The market for fake accounts has been booming for years. Commercial entities, “influencers,” and political operations alike have taken full advantage of the market. It’s little wonder that experts have indicated that social media platforms are up to 60 percent fake accounts.
Due to the inherent deception involved with the fake accounts, however, states like New York and Florida have finally begun to take a hard look at the social media marketing companies that profit from selling fake accounts.
Recently, the New York Attorney General’s office settled with Devumi—a social media marketing company—for selling fake accounts and for stealing real users’ data. Florida is currently investigating Devumi as well.
How fake and stolen-identity accounts work
Meet the “two Heathers.” One is real. One is not.
They both have identical Twitter profiles—with only a small difference in the handle. (Source: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism)
Unbeknownst to the real Heather, Heather 2 tweets about things like art and retweets political rhetoric, such as the 2016 “white monopoly campaign”—a politically motivated campaign used in South Africa against those critical of the Gupta family’s political connections.
Unless you are looking at the two Heather accounts side-by-side, it is almost impossible to distinguish the copy from the real. And that is precisely the goal; fake accounts created, paid for, and weaponized to deceive real users.
Heather is far from alone. On the contrary, it’s quite common to come across stolen identities while scouring the platforms’ fake accounts. Here’s one such example. The account claims to be model Abigail Ratchford. While it retweets the real Ms. Ratchford, it also tweets political support for Donald Trump.
Oftentimes, the fake accounts steal just the pictures rather than a whole identity. This account claims to be David Miller—a national reporter published in the Washington Post and Washington Week as well as a political analyst on NBC.
This David Miller does not exist, however. As a matter of fact, his picture is someone else entirely—a Turkish businessman.
Fake accounts steal more than identities
Another way that fake accounts usurp real-user data in order to appear more legitimate is by plagiarizing real tweets. For example, this fake account appears to be an American with good English and a strong, Right-embracing political opinion.
But the account is fake and the tweet is stolen.
Given the nature of the social media platforms, it is hard to grasp the totality of the damage being done on a regular basis by fake accounts. The examples above are a microcosmic look at a macrocosmic problem.
Regretfully, social media companies have been mind-numbingly slow to respond to the crises of foreign influence and deceptive marketing on their platforms; and the federal government has been loathe to enhance regulations on those platforms.
In the meantime, however, it appears that the states are starting to step up—holding deceptive social media marketing companies accountable. Though not a systemic fix, the states’ actions will likely help to put a crimp in the onslaught of duplicitous social media accounts.
Written by Unhackthvote
Originally published February 24, 2019
Updated July 16, 2019