social media

Dark Side of Social Media: How To Spot Fake Profiles

Experts say a lot of what you scroll through on social media is coming from fake profiles.

NBCUniversal, Inc.

No matter which social media platforms you prefer, the conversation online can often be filled with talk that is not from real people. Experts say there are billions of fake accounts out there and they can be tough to spot.   

“It's unfortunate. But it's what's been forced over the years as normal," said Daymon Patterson, also known online as Daym Drops, an internet food critic based in Connecticut.

Daym made a name for himself on YouTube almost a decade ago. “For me, everything changed in October of 2012," Daym said. That was when he posted a YouTube video reviewing a fast-food double cheeseburger and fries. Needless to say, he liked the food and people gravitated to his videos.

Now, Daym has a big following on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and over a million subscribers on YouTube.

Daym said it is very likely that some of his many followers might be fakes. "You don't know," he said. "You don't know if it happens to be a bot situation.”

“A bot; it means that there isn't a person behind it," said Jason Simms, a social media expert who runs his own public relations firm. "It's a computer program that does something automatically.”

Simms said there is a lot of inauthenticity on the internet.

“You've got bots. You've got spammers, trolls, political propaganda accounts.”

Simms identified a few "Yes or No" questions to ask yourself to help find fakes in your feed; no matter the social media platform.

  • Does the account have a profile photo?
  • Does the profile name seem legitimate?
  • Is the account more than just a few months old?
  • Does the account have more than a couple dozen friends or followers?
  • Is the account creating a range of different content?

Simms said if the answer is "No" to any of these questions, the profile might not be real. The more "No" answers, the more likely the account is to be fake, Simms said. Not only do fake accounts add to negative discourse online, in some cases, they could be used to trick you into handing over your information or even your money, Simms added.

“If you are already friends with someone and they are adding you again, there's a pretty high likelihood that that's a scam," said Simms. “The sophistication of bots and fake accounts is going to increase as the awareness increases, so it's sort of an arms race.”

Kallie Branciforte is a content creator who is behind But First, Coffee, a blog focused on life hacks, budgeting and motherhood. Branciforte has grown her digital audience over the last few years.

“I've got maybe like 460,000," she said of her online fan base.

Branciforte said she is still looking for a surefire way to determine the authenticity of all of her followers. “You just have to do the best you can to protect yourself and your personal space," she said.

Social media platforms allow you to make your accounts private, block profiles you do not want to see and filter your feeds. But experts say the fakes are becoming more formidable.

“The sophistication of bots and fake accounts is going to increase as the awareness increases, so it's sort of an arms race," said Simms.

Meanwhile, Daym offers up some advice many people likely will not follow.

“Social media is always an option," said Daym. "There are individuals that go of the grid. They go off the grid for a reason because they don't want to deal with the fake anymore.”

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