noise anymore.

Coyne TibbetsJune 21, 2015 11:27 AM

Article: "Just as fast as Silicon Valley conjures something valuable from digital ephemera, click farms seek ways to create counterfeits."

Article: "The company [Facebook] knows his real name. It barrages his inboxes with cease-and-desist orders."

I suspect this problem continues to exist because of the ephemeral nature of social media. Yes, all those "likes" might bump up a business this week, but those likes will be buried under others next week; never to be seen again.

Further, that's the nature of business sales of this type. Consider those sell-on-TV commercials (I don't know if there's a specific name for them, but you know, the "Buy the flabberdizer...it slices, it dices, it chops, it hops...buy one and get a second one for free-just-pay-additional-shipping-and-handling.") Those type of advertisements run until the "suckers" figure out the product is crap or until they figure out they're being ripped off; then the advertisers move on to another product. The TV/cable providers got paid, do you think they care what is advertised?

So Facebook sends cease and desist letters--which are a dime a dozen, almost literally--but nothing more effective. That tells me that Facebook isn't really bothered, probably because this activity really isn't harmful to Facebook itself (beyond the fact that the fake ID's don't watch ads). It's Facebook's members that suffer, and only temporarily: why should that bother Facebook?

JamesJune 23, 2015 1:05 AM

Social media has become the modern means on communication and sharing information.It has been successful though faced with a lot of security threats.Many fake accounts have been created where people impersonate thus making it risky to share sensitive information on social media.

RhialtoJune 23, 2015 10:52 AM

Click farms jeopardize the existential foundation of social media — the idea that the interactions on it are between real people. Just as importantly, they undermine the assumption that advertisers can use the medium to efficiently reach real people who will shell out real money.

Good! Let there be more click farms, I say!

Rene DaigneaultJune 25, 2015 6:30 AM

I really despise fb [still using it nonetheless]. They want us to use real identity and all, but how many percents actually do that? My friend got reported by someone and had to change his real name to another? Not to mention the 1000 likes or something that have been mentioned above.

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