Oprah, Is That You? On Social Media, the Answer Is Often No.

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Oprah, Is That You? On Social Media, the Answer Is Often No.


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To get a sense of the scale of the problem, The New York Times commissioned an analysis to tally the number of impersonators across social media for the 10 most followed people on Instagram, including Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. The analysis, conducted by Social Impostor, a firm that protects celebrities’ names online, found nearly 9,000 accounts across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pretending to be those 10 people.

Brazilian soccer player Neymar was the subject of the most fake accounts, 1,676. Pop star Selena Gomez was second, with 1,389, according to the analysis, which was completed in April and did not count explicit parody or fan pages. Beyoncé had 714 impersonators; Ms. Swift had 233, the least among the group.

Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have compounded the problem with lax enforcement of their own policies prohibiting impersonators. Some people who report such accounts said the sites had gotten better at removing them, but others said the companies did not police them adequately. Most people agreed that once the sites erased the accounts, they did little to keep those behind them from creating new ones.

“It’s just a Band-Aid,” Mr. Moore said.

Facebook and its Instagram unit said they were cracking down on fake accounts. The social network said it had recently added software that automatically detected impostors and frauds, which it used to remove more than one million accounts since March.

Yet in April, tucked away in the fine print of an earnings document, Facebook increased its estimate of fake accounts on the site by 20 million — to as many as 80 million accounts, or about 4 percent of the total number of accounts. The company said the site’s sheer size made it difficult to measure the problem.

“Facebook and Instagram are really powerful ways to connect, and because of that, you have no shortage of people trying to use those systems in nefarious ways,” said Scott Dickens, a Facebook product manager who develops tools to fight hoaxes. “Those sets of people will continue to get smarter to evade detection capabilities that we put in place.”

Faking It

How easy is it to impersonate someone online? To find out, I created my own impostors.

For those at home: I do not recommend doing this. Making fake social media accounts, even of yourself, is forbidden by the companies’ terms of service. After I made the accounts, I also informed the companies so that the profiles could be removed.



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