USA TODAY said it had asked the FBI to investigate a wave of fake Facebook accounts so large it accounted for half of the newspaper’s following on the social media platform.
Facebook purged millions of those fake accounts from USA TODAY and other publishers three weeks ago, the latest salvo in the social giant’s battle against scammers and spammers seeking access to its platform and its 1.94 billion users.
Those axed accounts included more than a third of USA TODAY’s approximately 15.2 million Facebook "likes" at the time. Executives of Gannett Co., parent of USA TODAY and 109 local news properties, said Thursday millions of its remaining followers also were fake, and it continued to accumulate a thousand phony followers a day.
Facebook on Friday said it's detected additional suspicious activity since its April fake-account crackdown, some of which look similar to the campaign it disrupted in April. Others more closely resemble common fake profiles that post spam comments and attempt to look legitimate by engaging with businesses' Facebook pages.
Facebook has said in filings with the Securities and Exchange commission that it estimates about 1% of its monthly worldwide active users are "misclassified" accounts, which it says includes both fake accounts and those that don't abide by its terms of service, such as people creating accounts for their pets. The company believes the majority of these are outside of the United States. The company declined to say what the ratio between these types of misclassified accounts was.
The continued presence of phony accounts hasn't checked the social network's user growth, but they can cause confusion and havoc for individual users and companies. Fake profiles that masquerade as real people have also caused tragedy, such as the torture and killing of a university student in Pakistan after someone set up a fake Facebook account in his name that allegedly contained blasphemous content.
In USA TODAY's case, it's not clear why spam operators have targeted the media company's Facebook pages in droves.