America was recovering from the Super Bowl yesterday while Facebook celebrated its 10th birthday, but there was still work to be done. For one, Facebook page posts can now be edited, (yay!) so those of us who are prone to catching typos after we hit publish will be able to quietly make changes instead of hitting delete.
The Next Web focused on Facebook’s fourth-quarter earnings report – particularly on the data point that 5.5 percent to 11.2 percent of accounts on the social network are fake. This means at least 67.65 million fake accounts were used last month – more than the population of France.
I’ll give you a moment to un-clutch your pearls and let the initial shock pass. Like it or not, fake followers are just another part of social media.
Case in Point: Twitter
Last year, Twitter was hotly criticized for the sheer number of fake accounts and rampant spam bots circulating the network. Almost any active user has been followed by a questionable looking egg or received tweets about free iPads, suspicious links, or people who are supposedly gossiping about them.
In October, Twitter announced that less than five percent of accounts were fake. Well, that small percentage still accounts for 10 million of Twitter’s 218.3 million average monthly users.
Everything really started to hit the fan when blogs found tools like Fake Follower Check to figure out which celebrities had the most fake followers: Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and President Obama.
The data divided followers into three sections: Good, Inactive, and Fake. The Good followers are the honest, hard-working twitter users that are just trying to follow their favorite celebrities. The Inactive ones haven’t been touches in months – if not years – and the Spam accounts contain phrases like, “make money” or “diet pill” and serve to regularly post seedy links.
Unfairly, the fake follower data was pinned on major public figures and used as a copy point to diminish their credibility. Republicans pointed at Obama’s 14,908,716 fake followers and asked, “How can you trust a president who doesn’t even have a real following?” while Bieber-haters rolled their eyes at his 10,133,221 fakes and said, “He’s not that popular, most of his followers are fake anyway.”
Stop Blaming Celebrities, Leave Britney Alone!
Whether they’re found on Facebook or Twitter, it only makes sense that public figures with millions of followers would attract fakes.
Let’s meet in the middle and say that eight percent of Facebook accounts are fake. This means someone who has a following of 100 would have eight fake followers, while a major celebrity with a following of 10,000,000 would have 800,000 fakes. The multitude of fake followers doesn’t make them any less popular, if anything it highlights exactly how many followers they had to begin with.
What Should We Call Fake Followers
So if Twitter’s fake accounts consist of mysterious eggs looking to sell you drugs, then what do fake Facebook accounts look like?
For one, fake accounts aren’t entirely bad, because Facebook includes business pages created as profiles (ex. “Add Susan’s Cupcakes as a friend on Facebook!”). These pages aren’t hurtful to the Facebook ecosystem, but you have to wonder what the social media manager was thinking.
Pet pages are also included in the fake follower count. They are allowed by Facebook, but they don’t contribute to the count of legitimate profiles.
Finally, Facebook does have undesirable fakes on its site. These are spammers, catfish, personas, and fake profiles used for attacking and bullying. Some of these accounts are harder to spot than the others, which is why Facebook gave a wide range for its answer.
As marketers, there’s not much that we can do. Most of these accounts are harmless – who cares if someone’s dog likes your brand – and the dangerous ones you can block. The existence of fake followers on social media is just something to keep in mind before you try to engage with them or follow back.