Fake Bagels Battle Facebook Spam

The worlds of legitimate advertising and spam appear to have collided in a particularly unfortunate manner for Facebook.

An investigation suggests that companies who pay to attract followers on the site may be wasting their cash because many of the people who “Like” their page are simply computer-generated bogus accounts.

The BBC looked into the issue after being tipped off by a marketing consultant. It was specifically looking at targeted advertisements designed to attract users into clicking the Like button for the brand or company’s page. Getting people to Like you in this way is much more valuable than a simple ego trip: it gives companies the permission and power to send messages directly to the user’s news feed in the future.

According to the BBC, Facebook already concedes that around five percent of its users are likely to be bogus accounts. They are usually created automatically by spammers and are set-up to make mass friend requests. Even if only a small proportion of people accept these requests from fictional strangers, it can create a large audience that can then be bombarded with spam or malware.

The problem is that, for some reason, some of these bogus accounts are set to automatically “Like” as many company and brand pages as possible.

The BBC created a page for a non existent company called Virtual Bagel that offered a clearly fictional product (downloadable bagels.) It then placed ads around the world. One day later Virtual Bagel was liked by more than 1,600 people, almost entirely from four countries: Egypt, India, Indonesia and the Phillipines, with virtually no likes in the United Kingdom or United States.

Some of these were more clearly bogus accounts than others, such as a man claiming to live in Cairo but work for the Real Madrid football team who already “liked” 3,000 other pages, which would make his news feed unmanageable.

Facebook says it has “not seen evidence of a significant problem” when it comes to bogus accounts. It added that companies which don’t want to attract followers from particular countries can simply choose not to advertise to people in those locations.