More than 83m of Facebook's registered users are in fact fakes, the social network has calculated, almost 9-percent of the total membership of the site and taking some of the shine off the near-1bn milestone. Facebook made the estimate in its latest 10-Q filing, totaling up the number of duplicates and false users along with "undesirable" accounts that could potentially be used for spamming legitimate members, though the figure is significantly higher than the previous estimate made only a few months ago.
In March 2012, Facebook estimated around 5- or 6-percent fake members, which given the company's books at the time amounted to as many as 50.7m. These new numbers, however, mark a huge step up, with Facebook now saying that around 4.8-percent of accounts are duplicates, user-misclassified accounts make up 2.4-percent - that is, Personal Profile accounts which have been incorrectly created as individual users, when really they should have been Pages - and finally 1.5-percent being undesirable accounts.
"The numbers of our MAUs and DAUs and ARPU are calculated using internal company data based on the activity of user accounts. While these numbers are based on what we believe to be reasonable estimates of our user base for the applicable period of measurement, there are inherent challenges in measuring usage of our products across large online and mobile populations around the world. For example, there may be individuals who maintain one or more Facebook accounts in violation of our terms of service, despite our efforts to detect and suppress such behavior" Facebook
Facebook does not give its exact workings to identify those false accounts, but a tightening of the net rather than a sudden surge in fake registrations over the past quarter is expected to account for the disparity in numbers. Nonetheless, with the site eagerly approaching its one-billionth member, it's worth bearing in mind that the raw database doesn't necessarily map to a billion individuals.
It's not the first time that fake membership has impacted Facebook's reputation this week. One startup gained attention with the news it was deleting its account on the social site after realizing that a fair proportion of advertising clicks were coming from bots not real users.
"Bots were loading pages and driving up our advertising costs. So we tried contacting Facebook about this. Unfortunately, they wouldn't reply" music platform Limited Run wrote. "Do we know who the bots belong too? No. Are we accusing Facebook of using bots to drive up advertising revenue. No. Is it strange? Yes. But let's move on, because who the bots belong to isn't provable."
In fact only 20-percent of the clicks actually came through to Limited Run's site, the company claimed. Although hardly scientific it further highlights the ongoing issues Facebook has in monetizing its membership; mobile has already been identified as a key weak spot where heavy use has not been translated into cash.