Fake Twitter Accounts Take Center Stage as Elon Musk Puts His Purchase of the Social Media Platform on Hold

Tesla CEO Elon Musk put his purchase of Twitter on hold, placing the blame squarely on fake accounts — one of the biggest problems plaguing social media today. Musk’s tweet on May 13th seemed to question the accuracy of a recent filing by Twitter: “Twitter deal temporarily on hold pending details supporting calculation that spam/fake accounts do indeed represent less than 5% of users.” 

Twitter submits regulatory filings that contain the number of its monetizable daily active users. The company has maintained this 5% stat since 2013, according to news reports. The social media giant has stated that the figures in this month’s filing were based on a sampling and, “…the actual number of false or spam accounts could be higher than we have estimated.” 

Whether you are cheering for or against his purchase of Twitter, we can all appreciate that Musk has focused the world’s attention on the problem of fake accounts. Prior to Friday’s announcement, Musk has said if he buys Twitter, he “will defeat the spam bots or die trying.”

Why are fake accounts a problem?

First, there’s the basic fact that we all want to know we are interacting with real humans, not bots, on the internet. Secondly, many fake accounts are designed to manipulate or artificially boost activity on social media. Spam messages can toy with the algorithms, creating an impression that someone or something is more popular than they are in reality.

The problem is it’s too easy to set up imposter accounts. Hiding behind false identities, bots push fake news to the top of our news feeds, promoting confusion or swaying opinions around foreign or domestic agendas. In other instances, fraudsters impersonate celebrities, influencers, brands and even friends. In many of these cases, their goal is theft.

What better place than social media to use social engineering, after all? Under the guise of a fake identity or posing as an organization or brand you love, they can dupe you into giving them your personal information, like credit card numbers, your full name, phone number and other data they can use for monetary gain.

You’d be amazed by how well it works. If you’ve seen the documentary The Tinder Swindler on Netflix, you’ve witnessed how a fraudster conned women out of millions of dollars by posing as a billionaire bachelor on a dating app. With a little charm, he made it look easy.

Some imposters use photos, taken from the real account they’re spoofing, create a similar name and reach out to followers of the actual person, organization or brand. Last year, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) report, recorded social media fraud losses exceeding $235 million in the U.S. alone.

How can we prevent fake accounts? 

Indeed, the problem of fake social media accounts is expansive. It even contributes to bullying that feeds a growing mental health crisis, according to Johnathan Haidt, social psychologist, best-selling author and professor of ethical leadership at New York University Stern School of Business. So what can be done? Haidt proposes using technology to solve a technical problem.

“Banks and other industries have ‘know your customer’ rules so that they can’t do business with anonymous clients laundering money from criminal enterprises. Large social media platforms should be required to do the same,” states Haidt in his top trending article last month in The Atlantic. “That does not mean users would have to post under their real names; they could still use a pseudonym. It just means that before a platform spreads your words to millions of people, it has an obligation to verify…that you are a real human being, in a particular country and are old enough to be using the platform.”

Haidt goes on to say, “This one change would wipe out most of the hundreds of millions of bots and fake accounts that currently pollute the major platforms. It would also likely reduce the frequency of death threats…and trolling more generally. Research shows that antisocial behavior becomes more common online when people feel that their identity is unknown and untraceable.”

How can we verify identities online?

How can we verify identities online?

We urgently need a way to establish trust with real people in the digital world. As Transmit Security Co-Founder Mickey Boodaei stated in a recent blog, “2022 will see a new generation of modern and effective ATO prevention solutions that work side by side with passwordless authentication to enable organizations to take insights and inform dynamic journeys to mitigate risks.” 

We already have the technology to determine if someone is a legitimate user or a fraudster before they set up an account. Identity verification (IDV) enables organizations to evaluate the legitimacy of a user’s identity without the need for costly, time-consuming verification in person.

Ideally, social media platforms will implement automated IDV and document verification (DV) to prevent identity fraud — in the easiest and quickest way possible.  When individuals, brands or organizations sign up for a social media account, the platform should verify the physical person and evaluate their government-issued photo ID to determine its authenticity. 

How it works

By asking everyone to take a moment to verify their identities when setting up an account, we can eradicate the scourge of corruption hidden deep within our social media platforms. 

With the right solution, IDV and DV can be quick and easy for consumers to use. The self-service process must be clear and simple, however. It does require a few steps, but the backend processing should be fully automated and intelligent. 

Users follow 2 steps before creating an account:

  1. Scan an official photo identity document(s) for authenticity verification.
  2. Take a selfie to verify liveness and a match with the ID.

With an IDV and DV solution, selfies are tested for liveness, sensitive enough for micro-movements like blinking. Once proven to be a live human, the user’s selfie is then biometrically compared to the photo ID document to determine if they match. This should happen instantly, so the end user can set up an account without delay.

Go one step further

After ensuring the face of the online user is the same as that of the government-issued photo ID, an IDV-DV solution should perform post-verification background checks to make sure the individual is not on a sanctions watchlists or politically exposed person (PEP) lists.

Establish trust — beyond all doubt 

These automated steps happen in a matter of seconds. If the identity is verified with a high level of trust, the customer is allowed to set up an account. If the biometrics do not match or if the name is on a watchlist, the individual is blocked.

Identity proofing is a powerful tool to onboard social media users securely, quickly and cost effectively. It also delivers on-demand verification to ensure existing accounts are indeed owned by legitimate users, not bots, cybercriminals or political adversaries. In the banking world, this method of identity verification is a way to secure trust during secure high-risk transactions. It’s been proven to work!

Optimize account onboarding

We can prevent fake accounts with biometric matching and intelligent document analysis that determines if the ID is authentic, fake or altered in any way. You’ll simultaneously reduce dropoffs and increase conversion rates by delivering a positive user experience that makes our social media world safer for all. 

Transmit Security is on a mission to solve digital identity problems at the crossroads of security and customer experience. Within the next year, we’ll be rolling out a comprehensive, end-to-end customer identity and access management (CIAM) 2.0 service that’s easy to implement — for the fastest time to market. You’ll gain the ultimate in 360-degree digital identity trust, starting with BindID, the world’s first passwordless customer authentication solution to completely eradicate passwords. Discover why passwordless is finally taking flight.

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