Facebook sells advertisers on its access to real people — 2.32 billion of them, a network that exceeds the populations of North America, South America and Africa combined. But do that many people really use Facebook?
The answer lies partly in how many of the accounts are fake. The Silicon Valley company defines fake accounts as profiles that are either designed to break its rules, for example by spammers or scammers impersonating others, or that are misclassified, such as someone setting up a Facebook profile instead of a Facebook page for a business. Yet the number of Facebook accounts that fit those descriptions is less clear. While the company discloses its estimates of fake accounts, its figures have fluctuated and are confusing. Even Facebook admits its understanding of the numbers is tenuous. “Duplicate and false accounts are very difficult to measure at our scale,” it said in a securities filing in October, and the actual numbers “may vary significantly from our estimates.” With Facebook reporting a jump in the number of fake accounts on its site on Wednesday, let’s dig into what figures it has given before — and why they don’t necessarily add up. That has implications for the manipulation and abuse of the platform, as well as the company’s business.