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  • Writer's picturePeter DiSilvio

How To Spot A Fake Account

Sock puppets. Shells. Astroturfing Accounts. Fake accounts, no matter the name, have existed since before social media but they are their most powerful in that arena. These accounts are dangerous because they are often used by bad actors to influence conversation and public opinion far outside of someone's timeline. The 2016 foreign influence campaign, the Russian propaganda about Ukraine, and Chinese efforts to control Reddit are all examples of governments, not just individuals, using fake accounts to their own ends. How do we spot these fake account? Luckily, it is not difficult if you know what you are looking for.

Reverse Image Search

A reverse image search is one where you search for a particular picture instead of a phrase. Many browsers have this capability built in and all search engines allow users to upload photos so they can search for similar content online.


Since the photos for a fake account have to come from somewhere, it is useful to figure out if an account reflects a real person or not by searching for their profile picture online. If the picture comes back from a stock photo company or for someone other than the person who you are looking for, it is likely it is fake.


Lack of Photos

Another way to use a persons pictures against them to prove their account is fake is to look closely at the number and variety of photos the individual has on their page. Do all of the photos appear to be from the same day despite being posted at different dates and times (say, individuals wearing the same clothing or the background being similar)? Does there seem to be very few photos despite the account being months of years old? Are the photos all the same except for filters or obvious photoshop edits? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you can bet the account is fake.


Age of the Account

While considering the age of the account to determine whether it has the right amount of photos or not, consider also whether the age itself is a red flag indicating falsity. If the account is supposed to be that of a younger person but is only reasonably new, it should be treated with suspicion. Also, if the account is very old but has very few friends or even fewer comments on their wall, it is sake to assume this account is fake as well.


Only Comments On One Topic

Many fake accounts are used to influence specific groups or conversations. While a creative faker might diversify his posting to appear authentic, most people are lazy, dumb, or both and do not take precautions to hide their intentions. If you see an account posting only about a certain topic or in a certain group while completely ignoring the rest of their social media presence, it is a safe bet that the account you are looking at is fake.


Number of Friends

The number of friends an account has is a huge indicator of whether the account is fake or not. Very few friends might mean the person is not a person at all. Further, examine the quality of their friends. If an account is only connected to businesses or politicians who accept every request, it is a pretty good guess that this account is fake and is simply taking advantage of other peoples undiscerning eye.


Google is Your Friend

The biggest set of eyes on the internet is Google by far. A great way to determine if an account is fake or not is to search the accounts name by itself, the name with the alleged home town, and the name with a select group of friends. Most people have some kind of digital footprint, whether they want to or not, so if you cannot find anything about a person you may have a reason to be suspicious.


Why These Skills Matter

Misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda are on the rise. Dishonorable news sources lie to the public and claim in Court that no sane person would believe their lies, that they are only entertainment. The truth is in short supply in the modern era.


It is incumbent upon all of us to discerning in the information we allow into our lives and more careful still about the information we spread. Fake accounts do real damage. They cause riots and upheaval, they saw discontent and dissatisfaction. Only when the majority of society can identify fake accounts will their power to influence events in the real world begin to wane.

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