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5 Ways Scammers Exploit Facebook To Feed You False Information

Fake profiles, fake likes, fake content.

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Facebook's security team yesterday released a white paper that outlines some of the techniques that malicious people and entities use to manipulate information on the platform.

In some cases, governments and non-state actors try to influence public opinion. In other cases, scammers and spammers are abusing the platform to get their content to spread — so they can generate traffic they can monetize.

Here's a look at some of the key ways bad actors are gaming Facebook to make false or misleading information reach you.

1. They use fake profiles to spread their content.

VRT

In early November, BuzzFeed News reported that teens and young men in Macedonia were running pro-Trump websites that often traffic in fake news stories. One tactic used by some of the larger players in that country, as well as by other spammers, is to create a large number of fake Facebook accounts and use them to spread their articles on the platform.

BuzzFeed News also documented how fake profiles are used by Macedonians to push out political and other types of content. A recent story from VRT, a Belgian public broadcaster, made this practice even more clear. Journalist Tim Verheyden went to Macedonia and interviewed a 19 year-old who went by the pseudonym Boris.

Watch Boris talk about how he controls roughly 700 fake Facebook profiles.

VRT

They make fake accounts follow real pages in order to make the profiles seem more legitimate. And they buy likes for their own pages using Facebook ads.

CrowdTangle Intelligence

This graph shows the number of followers of the main USA Today Facebook page. It had over 15 million fans and then suddenly lost close to 6 million fans in just two days.

Facebook subsequently revealed the page had been liked by a coordinated network of fake profiles. In many cases, fake accounts like real pages in order to make their profiles seem more credible.

"The apparent intent of the campaign was to deceptively gain new friend connections by liking and interacting primarily with popular publisher Pages on our platform, after which point they would send spam," wrote Shabnam Shaik on the Facebook Security blog.

Another legitimate way spammers grow their pages and spread their content is to create ads that promote the page to users, or to pay to promote a specific post to drive clicks. (Real fans tend to join in a more gradual pattern, rather than all of a sudden on one day for a page with zero previous fans.)

Boris, the Macedonian publisher who admitted to Belgian TV that his content is either fake or misleading clickbait, said he's spent over 20,000 Euros on Facebook ads to grow his pages.

VRT

2. They spam Facebook groups with links.

VRT

Boris explained he uses special software to have his fake profiles automatically post his latest content in to a wide range of pro-Trump Facebook groups. Facebook groups are an increasingly important part of the spam and misinformation ecosystem on Facebook.

In some cases, spammers start new Facebook groups and try to get real people to join. Other times, they purchase an existing group. Or they simply join groups with real or fake profiles and start spamming them with content.

It's not just for political content — there are also hoaxes articles about terrorist attacks, or clickbait about Native Americans, for example. People are constantly targeting groups as a way to get content to spread.

3. They put fake verification check marks on groups to make them seem more legitimate.

Native American community on FB taken over by Kosovars. Impostor groups sport counterfeit verification checkmarks m… https://t.co/S7liWRzopT

Sarah Thompson is a woman in Indiana who spends her spare time exposing spammers on Facebook using her Twitter account and Facebook page. She recently discovered that spammers based in Kosovo found a way to place a fake verification check mark on groups that they are running.

Unlike Facebook pages, groups are not able to receive a blue verified check mark. However, an "official" group run by Facebook itself includes a special logo that looks like this:

Facebook / Via Facebook: media.publishers

So remember: a checkmark on a Facebook group name is actually a sign it's being run by dubious admini

4. They invent fake headlines and use misleading images to get you to share and click.

BuzzFeed

Spammers and others manipulate people into engaging with content on Facebook by using headline-thumbnail combinations that inspire strong emotions, such as anger. In the above examples, the claim in the headline is totally false and the images have been taken from elsewhere online. they have been combined to create the maximum emotional impact.

As revealed in a previous BuzzFeed News report, in some cases when you click through to the website from Facebook the article is nothing more than the fake headline and a page full of ads. The content is engineered to perform well on Facebook, so the publisher doesn't even bother to put in article text. They got your click, and that gets them paid.

Want to avoid getting fooled by spammers and liars pushing fake news? Follow these 6 steps.

CORRECTION

This post originally included a chart showing the follower counts for four Facebook pages run by spammers in Macedonia, and suggested that the instant spike in their number of followers could be a result of fake likes. BuzzFeed News subsequently received information from CrowdTangle, the source of the data, that the spikes reflect the moment CrowdTangle began tracking the number of likes to each of the pages. This means the charts do not reflect the full follower history for the pages, and therefore can not provide evidence of possible like-buying. As a result, we removed the chart from this post.

Craig Silverman is Media Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto.

Contact Craig Silverman at craig.silverman@buzzfeed.com.

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