Fake accounts on internet forums is an age-old tradition that started almost as soon as people began interacting with each other online.

It's easy to do and the pseudonymous nature of communicating with software means you can hide behind a fake persona as it takes a bit of an effort to work out who you actually are.

I did it many years ago on the Microsoft Network or MSN (told you, this is an ancient phenomenon) when I looked into a story about men being awful to women online, after discussing it with female friends angry at the treatment they received.


To experience first hand what the other side is subjected to, I set up an account using the name Sharon Wittgenstein and posted in some political and technical discussion forums on MSN.

My fake female online persona with a philosophical bent was hit upon, men dismissed her views and the amount of "I don't think you understand ... " mansplaining that rained down on me was depressing to witness. Things haven't improved, sadly, and women continue being harassed online because of their gender.

Nevertheless nobody thought too much about "sock puppetry" as using fake personas became known until recently.

In fact, fake accounts is a lucrative business as vain people take shortcuts and buy "followers" on Twitter, Instagram, and other social media to look more popular than they are (don't do this, it's stupid and a waste of money).

Then state-sponsored operatives took it up several notches to spread racist, right-wing disinformation and outright lies to influence elections, and Twitter came under political pressure to take the virtual axe to millions of fake accounts.

I was curious as to how many of my followers were fake, and lost maybe 170-175. Unfortunately, Twitter doesn't list the accounts it deleted so I don't know which ones went.

The social media company missed two recent followers that are very bot-like, using Name12345678 style handles and which were set up in July and haven't tweeted.

Famous people like Trump, Barack Obama, Oprah, and Katy Perry lost millions of "followers" which indicates that fake accounts really is a huge problem.

How huge? Facebook patted itself hard on the back in June this year, proudly declaring it had "disabled 583 million fake accounts globally in the first quarter of 2018".

Yes, Facebook disabled over half a billion fake accounts which is a massive number even in the context of the social network's total 2.2 billion user figure.

It's hard to see how the mass cull gels with earlier reports of Facebook owning up to only 60 million fake accounts on the social network.

This week, the Herald reported on a Whangarei scammer selling bogus concert tickets and stolen goods under fake identities.

She was found out, but not before scores of people were out of pocket. The case illustrates how fake social media accounts can be abused to deceive and defraud with ease.

Can anything be done about the issue?

That the problem was allowed to reach current proportions suggests the social networks are clueless on the issue.

Twitter and Facebook verify journalists, for instance, so that people can trust their accounts are real.

However, Facebook has verified InfoWars, which published the Pizzagate, and NASA operating a child slave colony on Mars, wildly untrue (and disgusting) conspiracy stories as well, and won't do anything about it because uh, free speech.

The one thing that would make social networks clean up their acts is if advertisers declared that they're fed up with bogus accounts and content.

What's the point of putting ads in front of fake accounts anyway?