Accepting Lots of Friend Requests Makes You a Fake Account Target, Facebook Finds

Illustration for article titled Accepting Lots of Friend Requests Makes You a Fake Account Target, Facebook Finds
Image: One hundred cardboard cutouts of Mark Zuckerberg, from a 2018 protest by the online activist group Avaaz, to draw attention to fake Facebook accounts seeding disinformation (Getty)

If your Facebook feed is teeming with wild Deep State theories, that might be on you, a Facebook study has found. Two researchers from Facebook and one from Harvard tested an algorithm that looks at your friending activity to detect fake accounts, or sybils. The paper shows that an outlying group of people who accept friend requests from any old rando are more likely to be targeted by fake accounts. So, stop doing that.

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Facebook prides itself on busting fake accounts. It likes to tell us about it. The company says that it disabled over 2.2 billion accounts in the first quarter of 2019, most “within minutes of account creation,” according to the paper. But some of these fake accounts live long enough to make connections with real users, and the report found that 5 percent of Facebook’s 2.37 billion monthly active users were fake accounts.

Illustration for article titled Accepting Lots of Friend Requests Makes You a Fake Account Target, Facebook Finds
Image: From Facebook: “the distribution of the rate of rejections (number of rejected requests out of total friend requests). As the figure shows, fake accounts’ rejection rate is skewed to the right, meaning that their requests are rejected more often than real users’ requests.” (Facebook)
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Illustration for article titled Accepting Lots of Friend Requests Makes You a Fake Account Target, Facebook Finds
Image: From Facebook: “1 indicates people that are just as likely to accept fake accounts as they are to accept real people; greater than 1 indicates acceptance of more requests from real people than from fake ones; and less than 1 indicates those that accept more requests from fake accounts than from real ones.” (Facebook)
Illustration for article titled Accepting Lots of Friend Requests Makes You a Fake Account Target, Facebook Finds
Image: From Facebook: “People on the >1 side of the plot are more likely to receive requests from real people, while people on the <1 side are more likely to receive requests from fakes. As such, we can increase the probability of the requester being fake or real based on the target of the requester.” (Facebook)

Those fake accounts have gotten savvy about their targets, the paper finds. While the majority of real people tend to reject requests from fake accounts, a small group accepts fake and real accounts equally, and those unsuspecting users are easy prey. “For certain users (but not others), whether a request comes from a fake/real account is highly determinative of her decision to accept or reject,” the researchers find, pointing to a correlation between high acceptance rates and friend requests from fake accounts. From this, Facebook extrapolates that overeager accepters’ decisions can be “leveraged,” as they signal that their friends are more likely to be fake.

If you are of the more discerning folk, the paper finds that an unknown user who’s friended you is more likely to be real, and your rejections could help detect fakes. “[The algorithm SybilEdge] takes only a few rejects by savvy real users for an eager abusive account to be flagged as abusive,” they write.

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Staff reporter, Gizmodo. wkimball @ gizmodo

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DISCUSSION

I am very picky with friend requests. I won’t accept strangers.