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Dealing with a Wave of Fake Social Media Accounts

Photo Credit: Medium 2 mins read

The Ministry of Information last week launched a platform for reporting suspicious government social media accounts in the country in a bid to address the growing concerns regarding fake accounts. The government had earlier cautioned the public against fake social media accounts used to dupe the public.

The wave of fake social media accounts is not limited to Ghana. As of September last year, a total of 3877 fake accounts were detected with 78% deleted by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission. 

The biggest social network worldwide, Facebook, removed 1.7 billion fake accounts in the third quarter of 2019 (July-September). This figure represents more than half the 2.45 billion monthly active users recorded by the company in the same period. However, Facebook detected and removed a vast majority- 99.7 per cent- of the accounts minutes after registration. This was timely as they hadn’t become part of the company’s worldwide monthly active users (MAU).

Facebook estimates that fake accounts represented approximately 5% of its MAU on Facebook during the second and third quarters of 2019 although some believe it could be around 20%.

Other social media networks, such as Twitter, which as of the fourth quarter of 2018 had 321 million monthly active users, have also tried to wage their own wars against fake accounts. In May and June 2018, Twitter suspended over 70 million suspicious and fake accounts

Why Should We Care?

The existence of fake social media accounts should be a concern for all because of the threat they pose to society and in extension democracy.

Inauthentic social media accounts have the ability to form rhetorics and influence public discourse through the spread of propaganda. Recall, during the 2016 United States elections, Russian agents employed fake accounts to spread anti-Clinton messages and to promote misinformation.

Fake accounts are also notorious for ripping targets off financially. Hopeless romantics are also fair game for fake accounts users. The prevalence of this is so sad it’s been termed- catfishing. Job-seekers also fall victim to fake accounts which promise them lucrative jobs in return for ‘registration’ and ‘transaction fees’. Note DUBAWA’s experience in this fact-check.

Additionally, perpetrators use fake accounts to boost follower numbers; numbers which are useful for online influencers who are paid for generating publicity for products and services.

But how can you tell if an account is fake? Here are a few tips to guide you:
  • Fake accounts usually have few posts or updates
  • An account may be fake if it has many updates but rarely engages with other followers or friends
  • Fake accounts often solely promote a particular agenda, service or product
  • A Twitter account which follows an unusually high number of accounts may be fake.
  • You can also use tools such as TwitterAudit and Account Analysis to identify inauthentic accounts on Twitter.
To protect yourself from the threat of fake accounts, always…
  • Check for the verification indicator if an account claims to belong to a high profile user, a reputable and well-known business or organisation. 
  • Check the official website for more information
  • Contact the person or organisation separately using contact details obtained from a source other than the suspicious account to verify a message or information from a suspicious account
  • Always be sceptical when you receive a message from a strange or unknown accounts
  • And report every suspicious account you come across

For more on identifying fake Twitter accounts, read this article by Poynter.

Caroline Anipah is the Programme Officer of DUBAWA, Ghana. She holds an MPhil in Communication Studies and an undergraduate degree in English and Political Science from the University of Ghana. She is a trained journalist and has engaged in various research activities with notable institutions including Ghana Statistical Service, German Development Institute (GIZ) and the USAID Evaluate for Health over the years. She has also worked with the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) on a regional (West Africa-wide) comprehensive research on the state of the media. She brings to the project and team, her experience in both media and research.

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