Hidden in Plain Site: Social Media Platforms & Fake Identities
Social media has started to cement itself today as an essential part of modern society. In the past, you could perfectly stroll by while being unplugged without have a major change in your life. These days, it’s hard to turn a corner without seeing a social media logo plastered on somewhere.
And a key part of that mass adoption comes in the form of identity. Entire personalities are cultivated and created to live exclusively online. But what happens when that identity is a little less than authentic? Well, there are some serious consequences.
To understand how this phenomenon works, we have to dive deep into culture of the modern digital age and how its influence cultivates a new breed of concealment.
Online Culture of the Past
While the internet as a concept has remained the same, it has changed and evolved through many forms over the past few decades. And that sort of change brings with it a change in the way it’s perceived and used.
Not too long ago, the primary method for interacting with other people over the internet was through the use of message boards, chat rooms, and forums. The primarily model of interaction was through the use of communities centered on a single interest. They were treated as either a place for recreational discussion or an exchange of technical information.
It’s important to note here that there wasn’t much of a concept of identity. Anonymity existed as a big part of online culture where real life and online personas almost never crossed paths. You could have someone talk in depth about their interests and personal anecdotes without so much as revealing their actual name.
The Evolution of the Modern Digital Age
Having moved past the early days of the internet, the evolution of the digital age was swift and unprecedented. Sites like MySpace initially jumpstarted the idea of modern social media interaction but it wasn’t quite what we know of it today.
It wasn’t until platforms like Facebook that our perception of online interaction truly took a different turn. The entire idea of using your real life identity as your online identity started to become increasingly popular.
Soon, the thought of having an anonymous persona associated with just a username became a thing of the past. The draw of the platform focused on taking the social circle aspect of real life and transporting it 1:1 into an online platform.
It wasn’t long until other platforms started to follow suit. Maintaining anonymity online was becoming harder than ever. Entire social media apps started to be focused on sharing an aspect of your life that the other platforms didn’t quite offer.
The Importance of Identity in the Digital Age
From both a commercial as well as usability standpoint, the model of social media today relies heavily on the idea of identity. It’s near impossible to expect a high level of engagement or use on any of these platforms without having your identity up for grabs.
Platforms like Facebook or Twitter will never publicly acknowledge this but they cultivate this type of culture behind the scenes. You don’t have to go too far to notice the signs:
Discouragement of Anonymity: Not allowing the use of pseudonyms or false information when signing up.
Proof of Identity: Necessitating the need for personal information such as a personal email address and a phone number as well as requiring checks to prove one’s identity when signing up.
Favorable Treatment to Personalities: Providing special verification status like blue tick marks to selected profiles and silently encouraging the use of a real persona to build a following.
Inability to Identify People: There is no clear way of validating state-issued licenses online. Governments are working to introduce Digital IDs in this regard.
This tends to happen because the business model for the success of these platforms relies on it. Platforms like Facebook depend on their source of revenue from advertisers that display user targeted ads to people using it.
This can only happen if it can keep cultivating the culture of having a real identity associated with a social media account. That’s why it incentivizes this kind of behavior while discouraging the use of anonymity on the platform.
Rise of Fake Identities on Social Media
Despite successfully herding online culture towards the prevalent use of real identities, social media platforms have been far from successful in wide scale implementation.
It’s estimated that at least 56% of accounts across various social media sites were fraudulent during the years of 2017 to 2018. Those numbers are only expected to grow as 2019 approaches.
This has led to social media platforms having to take drastic measures to remove illegitimate accounts from their user base. Both Twitter and Facebook have had to invest time and effort into making sure that they can get rid of these kinds of accounts.
Facebook alone has had to remove 2.8 billion fake accounts on its platform between 2017 and 2018. With high volumes of fake identities clouding up their services, it’s more crucial than ever to these sites to curb any attempts that threaten their platform as well as their revenue stream. This is why some account recovery options have gone as drastic as sending personal documents to prove that they own the associated accounts.
How Fake Identities Shroud Themselves over Social Media
With the absence of anonymity in modern social media platforms, it’s easy to assume that It’s near impossible to stay hidden. But these days, the very tools use to fight fake identities are also being used to purport them further.
People are starting to utilize an identity as a mask to hide behind. It’s the perfect case of using the platform to its advantage. They can be used for something as harmless as posting a few fake reviews to something as sinister large scale identity fraud.
There is another concern among social media critics. Some platforms have been used to spread false rumors & propaganda campaigns during major events throughout the world. These fake accounts & campaigns heavily influenced the US Elections in 2016.
Several publications & articles have disclosed these facts recently. For instance, a book published by the name “The Apprentice” has revealed that a special team was tasked in Russia to do so. The team by the name “Troll Factory” had a dedicated building in Moscow & played their role to defame Hillary Clinton.
An unprecedented side effect of the nature of the platform is how it can be misused specifically for the things it was attempting to prevent. Some serious cases of activities used via fake identities include things like vote manipulation, using fake profiles to honey pot state and military personnel, celebrity impersonation, identity fraud, spying, spreading malicious programs, and other forms of cybercrime.
It’s not just individuals that attempt this behavior either. Profiting businesses and large organizations have begun to use the manipulative effects of fake identities to their advantage.
And while social media platforms have been able to combat these activities in the past to a certain degree, it hasn’t been completely successful. Fake identities are only growing more and more in numbers and they don’t plan on stopping any time soon. Who knows what the future holds for our online platforms but at this rate there’s very little hope.