More Than 50 Million Fake Facebook Accounts Are Liking Pages

Facebook-Fake-ProfilePerhaps one of the most widely used metric for artists and brands these days to demonstrate how popular they are among the public is to boast the number of Facebook Likes they have. But a recent investigation conducted by the BBC reports that millions are fake, and that brands may be wasting their money to gain Likes from people who have no real interest in them at all.

Earlier this year, Facbook themselves revealed that 5-6% of their accounts might be fake, representing around 54 million accounts. The BBC report notes that many account holders who click on links may have also lied about their personal details, which can throw off the targeting systems Facebook has set in place for marketers. A “security expert” said some of the profiles are being run by computer programs as a way to spread spam.

So to find out on their own, the BBC decided to set up a Facebook Page for a fictitious company with no real products called “Virtual Bagel”, which brought in more than 3,000 Likes only a short time after it was launched on July 4th. The BBC then sought out to learn more about the profiles of those liking the page and found a large number coming from Egypt and the Philippines.

This “fan” data correlated with a similar experiment conducted by one social media marketing consultant, Michael Tinmouth, who ran a similar investigation for several of his own small business clients, where yet again, a large and suspicious number of accounts came from Egypt and the Philippines.

“They were 13 to 17 years old, the profile names were highly suspicious, and when we dug deeper a number of these profiles were liking 3,000, 4,000, even 5,000 pages,” Tinmouth said in the BBC report.

Tinmouth also pointed out that several profiles had names and details that showed signs of being fake – such as “Agung Pratama Sevenfoldism”, who was born in 1997 and claims to be a manager at Chevron in 2010.

"All of these companies have access to Facebook's analytics which allow them to see the identities of people who have liked their pages, yet this has not been flagged as an issue,” said a Facebook spokesperson to the BBC. “A very small percentage of users do open accounts using pseudonyms but this is against our rules and we use automated systems as well as user reports to help us detect them."

Since "Likes" tend to hold such a high value by marketing people, they and their companies tend to spend large sums of money running targeted Facebook advertisements. While this report may cause some concern for them and their clients, it might be a bigger concern for Facebook considering the vast majority of the company’s revenue comes from advertising.

Facebook continues to remain adamant that it has "not seen evidence of a significant problem" regarding the fake accounts.

Significant or minor, this report continues to demonstrate that artists and brands must not continue to be beholden to a social network for fan retention. If you really want to boast about how much your liked, boast about how big your email list is, or how many people packed the venue last night, or how active your user base. Those numbers are from real people who decided to take the next step to engage with you by opting-in somehow, which is far more significant than any Facebook Like.

Hisham Dahud is a Senior Analyst for Additionally, he is the head of Business Development for Fame House, LLC and an independent musician. Follow him on Twitter: @HishamDahud

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  1. This is really interesting to me. A client of mine had this happen twice last month, taking her likes from 1100 to 3000. One batch was from London, the other from various countries in the Middle East and Asia. While we didn’t look at every profile, clicking on the first dozen or so revealed fake profile information that in many cases was exactly the same for several “people.” Some on the other hand did look legitimate but I’m guessing were not.
    There have been no spammy posts on her page yet, but my concern is that her real fans may not be seeing her posts if fb elects to have the posts populate the fake accounts’ profiles. About 150 of her page views came from fan adding sites and, which she was not using.
    I assume there’s no easy way to remove the fake fans from her likes without individually reporting the profiles to facebook, but if you have any solutions, please post about them. Thanks.

  2. I think there’s a a couple of considerations to be made when looking at this story…
    Firstly, these ads were not targeted in any way whatsoever. For that reason, the news that they had X number of Likes from far-flung countries is hardly revelatory to me. It’s tantamount to saying “if you run crappy ads, you get crappy results”. If you want to build a relevant fanbase, target the relevant people. If I am working with a band with a UK-only release, I’ll only target UK Facebook users. Only a person obsessed with gaming the numbers would throw the net wide – and as various articles have pointed out before now, that strategy is a hiding to nothing.
    Secondly, as Mike Butcher on TechCrunch pointed out, at least on Facebook you can see who these people responding to your ads are. Its a credit to Facebook’s setup that you can see these people were in the wrong territories etc. Can the same be said for Google ads or various other platforms?
    I think the bigger story, which was alluded to but not directly addressed in Rory’s piece on the BBC site, is that ads simply don’t work as well as engaging people via great ideas. I run Facebook ads, but they’re a small companion to the real marketing, which is the day-to-day engagement via various ideas and initiatives on the band/brand. As an example, with one brand we added 40k fans through people sharing a big competition we did. Advertising that same competition led to only about 60 new Likes.
    That being the case then, the bigger question is surely this: if we all get better results by direct engagement, where does that leave Facebook’s ad platform, which is their primary source of revenue – and what does that say about the value of Facebook as a company?

  3. Right. That, or 3,000 Egyptian and Filipino high schoolers finally thought they found the virtual bagels they’ve been craving. And then it turns out the page was a fake all along. Good job, you jerks.

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