Social media fakery: Tips for spotting questionable accounts
MANILA, Philippines – It's 2016 and there's a lot of social media fakery going on these days.
Whether it's a propagandist, a troll, a spammer, or a social media butterfly, there are now more things to consider when it comes to spotting a questionable account on Facebook and Twitter.
Here are some tips to help you maneuver a minefield of Facebook and Twitter weirdness.
Tip 1: If you don't know them personally, raise your guard.
As the name implies, social media lets users be social with people they know. That said, social media is also an excellent tool for marketing and information dissemination. Sometimes, it's hard to tell when you should be wary of a new follower or contact on a particular service, however, and learning when to raise your guard is an important first step when it comes to weeding out questionable accounts.
One common rule is to segregate your followers between "people you know personally" and "strangers on the Internet" using content filters on Facebook or lists on Twitter (for monitoring purposes).
Unless you're a horrible judge of character, you can generally trust people you know to share the right information with you so you can follow them. Remember: legitimate, verifiable contact information is valuable.
Tip 2: Faces and names matter.
What name a person has on their social media account can also help determine if they're a fake account masquerading as a real human.
The next important tip is to actually vet the people who try to add you on social media. Unless you know a person specifically and they gave you a particular username to follow on Facebook and Twitter, assume that you'll need to verify if they're worth following to begin with.
Here's a quick checklist of questions to ask yourself:
- Do they have a profile picture? Is their profile picture a stock photo? (Download their picture and use something like Google image search to verify if it's actually them.)
- Does their username on Facebook or Twitter make sense? Are they using actual words rather than mishmashed characters or a completely different formal name? Are you seeing a confusing screen name-to-URL combination?
Tip 3: Content is king.
Anomalous behavior can also be examined by quickly checking the content on publicly open profiles.
Check if they have a Twitter biography or Facebook profile biography that sounds reasonable. A lack of a biography can be telling.
Aside from the bio, you'll want to check if they actually write anything or are just mindlessly retweeting or sharing the same or similar sentiments repeatedly.
For instance, a spammer will have nonsensical posts rounded out by shares of things it's being paid to shill. They may also have a ton of duplicate posts, especially on Twitter.
Tip 4: For high-profile accounts, look for verification.
For prominent people, such as celebrities, you'll want to check if they're verified by Twitter or Facebook as the official account.
Those blue check marks can save you headaches if you're trying to avoid spammers, bandwagoners, or spoof accounts.
Tip 5: Follower counts are hazy!
This is one of the more contentious bits of information out there: relative to everything else you've seen, observe the follower or friend counts of an account you're studying. This applies mostly to Twitter, but can also be used on Facebook fakes as well.
For instance, Twitter accounts that follow many people, but have few tweets and few followers, are likely fake accounts. Accounts with a ton of tweets but few followers may also be suspect as a low-quality sort of account.
On Facebook, you may want to check who their friends are. Fishy accounts might have plenty of friends, but few of them are locally connected to the person, which may point to someone randomly requesting friendship.
Aside from manual checks, there are reportedly tools to allow users to screen their followers against a list of criteria for spam. You might try searching for those, though you'll want to always check the information against your own judgement.
Weeding out fake friends and followers might feel like an exercise in futility. At the same time, it's worth doing a regular purge of fake friends, just so you can better appreciate the real ones you have online. – Rappler.com