It’s not just you: Some Facebook users are getting way more friend requests from seemingly fake accounts than ever before.The accounts are tied to “verified” Facebook users, which includes “public figures, celebrities, or global brands” — people with public lives who want to secure their social media identity from misrepresentation. Facebook approves and whitelists verified accounts.The influx of friend requests for verified users is “likely due to recent search changes” on the platform, Facebook says, which were intended to more prominently surface search results for verified accounts over unverified ones.Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
At first, I was getting a few new Facebook friend requests each day. As a journalist with a verified user profile, occasionally this happens. You write something that reaches a lot of people, that maybe strikes a chord or two, and readers seek you out on social media. But, if I’m being honest, I hadn’t done that in January. And these accounts seemingly weren’t “people” in the strictest sense — their accounts had all the red flags of being fake: Users with no shared friends, no reason for me to know this person or vice versa, and often with an extremely sparse profile page.Yet the friend requests kept coming, day after day. It wasn’t until I saw my friend and former editor Tim Stevens tweet about a similar problem he was having on Facebook that I realized I wasn’t alone.
—Tim Stevens (@Tim_Stevens) January 22, 2020His responses from other journalists with verified Facebook accounts further echoed the issues I was having.It turns out, Facebook made a change to how its search functionality works.That change has had the unexpected outcome of some Facebook users — people with verified accounts, like Stevens — seeing a surge in friend requests from random, seemingly fake Facebook accounts.”This is likely due to recent search changes that now allow some verified accounts to show up more prominently in results,” Facebook spokesperson Jennifer Martinez told Business Insider. “We’re always exploring updates to improve the ‘friending’ experience for verified accounts.”
In short, because verified account users are now more easily discovered through Facebook search, it’s easier for bots scraping through Facebook search to discover and send those users friend requests.If a verified account holder agrees to be friends with one of these fake accounts, it lends validity to said account. And validity is especially meaningful when you’re operating a bunch of fake account profiles.
The little blue checkmark is how you can tell a Facebook account has been verified. Mine is due to my career as a journalist.
Fake Facebook accounts — so-called “bots” — have a variety of purposes. They can be used to spread misinformation, and to create a false sense of support, or anger, or whatever other response to a particular subject or event. It was fake accounts like these — posing as people, but actually operated by the Russian government — that helped sow discord and influence voters during the 2016 US presidential election. Facebook regularly bans fake accounts, and the company’s latest report demonstrates a persistent fake account problem that rivals even the massive Facebook userbase itself:
Though we weren’t provided with more updated numbers — the latest transparency report put out by Facebook only has data through September 2019 — it’s clear that Facebook was facing a sharp increase in bot accounts starting in early 2019 and continuing through the year.
Facebook reps noted that they haven’t seen evidence of organized attacks or targeted campaigns, and that unverified users shouldn’t be impacted by the changes to search.Notably, Facebook has over 2 billion users and a small portion of that userbase is verified. As such, for most Facebook users, the changes made to Facebook search shouldn’t result in a sudden surge of friend requests from seemingly fake accounts.