My bubbly teen was so excited the day she found Priyanka Chopra had started following her on Twitter. She was literally hopping around the room, squealing in delight. As a parent and my daughter’s cybersafety guide, I checked her page to confirm and what I saw made me sad but I had to burst her bubble.
“No darling, that’s not the real Priyanka Chopra following you but a fake twitter account. See here @priyankachopra , this is her original handle. And see this blue tick – it means Twitter has validated this account to be a genuine one as it usually verifies popular accounts.”
“Why do people create fake accounts then?” ranted the peeved teen, as she angrily blocked the fake handle. (It’s painful to lose a celeb follower on social media you know.)
Why indeed? Why do people create false accounts on social media sites like Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook? For the same reason why we have fakes/imitations in the real world; someone stands to gain from it, or leverage it to make mischief.
Are the number of fake accounts significant enough to warrant attention and action? It apparently is. According to a research carried out by a graduate student at UCL recently, there are more than 500,000 fake accounts on Twitter alone, for instance, Deepika Padukone’s account (@Deepika_Officia). Fake LinkedIn accounts of company CEOs is a common way to fraud job seekers signing up on the site. Another big fake account source is the duplication of celebrity accounts and hapless fans often end up following the fake account online. These can do major harm by sharing false or inappropriate content. Fake accounts are also created to boost follower counts, share incendiary or dishonest messages, create trending topics, send spam, troll and abuse users, launch scam or phishing attacks or set traps for naïve children.
Fake account creators bank on the intrinsic trusting nature of users that lead them to believe in the authenticity of an account. They leverage this trust to swindle, bully, defame the person or others. So, the thing to do is to be skeptical and vigilant.
Identifying fake accounts on social media:
This is not an easy task by any means, but still we need to be vigilant to avoid risks. Here are a few pointers that will help you stay safer online:
- Absent: The account does not engage in real-time conversations much
- Mechanic: Repeats a single message and tags several accounts at random
- Agenda: Shares false, inappropriate or suspicious content consistently. Sometimes engages in trolling or bullying and apart from it, does not share any tangible storyline or views
- Inadequate identity: A Twitter handle without a profile image
- Imposters: New friend requests from existing friends, not to mention those suspicious favors asked online. The moment you come across a duplicate or fake account, flag and report it. That way the sites would know of its existence and take remedial actions. And never be in a hurry to accept friend/follow requests. Take your time. Check the account profile, posts and friend list. Then decide. Do not trust blindly- each new friend or follower need to earn your trust before you interact with the account. Remember to be a true Doubting Thomas when online. STOP. THINK. CONNECT.