Facebook confirms that 83 million accounts could be fake

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Um. Remember when Facebook said it had grown to 955-million users late last month? As it turns out, it could have around 872-million actual monthly active users (MAUs), because around 83-million Facebook accounts are fake.

According to the company’s filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, 8.7% of Facebook’s monthly active users are either wrongly classified as personal accounts, or they’re duplicates or spam accounts. In addition, Facebook also admits that its user data could be less than 100% accurate, as it’s not always possible to precisely measure their user base. According to the filing:

The numbers of our MAUs and DAUs and average revenue per user (ARPU) are calculated using internal company data based on the activity of user accounts. While these numbers are based on what we believe to be reasonable estimates of our user base for the applicable period of measurement, there are inherent challenges in measuring usage of our products across large online and mobile populations around the world.

There are a number of different types of ‘fake accounts’ on Facebook. They include the following:

  • Duplicate accounts: When a Facebook user has another account in addition to their primary Facebook account. The social network estimates that 4.8% (45.8-million) of its global monthly active accounts are duplicates.
  • User-misclassified accounts: Ever had to add a business as a ‘friend’ on Facebook? That’s a misclassified account. Instead of opening a brand page, users sometimes create a personal profile for an organisation. Profiles set up for pets (yes, really) also fall into this category, which accounts for 2.4% (22.9-million) of their active users.
  • Undesirable accounts: These users violate Facebook’s terms of service, like by posting spam content, and account for 1.5% (14.3-million) of the company’s worldwide users.

Besides the fact that they’re technically including duplicates, misclassified and possible spam accounts in their user stats, this information is adding weight to the argument that Facebook’s like-based advertising is flawed. A recent investigation by the BBC found that a large number of likes are from fake accounts, many of which are based in emerging markets. That’s a problem for the company, because advertising accounted for 83% of its revenue in the first six months of this year. Facebook seems to corroborate the BBC’s findings, stating that “the percentage of accounts that are duplicate or false is meaningfully lower in developed markets such as the United States or Australia and higher in developing markets such as Indonesia and Turkey”.

The social network also states that their estimates of the number of fake accounts could be conservative, as it’s often difficult to identify them. It said that the estimates are “based on an internal review of a limited sample of accounts” and that it “apply significant judgment in making this determination, such as identifying names that appear to be fake or other behavior that appears inauthentic to the reviewers. As such, our estimation of duplicate or false accounts may not accurately represent the actual number of such accounts.”

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