Comparing Fake Account Detection on Facebook and Twitter

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By Gene Munster of Loup Ventures

[Today], Facebook and Twitter will testify in front of the Senate regarding the use of their platforms to influence elections. Fake accounts are the starting point for bad actors to operate on social media. To compare how effective Twitter and Facebook are at detecting fake accounts, we created several fictitious users on each platform. Bottom line: it’s pretty easy to create fake social media accounts.

  • Facebook better than Twitter: Facebook was better at detecting fakes than Twitter. While all seven of the accounts we created with only basic profile information were flagged, Facebook still has room for improvement. We were able to create five profiles with more detailed bios that were not detected.
  • Fake email more difficult to create: In order to create fake social accounts, fake emails can be used. However, only so many email accounts can be linked to one phone number. We created one Gmail account without providing a phone number, and it was flagged for suspicious activity.
  • Facebook combats fake news: Facebook has been making a push to reduce distribution of fake news and harmful content as reflected in new content rules and the creation of a “Fake News War Room.”
  • Twitter combats fake news: Twitter has set up the Ad Transparency Center to better inform users of what they are seeing. The company has also created a certification process for “issue ads” to verify the identity of the advertisers.

Faking Out Facebook

Good at detecting basic fakes: Facebook detected all seven fake accounts we created with basic information (only profile picture and name). In order to regain access to those accounts, we were asked to send in pictures of ourselves for verification by an AI agent. All accounts used a fake Gmail or Yahoo account for initial email verification.

Fast response: All accounts were flagged within 30 minutes of creation.

Bad at detecting detailed fakes: With a little more information, it is still easy to create a fake account. After our initial seven basic fake accounts were detected, we created five more fake accounts with additional information, such as profession, school, and relationship status. These more sophisticated accounts were not detected by Facebook’s AI as of four days following their creation.

Faking Out Twitter

Easy to fool: All we needed to provide was a username, password, and email. Both fake Twitter accounts are still fully accessible as of six days following their creation. One account has a valid email address and one has an invalid one (both Gmail).

Poor email verification: Without accepting the verification email, we have full use of Twitter.

Conclusion

It’s pretty easy to create fake social media accounts, but what’s more important is how the platforms handle ads and pages created and promoted by these accounts. Both companies have taken important steps to decrease the spread of fake news. Former Facebook Chief Security Officer, Alex Stamos, has said it is too late to protect the US for the midterm elections, so we’ll need to wait longer to see the effectiveness of these programs.

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