Facebook has long acknowledged that it has a fake account problem. However, according to testimony from Sheryl Sandberg in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee this week, the issue is even bigger than previously imagined. In her remarks, Sandberg revealed that Facebook deleted 1.3 billion fake accounts from October 2017 to March of this year — and remember, there are only 2.2 billion active Facebook users total.
How is that possible? As University of Virginia professor Siva Vaidhyanathan wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times, that means these phony pages are being created faster than Facebook can take them down. It also means that scammers are creating fake accounts automatically with machines, and Facebook is removing them in much the same way. In effect, this has created an arms race that virtually guarantees fake accounts can never entirely be removed from the Facebook experience. And that means there’s no clean solution to the problem, other than users learning to live with it.
“Considering the harm that Facebook has caused — sharing user data with unauthorized third parties, spreading propaganda that sets off ethnic violence, hosting attacks on elections around the world — exterminating most of the pests is not good enough,” Vaidhyanathan wrote in the Times. “Stopping all of them is impossible. Facebook is too big to govern and too big to fix. We might just have to accept that.”
This is not a message that inspires much confidence in Facebook or its future, but maybe that’s a good thing. It’s better that users truly understand what they’re up against on Facebook.