We have previously written on social media account verification for businesses, in order to help customers deal only with the authentic brand.  But what about authenticating your social media followers/users/fans/members?

Unfortunately, there are currently “no methodologies available that would provide us with an exact number of non-actual member types of accounts,” according to LinkedIn’s 10-K filing for 2015.  (10-K at 18.)  LinkedIn goes on to state that some of its “non-actual member types of accounts” are: 

  • Members with multiple registrations;
  • Members who died;
  • Members who became incapacitated;
  • Members who have registered under fictitious accounts; and
  • Members who have created fraudulent accounts.

On the other hand, Facebook’s 10-K for 2015 refers to “false” accounts, which it divides into two categories:

  • User-misclassified accounts (such as accounts for pets); and
  • Undesirable accounts “which represent user profiles that we determine are intended to be used for purposes that violate our terms of service, such as spamming.”

(10-K at 4.) Facebook estimated that, during 2015, less than 2% of its worldwide monthly active users were “false” accounts, and that less than 5% of its monthly active users were duplicate accounts. Facebook also found that, based on its limited sample of reviewed accounts, geography matters: “We believe the percentage of accounts that are duplicate or false is meaningfully lower in developed markets such as the United States or United Kingdom and higher in developing markets such as India and Turkey.” (10-K at 4.)

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have published a technical paper outlining an algorithm to help detect fraudulent users. According to the authors, fraudulent users are more likely to have many transactions with each other, but not with any other users. The Carnegie Mellon algorithm is designed to locate such users, even if they try to camouflage their actions by, for example, linking to popular celebrities or hijacking legitimate users’ accounts. The researchers have designated their code as “open source” and it is freely downloadable.

What is the significance of fake accounts? In addition to affecting the potential value of your social media assets (especially in the merger and acquisition context), the FBI reported in 2015 that crimes with a social media aspect had quadrupled in the past five years. (Report at 15.) In 2014 alone, the FBI estimated that there were almost 10,000 of those crime victims (usually involving exploitation of personal information through compromised social media accounts) and those victims suffered more than $60 million in losses as a result. (Report at 48.)

Although valuation of a company’s social media assets can be adversely affected by followers/fans/etc. with dormant accounts, the more pressing concern for companies are the fraudulent accounts. Are you offering something to social media users that a fraudster could find valuable, such as coupons? Are you offering social media users information that fraudsters could use to post fake reviews either for your goods or services or your competitors’? Are your fans/followers located in developed markets or in the developing markets? Now may be a good time to ask these questions and possibly re-evaluate your social media strategy.