Kalyan lives in East London, a few blocks from the Olympic village. Like many Indians in London he works on the minimum wage. But unlike many of them he does not cook because he is a bad cook. Instead he found a way to discount his own food.
Every evening he goes onto one of the e-mail services like Gmail or Hotmail and creates a new account. Using that e-mail address he creates a new Facebook profile. If Facebook tries to be smart and asks him to verify his account using a text message, he uses one of the SIM cards he has managed to hoard over the years. Once the new profile is created he goes to the page of one particular website and clicks the Like button. That particular website offers discounts on food from UK restaurants to anyone who ‘Likes’ it on Facebook.
So one day Shahrukh KKhan orders food, and the next day Prranab Mukherjee orders food from the same address. Kalyan is happy because he is getting good food cheap. The restaurant is happy because it is selling food in the recession. The discount website is happy because it can show off millions of Likes to its investors. Those that are not happy are the millions who invested in Facebook a few weeks back when it went public.
As a public company it has to submit an annual report about its performance to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in a form called 10-Q. Facebook’s latest 10-Q filing shows that 8.7 per cent, or 83 million, of its accounts are fake. But analysts think the story is much worse. Add in all the accounts like Kalyan’s, the accounts that are created to spy on ex-girlfriends, and the accounts created by the likes of celebrities, politicians and companies to get fake ‘Likes’, and the number of fake accounts could go up to 200 million.
While Facebook is owning up to at least a portion of these fake accounts, the other social behemoth Twitter is an altogether different story. Unlike Facebook, Twitter does not ask for verification of an account, and creating an account on Twitter takes mere seconds. And if you are capable of writing a computer program, called a ‘bot’, that could create fake Twitter accounts, you can be a king of the fake Twitter followers scam. If you go onto websites like Fiverr that offer different services for as little as $5, you can find many programmers who offer you Twitter followers. So a Bollywood star can have a Twitter follower count of 100,000 on Monday, and by Wednesday it is suddenly 250,000. By the end of the week you are the most followed celebrity on Twitter and all glossy magazines and respected newspapers will announce you as the most famous Bollywood actor. Simple.
These tales of fake Facebook and Twitter accounts demonstrate two things. Firstly don’t believe all the hype about how social networking is connecting millions of people. And secondly and more importantly be careful with your wallet when these companies go public.
The writer is a tech geek. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org