You know that some of your social media “friends” aren’t really who they seem to be, right? The question is, how many are fakes? The answer: More than you think.
Fake Facebook and Twitter accounts are the primary way scammers and spammers insinuate themselves into your life in unpleasant ways.
Impermium Corp, a spam filtering service for social nets, has just published the results of its first Social Spam survey. It scanned social interactions for some 90 million users in 72 countries over a period of 100 days.
What they found:
* Between 5 and 40 percent of all social media accounts are bogus. Impermium doesn’t explain why the huge range, or whether a service like Twitter has more fakes than, say, Facebook. (That would be my guess.) A lot of these accounts are “sleepers,” waiting to be activated by a spammer to flood a network with bogus messages, then quickly shut down when they’re no longer needed.
* The cost of a Facebook account on the black market has dropped from $135 in 2010 to just $15. Basic economics would suggest that the supply is outstripping demand. The report doesn’t say whether this applies to fake accounts, real ones, or both.
* Uggs are bigger than porn. Yes, seriously. Spam promoting fashion (like Ugg boots) and electronics out numbered porn spam 3 to 1. Ugg spam outdistanced brands like Gucci and Prada by a wide margin.
* Russia produces more social media spam than the US. Russian social media users are responsible for three out of ten spammy tweets or updates – just 2 percentage points ahead of the US. But I know if we pull together as a nation we can beat those damned Russkies.
* Your mom is a spammer. Impermium notes that using spam as a promotional tool has spread to small businesses – which means that essentially everybody is doing it. Yes, even your mom.
The big questions moving forward for social nets – and really, the Internet at large – all center around identity. A false or hidden identity can mask a wide range of sins, from obnoxious or slanderous blog comments, to Facebook scams, malware laden tweets and attempts at social engineering.
You can understand why Google+ is so adamant about its “real names” policy, despite how ineptly it has handled enforcement of that policy.
As I’ve written before, a better solution would be third-party identity verification services like Tru.ly. They can provide both relative anonymity (ie, allowing you to use a pseudonym online) and assurances you are in fact whom you claim to be (by providing some form of hard-to-fake proof, like a scan of your passport).
The big problem with those? Without critical mass, they’re useless. So the challenge is getting enough people to use them so that demanding ID verification becomes second nature – kind of like how using social networks has become.