by Brian Awehali
“A man is whatever room he is in.”
Most people know a certain portion of people on the internet aren’t people at all, or aren’t the people they purport to be, especially on social networks like Google+, Twitter, and Facebook, where at least 5-6% of all profiles are fake. 97% of these imposters are estimated to identify as female, and apparently attractive college-aged bisexuals lead the field. Consider just Facebook’s roughly 1 billion users, then do the math. A conservative estimate is that 80 million of the profiles on the network are fictional. That’s roughly the population of Germany or Egypt, a quarter of the United States, fifteen Finlands. And yet most people don’t think such fakers are among the ranks of their own online “friends.”
“[Facebook is] the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented.” — Julian Assange, speaking to Russia Today.
* * *
If you have a blog with any overtly “political” agenda or content, chances are pretty good you have some fake followers, too, and that you’ve posted comments by them. You may have had multi-part email or comment board exchanges with them. They might even have names of people familiar to you. If you’ve ever published/edited an independent political magazine, or, say, co-moderated a politicized Facebook page, you definitely interacted with a fair amount of vitriolic cognitive absolutists and disruptive personalities, but you almost surely also interacted with dozens or hundreds of deliberate fakes, either bots engaged in large-scale data harvesting attacks, military or law enforcement personnel who are “doing” the internet in order to influence public opinion, or others intent on exploiting a fundamental weakness of social networks and the internet in general, humorously summed up in a 20-year-old New Yorker cartoon:
“The analysis of the fake Facebook profile experiment showed that creating and maintaining a fake profile is an easy task.”
This was one of the main findings reported in a paper published in the Journal of Service Science Research last year. This is not a new story by any means, but it’s the first (and last) time I’m focusing on it here on LOUDCANARY. The paper is fairly detailed, but in March and April 2012, the authors created six “socially attractive fake Facebook profiles and integrat[ed] them into existing friendship networks to simulate a data harvesting attack.”