There are more than three billion fake accounts that are blocked by Facebook over a six-month period. This highlights the challenges that are faced by social networks in avoiding automated accounts, or bots and other nefarious efforts to manipulate the platforms.
Many people are asking, why are there so many fake accounts? Facebook said that this week they were able to disable 1.2 billion fake accounts in the last three months of 2018 and 2.19 billion in the first quarter of 2019.
Most fake social media accounts are bots and they are created by automated programs to post a certain type of information which is a violation of Facebook's terms of service and a part of an effort to manipulate the social media conversations. Actors can create millions of accounts by using the same program.
Facebook said that their artificial intelligence detects most of these accounts and disables them before they can post on the platform. It acknowledges that around five percent of the more than two billion active Facebook accounts are fake.
What is the harm of fake accounts? Fake accounts can be used to amplify the popularity or dislike of a movement or a person, and this could distort the users' views of true public sentiment.
Bots played a role in spreading misinformation on social media ahead of the 2016 US election, according to researchers. Actors who were malicious have been using fake accounts to sow distrust and social division in many parts of the world, in some cases it creates violence against individuals or groups.
Bots "don't just manipulate the conversation, they build groups and bridge groups," said Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Kathleen Carley, who has researched social media bots.
"They can make people in one group believe they think the same thing as people in another group, and in doing so they build echo chambers."
Facebook says that their artificial intelligence tools can block and identify fake accounts as they are being created so they can be blocked before they can post misinformation.
"These systems use a combination of signals such as patterns of using suspicious email addresses, suspicious actions, or other signals previously associated with other fake accounts we've removed," said Facebook analytics vice president Alex Schultz in a blog post.
Most people ask, does Facebook have control of the situation? The figures from the company's transparency report shows that Facebook is acting aggressively on face accounts, said Onur Varol, a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Complex Network Research at Northeastern University.
"Three billion is a big number-it show they don't want to miss any fake accounts. But they are willing to take a risk" of disabling some legitimate accounts, Varol said.
Users who are legitimate may experience inconvenience, but they can get their accounts reinstated, the researcher noted.
"My feeling is that Facebook is making serious efforts" to combat fake accounts, he added.