Facebook’s excellent earnings report on Wednesday came with a significant caveat – the social media platform has far more fake and duplicate accounts than it had previously admitted.
As many as 10% of the accounts active each month on Facebook are duplicates, which Facebook CFO David M. Wehner defined as accounts “used by the same person [which] represent real activity and engagement on Facebook.” But Wehner also disclosed that another 2-3% of accounts are “inauthentic accounts” used “for spam and other policy violating reasons.”
Those levels are up from Facebook’s previous estimates of 6% for duplicate accounts and 1% for fake accounts, according to Business Insider. Wehner said the updates were made based on a new measurement methodology, suggesting Facebook had previously under-counted the duplicates and fakes.
With a total monthly user base of 2.07 billion, the new numbers suggest as many as 60 million Facebook accounts could be entirely fake.
Those numbers are central to Wall Street’s mixed reaction to the earnings report. Though revenue beat expectations, Facebook’s shares have fallen, in part because of stated plans to significantly increase spending in 2018.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said some of that spending will be “focused on finding bad actors and bad behavior,” including removing false news stories and hate speech, much of which is hosted or amplified through fake or otherwise deceptive accounts. Zuckerberg said the efforts would “significantly impact our profitability going forward,” and that “protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits.”
Of course, Facebook’s investment in security and screening is more accurately described as an effort to protect profits in the long term. The company, along with Google and Twitter, are currently facing tough questions from Congress over the role of social media in spreading Russian disinformation during the 2016 Presidential election. Failure to quash that phenomenon on its own terms could see Facebook eventually saddled with onerous regulations that could do even more damage to the bottom line.