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Facebook catches 3 billion fake accounts, but the ones it misses are the real problem

Facebook catches 3 billion fake accounts, but the ones it misses are the real problem
[Photo: Ilya Pavlov/Unsplash; Robert Haverly/Unsplash]

Facebook held a press call today to report to the world that it has removed 3 billion fake accounts during the last quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. This is a wildly high number given that the social network reports only 2.39 billion monthly active users.

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And the kicker may be that Facebook’s “VP of Integrity,” Guy Rosen, said during the Q&A section of the call that Facebook probably caught only “most of” the fake accounts. He says bad actors are systematically creating batches of fake accounts to spread harmful content or to perpetrate some sort of fraud.

So the question is this: If Facebook is catching only “most of” the fake accounts, how many accounts have made it through Facebook’s AI or human filters and become “real” accounts? How many are counted in Facebook’s all-important metric of monthly active users? Remember, that MAU number is the measure of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s “domination” of the social networking space, the measure of how much of the world he’s connected. It’s the number that Facebook touts in its earnings report every quarter to prove to investors that the company is still thriving. It’s a number whose accuracy matters.

Facebook has just published the third edition of its Community Standards Enforcement Report, which shows the company’s progress in dealing with fake, harmful, and toxic content on the platform. New to the report are Facebook’s efforts to combat sales of drugs and firearms on the social network.

Zuckerberg said on the call today that Facebook is now spending more to eliminate harmful content and accounts than the total amount of revenue the company brought in during the year before it went public in 2012. He also said the company is spending more on harmful content than Twitter made last year.

Facebook is indeed in the middle of a firestorm. Consumers have lost trust in the company, and regulators want to impose regulations guaranteeing that Facebook will not abuse the personal data it harvests from the accounts of its users.

Others–including cofounder Chris Hughes–believe the company should be broken up. In many of the markets where Facebook operates, it is part of an increasingly powerful duopoly with Google when it comes to selling and targeting interactive ads. In the U.K., for instance, the two companies are expected to command 63.3% of the digital ad market by the end of this year, according to a recent report from eMarketer.

Asked on the call about calls to break up his company, Zuckerberg stated that people use “seven or eight” different social networks to communicate, not just Facebook. He also said that his company controls “less than 10%” of the global ad market, and “less than 20%” of the global interactive ad market. He did not cite the source of those numbers.

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