Compare the profile’s public name to its web address. For the Eversley profile, it has a different name in the address: Aleksandar Teovski.
If a profile seems suspicious, search for similar pages that draw on the same personal details or images.
With 2.3 billion users worldwide, Facebook relies on complaints to police its content. So, Mr. Elwood used Facebook’s internal complaint tool to report the Keven Eversley profile and 27 others showing evidence of deception. In all but a couple of cases, Facebook responded with a standard message of thanks for the feedback but said the profiles did not violate its community standards — even though those standards require users to give their “authentic identities.”
“The reporting process is frustrating,” Mr. Elwood said. “Facebook seems to be lagging way behind the problem.”
Facebook estimates that about 200 million of its more than 2.07 billion users may be fakes. Sean Edgett, Twitter’s general counsel, testified before Congress that about 5 percent of its 330 million users are “false accounts or spam,” which would add up to more than 16 million fakes.
“Spammers and bad actors are getting better at making themselves look more real,” Mr. Edgett said.
Independent experts say the real numbers are far higher.
On Twitter, little more than an email address is needed to start tweeting. Facebook’s requirement that users be their authentic selves means the company asks for a smattering of information to sign up — name, birthday, gender and email address. But few checks exist to verify if that information is true when a user signs up.
“Part of the problem is that Facebook is a black box,” said Michael Serazio, a professor of communications at Boston College. “They do what they do, and we don’t know to what degree their operations can even handle these issues — not to mention how handling them maps with their economic model.”
In fact, fighting too hard against deception may clash with the business models that have allowed the companies to thrive. Facebook, Google and Twitter all offer self-serve advertising systems allowing anyone in the world to buy, target and deliver ads for as much — or as little — money as they wish to spend. Introducing more scrutiny into that process could hamper the staggering revenue growth each of the services have seen over the past 20 years since the systems were put into place.
Facebook, for instance, reported record profits this week in its quarterly earnings even as executives testified about Russian exploitation of their services. Shares of the social network soared to an all-time high on Wednesday afternoon after the news. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, insisted in the earnings call that the company is prepared to sacrifice profits to crack down on illicit activity.
“Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits,” he said.
Whether public concern about the manipulation of the platforms might at some point threaten the business remains to be seen. But many customers who run up against the fakery problem end up unhappy.
Kristofer Goldsmith, an assistant director for policy and government relations at Vietnam Veterans of America, noticed last summer a look-alike Facebook page calling itself Vietnam Vets of America that initially borrowed the real group’s logo. Linked to a website hosted in Bulgaria, the upstart page pushed viral content, weighing in on N.F.L. players’ protests of police shootings. It posted looping videos that were months or years old but presented them as breaking news, he said.
“Sometimes their grammar was off,” Mr. Goldsmith said, but there was no way to know who was behind the page.
Soon, the look-alike page had 200,000 followers — more than the 120,000 than the page of the real group, which has a long history of service, a congressional charter and chapters around the country. Mr. Goldsmith said the linked website had few ads, so he suspected a political motive, probably in line with the Russian campaign to divide Americans.
In August, Mr. Goldsmith began complaining to Facebook. But officials there hesitated; hosting pages for millions of groups, they were hardly equipped to assess in detail whether a particular veterans group was worthy and another was not.
Finally, in late October, Facebook shut the newer page, deciding it had illicitly stolen the intellectual property of the older page. But Mr. Goldsmith said the experience was disturbing.
“I don’t think they’re taking a very proactive approach,” he said of Facebook. “There was a foreign entity targeting American vets and inserting itself into divisive debates. Someone could do this to us every month.”
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