Facebook is the Walmart of social media platforms with one very significant difference: All the people who shop at Walmart are real living, breathing human beings – even if some of them only barely meet the criteria. While it has long been suspected that Facebook is awash with fake accounts, the sheer scale of this problem may not have been imagined until now. According to Aaron Greenspan, a former Harvard classmate of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, around half of the platform’s estimated two billion user accounts are fakes or duplicates.
Who is Aaron Greenspan, then, and how would he know this? As a student in 2003, Greenspan was elected to head up the TECH Student Association, which then became the Harvard Student Entrepreneurship Council. In this capacity, he created an online, campus-wide portal called houseSYSTEM. Greenspan claims that Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook from elements of houseSYSTEM, along with ideas and components from other portals being developed by students, including a dating portal called Harvard Connection.
Greenspan, who is now the CEO of Think Computer Corporation, is a somewhat controversial figure in the whole Facebook affair. While some might argue that he is, perhaps, just bitter over being beaten to the punch by multi-billionaire Zuckerberg, he presents a compelling case and has produced a lengthy and detailed report on Zuckerberg’s alleged unethical and dishonest conduct at Harvard and on Facebook’s highly questionable legal and moral credibility.
The report draws on Greenspan’s own knowledge of Zuckerberg and the origins of Facebook, as well as media reports, the investigative efforts of other individuals and actual data reported by Facebook. In 2009, Facebook settled a trademark dispute with Greenspan. The terms of the settlement are confidential and that case was only the tip of the iceberg, in terms of Facebook’s legal troubles.
Greenspan estimates that, in little more than one year, Facebook has deleted around 2.8 billion fake user accounts – a figure that represents more than half of the estimated number of accounts ever created. He bases this estimate on reports from the social media giant itself.
Users Generate Revenue – Even Fake Users
If Facebook is, in fact, one massive scam – the greatest con ever perpetrated, according to Greenspan’s claims – what is the driving force? How did something that may well have initially been intended as nothing more than a facilitator of world-wide social networking, grow into a sprawling virtual world of hustles, fake news, propaganda and fake users, as well as a conduit for terrorism and many other illegal activities?
The answer, of course, is the incredibly lucrative business of marketing. What better way to attract the advertising dollars of companies large and small – across the globe – than to offer them access to literally billions of potential customers, along with the opportunity to access valuable research and marketing information gleaned from those customers, the individual users of Facebook? What better platform for media outlets, dating services, employers, recruitment specialists, real estate agents, political operatives and even governments, trying to garner sympathy for their national or international policies?
To put it in the simplest terms: Any individual or entity with a message to spread or a product or service to sell is unable to pass up the opportunity to establish a presence on Facebook, the largest network of human beings, companies and organizations on the planet. Greenspan claims that Facebook has consistently deceived the public – as well as both governments and businesses – regarding the number of real users on its platform. This would make perfect sense since Facebook’s entire profitability and financial well-being relies solely on the vast number of users it claims to attract. A number of marketing companies have recently sued Facebook because it covered-up an error that inflated user engagement – how will advertisers react if Greenspan is right and the network’s user count is slashed by half?
It is not just Facebook that has driven – and benefitted from – a relatively new concept known as ‘click farms’, which are responsible for a lot of the fake activity on social media platforms. These obscure operations, often based in equally obscure locations, generate – or fabricate – responses to social media posts or advertisements. They do this on demand for any individual or business wishing to create the impression that whatever message or product they are peddling is stirring excitement.
Another indication that there may well not be a real human being behind many social media profiles is, quite simply, the absence of normal human behavior. Content producers and media outlets cannot help but notice a common trait on social media platforms: So many “users” will post responses to articles based entirely upon the headline or title of the article. Any rational human being who is interested enough in the content published to take the time to comment on it would surely have read the article in question before commenting.
Is this very common practice of commenting on articles without reading them merely a symptom of human laziness and desire for instant gratification, or is it due to the fact that an artificially generated profile is, of course, unable to read the article behind the headline?
It appears that more and more people are growing tired of social media. Users are also becoming more aware that these platforms are mainly concerned with gathering valuable personal information, interests and purchasing habits, then connecting sellers to potential buyers – even if many of those potential buyers may not really exist.
Greenspan predicts that Facebook may go the way of America Online (AOL) and he may well be right. If even half of what he says about Facebook and its founder is true, it is difficult to predict whether Facebook’s demise will come in the form of a mass exodus of real users and advertisers, or an avalanche of fines, investigations, and lawsuits.