Top 7 signs a Facebook account is fake

Clue #1: Sharing of low-quality, ad-heavy websites

This fake news website was posted by a fake account in a Facebook group. This is what you see when you first click the link; you have to scroll down past many ads to even see the story you clicked on.

Clue #2: Different name in URL

Clue #3: Content shift or content disconnect

  • The feed. Scroll back through the feed to see what you can see. You might see an obvious shift in content, maybe accompanied by the spot where a new profile pic was uploaded. You might see the language used shift. Use the shortcut year selector at the top of the page, which lets you jump to a much earlier year. Many fake accounts will have been created very recently, so a short, seemingly-recently-created feed is one clue of fakeness (more on that in a second).
  • Friends list. Click on the friends list and look for an unusual number of ethnic names that conflict with what you’d expect that account to have. For example, a Texas conservative with a Friends list of almost all middle-Eastern-sounding names.
  • Groups, Likes, Check-ins, etc. Click the More… button to look at these different sections. Make sure you scroll all the way to the bottom of each one, as they (at least currently) are in chronological order. So, for example, you might check out the Likes of an account (Facebook pages they’ve liked) and see recent U.S.-related Likes and then, towards the bottom, see a bunch of Macedonian-related Likes.
  • Post likes and reactions. Look at who has Liked an account’s earliest posts and pictures and see if the ethnicity of the names jibes with the current nature of the account. Note: anyone can comment on public posts so unexpected types of names on public posts isn’t a clearcut indicator; it’s just another clue.
This is from a fake-American account that posted an anti-Trump post in a Facebook group called “I Hate Donald Trump.” Scrolling back in his feed you see his earliest posts are Liked by people with Middle-Eastern names.

Clue #4: Lack of content, pics, interactions

This was the first public post of this account, just 6 months ago: a generic picture of a car. And the profile picture is of Marilyn Monroe. And there is only a single like on this photo (along with hardly any interaction on her other posted content).

Clue #5: Patterns in profile details

Note the generic-sounding ‘Florida Hospital.’ Most fake accounts will choose work/school/location details with popular and well-known location/city names.

Clue #6: Use of other people’s photos and names

  • Download or take a cropped screenshot of an account’s more distinctive personal pics and then use Google Image Search to search for those images. I’ve discovered the real people whose pics were used by fake accounts several times this way.
  • Search Facebook for that same name. Sometimes you will find several fake accounts with the same name and even the same pics.
Harry Taylor apparently a popular choice when creating fake accounts. Note how they didn’t even bother changing the location or the picture.

Clue #7: Connected to other fake accounts

Next steps

More info

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Have psych podcast “People Who Read People.” My research into online deception featured in NYT, WaPo, more. Wrote books on poker tells (translated 8 languages).

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Zachary Elwood

Zachary Elwood

Have psych podcast “People Who Read People.” My research into online deception featured in NYT, WaPo, more. Wrote books on poker tells (translated 8 languages).

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