You may have seen reports about how some people have recently faced gentle interrogations from Facebook in the form of a prompt that states: "Please help us understand how people are using Facebook. Your response is anonymous and won't affect your friend's account. Is this your friend's real name?"
Below that question a friend's name and profile pic is shown and there are four options: a) Yes, b) No, c) I don't know this person, or d) I don't want to answer.
This, understandably, makes people nervous. In late September, for instance, British internet-privacy researcher Paul Bernal dubbed the negative social-media reaction to the question "Snitchgate." Suddenly, Facebook was on the defensive; the prompt, it insisted, was merely a "survey," not an attempt to crack down on the un-reals.
ARE YOU FAKE? ILLEGITIMATE? UNDESIRABLE?
This is making news, not coincidentally, in the wake of the revelation that Facebook has millions of "fake" or "illegitimate" accounts. We all found this out thanks to company filings Facebook submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission in July. From the horse's mouth:
"[T]here may be individuals who maintain one or more Facebook accounts in violation of our terms of service, despite our efforts to detect and suppress such behavior. We estimate that "duplicate' accounts ... may have represented approximately 4.8% of our worldwide [monthly active users] as of June 30, 2012. We also seek to identify "false' accounts, which we divide into two categories."
And it goes on from there, elaborating on "user-misclassified accounts" (e.g., personal profiles for "non-human entities" such as pets) and "undesirable accounts" (e.g., spammers), which could represent an additional 2.4% and 1.5% of worldwide MAUs, respectively. Between the various categories of TOS-violators, the math works out to something like 80 million potentially dubious accounts.
Yeah, not good.
Since people on Facebook seem to be uncomfortable tattle-telling on other people -- or "people" -- I started thinking: Why not cut out the middlesnitch? Why not confront fakers directly? Toward that end, I'm presenting this exclusive interrogation of a verified Facebook faker. (I was able to confirm the fakeness of this fake Facebook faker with a reasonable degree of certainty, because I made him up myself.)
Simon Dumenco: First of all, you have a Facebook account, but you're fake, right?
Facebook Faker: I take issue with you calling me "fake." That and the other terms Facebook uses, like "undesirable," are just so hateful. In my community, we prefer to be called "differently existent."
SD: Um, ohhhhhkaaaay. Differently existent, then. Well, tell me a little bit about your ... likes.
FF: I like VirtualBagel.
SD: Very funny.
FF: How is that funny?
SD: Dude, I know about VirtualBagel. I've read about how BBC correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones set up a a fake business called VirtualBagel this summer and placed ads asking people to "like" it on Facebook. Within the first 24 hours, he'd racked up more than 1,600 likes for VirtualBagel, with most "likers" coming from Indonesia, India, Egypt and the Philippines. As of today -- I just checked -- VirtualBagel, which still "exists" on Facebook, has 3,417 likes.
FF: There you go again with the discriminatory presumptions. Just because a company is virtual doesn't mean it's fake. Tons of tech companies these days are virtual -- so what's wrong with a bagel company being virtual? Furthermore, I really like VirtualBagel.
SD: Oh, I have no doubt that you "like" VirtualBagel.
FF: You should try their everything bagel. Delicious!
SD: I should mention, too, that the BBC reported that VirtualBagel was "most popular in Cairo, with 75% of likes coming from 13 to 17-year-olds." You wouldn't happen to be an Egyptian boy, would you?
FF: I could be. Do you want me to be?
SD: Okay, this is getting weird.
FF: Please, sir, will you be my Facebook friend?
SD: Dude, seriously, you're creeping me out.
FF: Well, you're a fake-o-phobe. You're obviously ignorant about the proud tradition of my people throughout history, through all forms of media.
SD: Wait, what? How do you mean?
FF: Ever heard of pass-along readers of magazines? My mother is a pass-along reader. You know all those high-triple-digit cable channels? My father watches those channels. Best-selling political biographies? Everyone in my family reads them cover to cover.
SD: Points well taken. By the way, what do you do for a living?
FF: I'm a social-media guru, a corporate trainer, a SEO/SEM consultant and a motivational speaker.
SD: Of course. Why'd I even ask?
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.
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