July 01, 2012, 7:00 AM — I’ve been spending so much of my time lately in the company of inanimate Facebook accounts I’ve begun to forget what real virtual people are like. But now that I’ve figured out what to look for, I see fakes everywhere.
Earlier this year Facebook estimated that between 5 and 6 percent of all accounts are bogus – which would put the number of Facebook fakes between 40 and 50 million. Other estimates range as high as 27 percent – or some 200 million.
There are essentially two kinds of Facebook fakes. One is a bot account that is created and operated remotely via software. The other is a sock puppet – a false account that is operated by a human being pretending to be someone or something they’re not. (Full disclosure: I operate a couple of sock puppet accounts, mostly for testing purposes.)
The key distinction is that bots are easier to identify because they don’t really act like humans. Sock puppets are harder because they will occasionally act like humans, though often really stupid humans. It’s a subtle difference.
Here are some of the key warning signs that the alleged human who just sent you a friend request is not what he or she claims to be. If an account displays three or more of these Fake Factors, you can bank that it’s bogus.
1. Old layouts. If the Facebook page is still using the pre-Timeline layout, that’s one clue it may be a bot. Of course, there are nonbots that still cling to the ‘old’ Facebook, and there are certainly bots using Timeline. But the majority of fakes I’ve seen lately use the old layout.
2. The babe factor. Again, not all attractive young women are bots, and not all bots are attractive young women, but the vast majority of fake accounts seem to be. Why? Because we simple minded males are much more likely to click on photos of hot chicks, and that is the point of a bot – to get attention. Don’t blame me, blame Darwin.
3. Few photo uploads. Though you can’t see it here, most bots don’t post a lot of photos – three or four are typical, and occasionally they are pictures of different people. Just enough to create the temporary illusion that a real person is behind the account.