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.
4. Oddball biographies. I suppose it’s possible that “Alice” here could have been born in the Bronx and attended the University of Helsinki, but she’s a bit young to be working for a New York PR firm. (In fact, there was no one with that name working at Weber Shandwick in New York, when I checked). According to Tineye Reverse Image Search, that particularly beguiling photo can be found on more than five dozen porn sites.
Still, Alice’s bio is more believable than that of many bots, whose names and other personal details often bear no resemblance to any plausible reality.
5. You have zero saved messages. Want to chat Alice up? Good luck. Though bots are able to process friend requests – that’s one of the reasons they exist -- they’re unlikely to respond to any kind of message. At least, they certainly didn’t respond to mine. I sent a simple one-sentence question to more than two dozen bot accounts and failed to receive a single response.
6. A mostly blank Wall. Don’t bother looking for personal status updates or other signs of incipient humanity on her wall, you won’t find any. Generally the only things you’ll find on one of these bots’ walls are new “Likes” on a Facebook company or product page and new friends.
You might also find greetings from new male friends (see Fake Factor #2, above) but you won’t find any responses in return. Alice don’t play that way.
7. A whole lotta Likes. This particular bot is part of a network that’s been set to like no more than 20 pages a day, to avoid tripping Facebook’s bot filters. Over time, though, the likes can total in the thousands, often completely schizoid and spanning several continents.
In one day, for example, Alice liked a Beverly Hills chiropractor, an Eqyptian actor/director, a martial arts school in mainland China, the movie “Tattoo Nation,” and 16 other pages. She’s nothing if not eclectic.
What should you do when you encounter a Facebook bot? The important thing is to recognize it for what it is. Despite your sincere belief that gorgeous strangers would naturally gravitate to your Facebook account, you must accept that it’s merely something created to trick you.
These bots are mostly there to defraud Facebook and also to fool people into thinking companies and products are more popular than they really are. But some Facebook bot networks can be used to spread malware.
Your best course of action: Ignore it and move on or report it using the barely visible Report/Block link directly beneath the bot’s Friends list. You’ll have to fill out another four dialog boxes to complete the process.
And then? One down, another 50 million to go.
Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.
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