It was barely a year ago that Facebook proudly declared it had more than 2.2 billion monthly users. But on Tuesday, the social media giant revealed some stunning data, including that during the six months ending in March, Facebook disabled a total of almost 1.3 billion fake accounts.

That number is utterly staggering. The best context I can come up with is that it's roughly equal to the combined populations of the United States, Russia, Mexico, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Brazil, and the Philippines.

It's all contained in an 89-page report that was packed with other stats.

If there's good news, it's that Facebook says the volume of fake accounts is down: 583 million fake accounts disabled between January and March of this year, down from 694 million in the final three months of last year. 

Also, you probably never came across any of the fake accounts, because its system was effective enough to identify them before any human users flagged them as suspicious. But, these numbers don't include many millions more attempts that are caught even before they finish creating the accounts.

"Bad actors try to create fake accounts in large volumes automatically using scripts or bots, with the intent of spreading spam or conducting illicit activities such as scams," the Facebook report said, adding. "The decrease in fake accounts disabled between Q4 and Q1 is largely due to this variation."

All of this comes of course in the wake of probably the toughest six months in Facebook's history, as it's been heavily criticized for failing to catch hate speech, porn, violent content, and Russian political interference--to say nothing of a gigantic privacy scandal.

It's a fascinating report that drives home just how giant, all-encompassing, and ultimately vulnerable Facebook really is. Here's some of the other data:

Still: another 66 million fakes

Of the Facebook accounts that remain, Facebook says between 3 and 4 percent are likely fakes. That means somewhere between 66 million and 88 million fake accounts that have escaped scrutiny.

865 million spam posts deleted

During the first quarter of 2018, Facebook says it deleted 865 million posts, the vast majority of it for being spammy, and the remainder for containing graphic violence, sexual activity or nudity, terrorism or hate speech.

"We don't tolerate any content that praises, endorses or represents terrorist organizations or terrorists," the Facebook report says.

A 38 percent success rate...

when it comes to catching hate speech before users see it. In most cases, users have to flag it first, and it "often requires detailed scrutiny by our trained reviewers to understand context and decide whether the material violates standards," the Facebook report says.

But, at the same time:

21 million pieces of nudity and sexual content tagged

Facebook says it's really good at spotting content with nudity and sexual activity. The site's systems tagged 96 percent of this kind of content and removed it even before it was reported, Facebook said.

More than 50 percent?

This is perhaps the biggest remaining question from the report. If Facebook claimed last year that it had 2.2 billion users, but then wound up disabling a total of 1.3 billion accounts, does that mean that more than 50 percent of its total accounts were or are fake?

That's what The New York Times seems to think now. After originally reporting that the 3 to 4 percent fakes we talked about above referenced the total number of fake accounts, it changed its article and ran a correction stating that the 3 to 4 percent refers to how many fake accounts there are now, even after this giant six month purge. Here's their language:

An earlier version of this article, using information provided by Facebook, referred incorrectly to the 3 to 4 percent of accounts on the social network that were fake. It is the percentage of Facebook accounts that were fake even after a purge of such accounts. It is not the percentage of Facebook accounts that were purged as being fake. 

Bottom line? There's a ton of fake accounts, spam, and other undesirable content on Facebook, by the company's own admission. Click, follow, and like with care.

Published on: May 16, 2018
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