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How Facebook measures and removes fake accounts

by Sruthi V S

In its latest Community Standards Enforcement Report, Facebook estimates that 5% of monthly active accounts on Facebook are fake. The company removed over 2.2 billion fake accounts by the end of March 2019, almost doubling from 1.2 billion fake accounts in December 2018. Fake accounts, according to Facebook, include both abusive and user-misclassified accounts. While abusive ones cause harm, the user-misclassified account – such as those people such up for their pets – do not.

Dealing with Abusive Fake Accounts

The report classifies the enforcement and measurement of fake accounts in three different ways:

  1. Blocking account creation: Fake accounts are prevented from getting on Facebook in the first place. The Facebook system detects signals which indicate whether a massive number of accounts are created from one location. The corresponding IP address is identified and blocked. A range of IP addresses is blocked before it reaches the Facebook website. A number of unsuccessful attempts to create accounts has been blocked, however, it cannot be included in the report.
  2. Removal of accounts on sign-up: Removal of the accounts on sign up happens if it is found that the new accounts are associated with details from previous fake accounts or related to some suspicious activity.  For example, a spammer may try to create 1,000,000 accounts quickly from the same IP address.  These are removed within minutes of their creation before they could cause any harm. Since these accounts removed even before they become active, they were never considered active. So, these are not added to the estimated prevalence of fake accounts.
  3. Removal of accounts already on Facebook: The removal of account already on Facebook is done through system detection or from people’s report. Over 99% of these are proactively detected by us before people report them. The accounts removed at this stage is counted in the accounts actioned metrics of the report. The report says that “Of the accounts we remove, both at sign-up and those already on the platform, over 99% of these are proactively detected by us before people report them to us.”

Tackling fake accounts

The two goals of Facebook regarding fake accounts is to prevent abusive fake accounts and to urge people to share via authentic accounts. Sometimes authentic accounts may seem suspicious. For instance, someone users may join Facebook and send lots of friend requests which could appear to be a spammer. “so for accounts where we aren’t sure if they are abusive we will give them time to prove to us their intent” said Facebook in its post. The report acknowledges that knowledge and extent of fake accounts is important to advertisers as well, “…we also know advertisers will only continue to advertise on Facebook if they get results — and we’re continuing to deliver returns for them despite the small occurrence of fake accounts,” writes Alex Schultz, VP of Analytics. According to the Huffington Post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seeking to eliminate the financial incentives of fake accounts, he said: “A lot of the harmful content we see, including misinformation, are in fact commercially motivated. So one of the best tactics is removing incentives to create fake accounts upstream, which limits content made downstream.”

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