Facebook: At least 67 million accounts are fake

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Security threats, Social networks, Spam

Facebook. Image courtesy of ShutterstockSocial networking behemoth Facebook revealed last week that it had 757 million daily active users (DAUs) during December 2013, a year-on-year increase of 22%.

Other figures from the company's fourth quarter earnings report show 1.23 billion monthly active users (MAUs) during the same month, of which 945 million accessed the service via mobile.

Those are very impressive statistics, but do they accurately represent the user base on Facebook?

According to the company's own 10-K filing, the answer would seem to be "no" due to the fact that a large number of accounts may, in fact, be fake.

Facebook itself said:

While these numbers are based on what we believe to be reasonable estimates of our user base for the applicable period of measurement, there are inherent challenges in measuring usage of our products across large online and mobile populations around the world.

This, the company said, was due to the following issues:

  • Facebook estimates that between 4.3% and 7.9% of its monthly active users were individuals signing in with more than one account, despite the fact that duplicate accounts are against its terms of service.
  • A further 0.8 percent to 2.1 percent of monthly users are believed to have been using misclassified accounts, used to represent something other than a real human user, i.e. accounts created for pets, businesses or organisations.
  • Some 0.4 to 1.2 percent of accounts are said to be 'undesirable' because they have been created to violate Facebook terms of services by, for example, being used to send spam messages or other types of malicious links or content.

Facebook 10-K limitations

Put together, this would suggest that between 5.5% and 11.2% of all accounts on Facebook are either duplicate, malicious or otherwise 'fake'.

Based on Facebook's own figures, this means that anywhere from 67 up to 137 million monthly users are not as they may at first seem.

Facebook believes there may be some geographical differences in the use of duplicate or fake accounts though. Interestingly, it believes that the more developed markets in the US and UK are less prone to 'fakes':

We believe the percentage of accounts that are duplicate or false is meaningfully lower in developed markets such as the United States or United Kingdom and higher in developing markets such as India and Turkey.

The company does admit though that estimating how many accounts are fake is far from an exact science, relying upon human judgement to make predictions:

However, these estimates are based on an internal review of a limited sample of accounts and we apply significant judgment in making this determination, such as identifying names that appear to be fake or other behavior that appears inauthentic to the reviewers.

As such, our estimation of duplicate or false accounts may not accurately represent the actual number of such accounts... Due to inherent variability in such estimates at particular dates of measurement, we disclose these estimates as a range over a recent period.

Facebook also admitted that due to such limitations, other figures, such as user age data, may not be entirely accurate:

"...while user-provided data indicates a decline in usage among younger users, this age data is unreliable because a disproportionate number of our younger users register with an inaccurate age.

Troll. Image courtesy of ShutterstockWhether the number of fake accounts is growing or shrinking is hard to say due to the fact that Facebook has now chosen to present a range of variables.

Previously, the company's first earnings report gave a more precise figure of 8.7%, which equated to 83 million accounts.

Image of Facebook and troll courtesy of Shutterstock.

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15 Responses to Facebook: At least 67 million accounts are fake

  1. Average Joe · 603 days ago

    Duplicate accounts are the only way to stay sane since Facebook always moves the goalposts with privacy. I don't want coworkers seeing what I like or post about religion and politics and I don't want online-only friends seeing my personal interactions with family, etc etc etc.

    • Mexpat · 603 days ago

      It is far easier to separate people in groups and address each post to the relevant groups (problem: this cannot be done easily from iPad or iPhone apps). I've done this since joining FB in 2007 and has worked fine despite FB's sometimes arbitrary privacy changes. Sometimes it does pay to read the instructions...

      • Average Joe · 602 days ago

        Before you accuse me of not reading directions, think about this for a minute. It may hide your OWN posts from certain groups of friends but it doesn't hide your interactions with "friends of friends" posts nor public posts and pages from your friends. When I comment on a religious post on a page, it doesn't show that to only certain groups of friends. When I like a post from a family member, all of a sudden my online-only friends can gain more clues about my life (and eventually figure out everything by who I'm related to).

      • Average Joe · 602 days ago

        I personally don't think Facebook should care about duplicate accounts or even false names, as long as you're not trolling anyone or being reported for abuse.

    • Joe · 602 days ago

      Enter Google+ Circles...If only it were more widely adopted

    • i totally agree with you Joe. Doesn't everyone have two FB accounts? So I'd think the numbers are higher.

  2. Abayomi · 603 days ago

    "a disproportionate number of our younger users register with an inaccurate age"

    Show of hands, how many people actually put in their real age?

    I created a Facebook account because I'm a member of a cycling group that uses it to schedule rides but I didn't provide an age and if I did it would be wrong. I used to say I was a 13 year old boy when sites wanted that information to discourage them from selling me stuff. For a while I used 90 year old Nigerian woman as my age and gender... just because. I'm neither of those. I would bet money that a larger percentage of Facebook users are entering incorrect information than Facebook knows or wants to admit.

  3. We also have to account for People who have Passed away. I have no reason to worry about Privacy, I am on a social Network for Social Reasons. I have some misleading information to help prevent Identity theft, Wrong DOB, Wrong City. But I want to keep in touch with past Loves, Classmates, Coworkers, Neighborhood Friends and extended Family. But thats me.

  4. You can't lie on the internet!

  5. Karool · 603 days ago

    A lot of people I know create account for an alternate version of themselves to be friends with their relatives. Sometimes a facebook account is either stolen or the user forgets their password, and the owner needs to make a new account.

    To be honest, facebook is far from perfect as a medium for private communication, however I find it's best use to be keeping tabs on people, as well as organizing events, anything that requires me to reach out beyond my phone book.

  6. Andrew · 602 days ago

    do these figures really surprise me ? no. Not with seeing the way Facebook insists on data sharing on all fronts. People do not want to give up their privacy simple as that and they should not be forced by a social site and that the fact known about the NSA spying via Facebook says it all

  7. Bill Dietrich · 602 days ago

    Can that share of users who are on mobile be right ? 945 mill out of 1.23 bill monthly users are mobile ? I must be way out of touch; I still use a laptop. I would have guessed 30% were mobile.

  8. Sadly, I have several people in my circle of Facebook friends who are *deceased*. Their accounts, in some cases, are in use as a as a memorial with active posts by friends. I wonder how FB counts those accounts?

  9. I confess. I have more than one FB account. Plus my dogs have FB accounts too. My dogs are very social animals what can I say.

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About the author

Lee Munson is the founder of Security FAQs, a social media manager with BH Consulting and a blogger with a huge passion for information security.