fake

Facebook admits to nearly as many fake or clone accounts as the U.S. population


Image: Shutterstock / Phonlamai Photo

Amid the distraction of Facebook’s blockbuster earnings this week, the company quietly admitted to hosting more phony accounts than previously revealed.  

The social network upped its estimate of the portion of fake accounts from 2 to 3 percent and the number of duplicates from 6 to 10 percent, Business Insider first reported.

That means that as many as 270 million of the platform’s 2.1-billion-strong user base could be fraudulent — a population verging on the size of the United States. 

Facebook said the change was due to better tools for tracking illegitimate activity rather than a sudden spike in fishy sign-ups.  

Unlike Twitter’s anything-goes attitude, Facebook is famously strict about verifying the real-life identity of each of its users. In some cases, it even goes so far as to demand official documentation. 

Yet fake accounts have still managed to proliferate on the platform — some because of innocent user mistakes and others created to spread spam or operate as part of shady networks of bots.

The revelation comes after Congress grilled Facebook and other tech companies this week on their role in spreading Russian-affiliated propaganda during the presidential election. The proceedings focused on the work of a Kremlin-linked “troll farm” called the Internet Research Agency, which used Facebook pages to disseminate tens of thousands of posts to as many as 126 million Americans. 

Facebook has previously said that the actors behind pages that spread fake news or misinformation have used fake accounts to juice their interaction numbers and thus game the company’s algorithm.

The social network’s made a show of purging tens of thousands of fake accounts at a time before various global elections. 

Each of these efforts were part of a larger campaign Facebook embarked on after the U.S. presidential election to rid the platform of fake news, misinformation, and hoaxes of any kind.

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Facebook, Twitter, and Google fake news problem explained via NFL protests


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Facebook, Google, Twitter are currently being scrutinized by U.S. lawmakers for their influence and Russian interference in the 2016 election.

But the hearings in Washington aren’t just about politics. Several senators used the National Football League protests to explain the scale of the misinformation problem on tech platforms.

During a hearing with the Senate Intelligence committee on Wednesday, Sen. Angus King shared top hashtags from Sept. 23 and 24 and used by ۶۰۰ Russian websites. The hashtags included Syria, NFL, boycotted, standforouranthem, MAGA, and takeaknee.

“We have Make America Great Again, Russia, Take A Knee. In other words, they were tweeting on both sides of the NFL dispute in order to exacerbate the divisions,” Sen. King said. 

The “Take A Knee” protests, started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have ignited a dispute in the NFL and among football fans. Players have chosen whether to stand or to kneel. Fans have cheered or boycotted. 

On Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s YouTube, Russian propagandists — or anyone really — can participate in these conversations. The concern from senators is that Russians are leveraging these open networks to manipulate these conversations.

“One witness to this committee had said that their strategy is to take a crack in our society and turn it into a chasm. That’s exactly what we’ve seen. We saw in 2016, and my point here is it hasn’t stopped, and it won’t stop,” Sen. King said. 

“My point here is it hasn’t stopped, and it won’t stop.”

The spread of misinformation is quite prolific on Twitter for several reasons. Twitter is real-time and 140 characters (for the majority of users), which lends itself to spreading quick, not fact-checked information. Twitter users also do not have to use their real names, so there’s less ramifications for sharing something inaccurate. 

Asked “why on earth” Twitter would not require real names by Sen. Martin Heinrich, Twitter’s General Counsel Sean Edgett shared the company’s mission of free speech and providing a secure channel for activists.

But that also means that Russian trolls can amplify negativity around any topic. Twitter, for example, revealed that only 9 percent of the tweets from Russia-linked accounts were election-related. Edgett said Wednesday the company had seen activity related to the NFL boycott on the platform. 

That may never stop on Twitter, and it’s a concern from these senators. Sen. James Lankford echoed Sen. King’s sentiments. 

“This is not an opposition to free speech though. This is actually a battle to try to protect free speech. We want to have good American dialogue, and the fear is that your platforms are being abused by foreign actors who want to abuse free speech,” Sen. Lankford said. 

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Facebook outsources its fake news problem to Wikipedia—and an army of human moderators


Facebook made nearly $27 billion last year, but the tech giant can’t seem to figure out how to fix its fake news problem on its own. 

Their solution: enlist a nonprofit that has successfully done so—with the help of 133,540 moderators.

In its latest move to prove it’s no longer a threat to democracy, Facebook is tapping Wikipedia. Now, when Facebook users see articles on News Feed, they can click on a little “i” button and see the Wikipedia description of the publisher. They also will see a button to follow the Page and see trending or related articles.

Facebook previously balked at the notion of using human editors to oversee the flow of news and information across its network, instead relying on algorithms to handle everything from publisher posts to advertisements. Now, it’s slowly starting to embrace the human touch, hiring editors and now even partnering with Wikipedia an its army of moderators. 

Why not just show the description on the publishers’ Facebook Page? Perhaps because Facebook can’t trust that. Publishers could have such a space and fill it with terms like “Jew haters” or other malicious words. Of course, publishers could also do that on Wikipedia, but Wikipedia has managed to monitor for and prevent such abuse. 

Remember when teachers told you not to trust anything you read on Wikipedia? Well, according to Facebook, you now should. But you might not want to trust everything you read on Facebook. Wikipedia is not perfect, but it’s been able to curb a fake news problem by enlisting volunteers—real, living people—to moderate pages while incorporating other algorithmic systems. 

Wikipedia has long taken the fake news problem seriously. In its early days, anyone could create and get away with making pages with false information. People took advantage of this. But as Wikipedia grew, it created a community of moderators that helped prevent those misleading pages and errors from staying up. English Wikipedia now has 133,540 editors who have edited a page in the last 30 days, according to a Wikipedia page. 

Facebook seemed to only wake up to the problem of fake news after the 2016 election. In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s victory, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook influencing the election was a “pretty crazy idea” and said fake news was only a small portion of posts on the site. 

While that scale may be true, Zuckerberg has since apologized for his words, and his company has been working to release solutions to prevent fake news from spreading on the platform. Facebook launched the Facebook Journalism Project, and it recruited third-party fact-checking organizations to help monitor for fake news.

But early reports show that it may be more of a pony show than a serious initiative, and we may have Facebook to blame. Fact-checkers enlisted by Facebook told Politico last month their efforts have been harmed because Facebook refuses to share information. Fact-checkers are unable to see if the “disputed” tags they add to articles actually have an effect and are not able to prioritize stories. 

Facebook said its efforts are working. “We have seen data that, when a story is flagged by a third party fact-checker, it reduces the likelihood that somebody will share that story,” Sara Su, a product manager on Facebook’s News Feed team, told Politico. But she declined to share data proving the point. 

Meanwhile, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has been quite outspoken about the fake news problem. 

“I would say just in the last couple of years, I feel like things have gotten much worse in terms of clickbait headlines, fake news,” Wales told Mashable earlier this year. “People will contribute if they’re asked, and if they’re protected from trolls.” 

In fact, Wales is taking the fake news problem so seriously that he launched a new company. Earlier this year, he announced WikiTribune, an online news site with articles reported and written by professional journalists. The site will also have volunteer researchers and fact-checkers. 

So, yes, Facebook is a profitable company with a glaring fake news problem led by someone who once brushed off about the severity of the issue. Wikipedia is a nonprofit that enlisted volunteers years ago to battle misinformation and is led by someone who wants to do more to help. 

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۲ women entrepreneurs created a fake male cofounder to deal with sexism and, depressingly, it worked


Is this Keith Mann??
Is this Keith Mann??

Image: Shutterstock / g-stockstudio

It’s easy to understand on a theoretical level that female founders face more hurdles launching successful startups. It’s less common to see the often insidious sexism they face blatantly illustrated. 

Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer a year ago launched a successful art marketplace, Witchsy. The site, which has sold $200,000 worth of art, needed contributions from developers and designers to get off the ground. Many of those contractors were men, who often behaved dismissively toward Gazin and Dwyer and their cute art project. 

So the pair invented a third cofounder, who only communicated with difficult outsiders via email. Keith Mann (get it?) became the invisible yet vocal third partner in Witchsy. 

Of course, it worked. 

“It was like night and day,” Dwyer told Fast Company. “It would take me days to get a response, but Keith could not only get a response and a status update, but also be asked if he wanted anything else or if there was anything else that Keith needed help with.”

While Gazin and Dwyer dealt with a developer who addressed them with the greeting, “Okay, girls,” Mann was addressed by name. Mann’s “presence,” for some people who worked with Witchsy, changed their perception of and even legitimized the business. 

These differences weren’t an anomaly. A viral Twitter thread earlier this year captured a similar experience when a man at an employee services firm accidentally emailed a client as his coworker, Nicole. Martin Schneider found that “Nicole” faced rude pushback from clients that he never experienced when doing the same work under his own name. 

These examples are yet another reminder of how hard it is to be a woman in the tech industry, where unconscious and conscious bias cause women to face questioning of their skills and knowledge constantly. 

Keith Mann, on the other hand? He gets the royal treatment. 

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China’s fake Yeezy store looks really slick, TBH


Looks like China’s beaten Kanye West to it.

An unofficial Yeezy store has opened in the Chinese city of Wenzhou — and it’s filled with knockoffs.

The store’s clearly not afraid about trademark violations, and is proudly displaying the word Yeezy in bold on its storefront, according to multiple social media posts from passers-by.

Not going to lie, the inside looks like a pretty nice sneaker shop:

But to us, the best part of the store is its neighbour, New Bunren: 

The fake Yeezys aren’t cheap

But the shoes don’t come at knock-off prices.

According to a report by China Network, the shoes sell for an average of $151 (999 yuan) — which is quite a lot to shell out for a fake.

A genuine Yeezy pair will set you back around $200, though resellers in the market are exploiting limited stock, and charging exorbitant prices into the thousands.

And the fakes aren’t even carbon copies.

The most glaring difference is that they carry the words “Yeezy” on them, instead of the trademark “SPLY”. 

The store even offers personalised designs, allowing you to customise your “Yeezys” to any design of your liking.

According to China Network, the operation is not entirely shady — sort of.

The trademark to “Yeezy” was registered in 2013, by a Mr Hu, the owner of the store that the news outlet spoke to.

“Some time ago, the relevant authorities have ruled that the Yeezy trademark, which we registered with our company, is valid,” he told the China Network.

A representative at LegalHoop, a trademark registration firm, also confirmed to Mashable that the mark “Yeezy” had already been taken and registered in 2013 across several categories.

We’re unable to confirm if this listing by the Wenzhou Haifan Trading Company is actually the firm who registered the mark, but it’s a bit of a coincidence that the store also happens to be set up in — where else — Wenzhou.

Image: legalhoop/mashable/screenshot

Image: LEGALHOOP/MASHABLE/SCREENSHOT

Image: LEGALHOOP/MASHABLE/SCREENSHOT

Still, there’s hope for Kanye yet. He may still be able to contest the trademark.

Last year, China’s supreme court ruled in favour of U.S. basketball player Michael Jordan, after a Chinese sportswear company used his Chinese name for their products.

Qiaodan (Jordan’s name in Chinese) Sports said it had registered the name more than a decade ago, but Jordan’s lawyers successfully argued that they had used his name without his permission.

So who knows, perhaps it won’t be long before Kanye comes knocking on their door. 

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Facebook is going after one of the big ways fake news spreads


Less fake news should appear in News Feed.
Less fake news should appear in News Feed.

Image: BRITTANY HERBERT/MASHABLE

Facebook is continuing its crackdown on fake news. 

The social network Monday announced Facebook Pages will no longer be able to advertise on the site if they repeatedly share news articles that are marked as false by third-party fact-checking organizations. Page owners can win back the ability to run ads if they later choose to act responsibly. 

The move would limit one of the big ways that fake news spreads, since paying to boost posts is a big way for publishers to get stories in front of more people.

“We want people to stay informed on friends, family, and topics they care about on Facebook, and false news damages trust,” said Rob Leathern, product manager at Facebook. “This is mostly about removing incentivizes for the creation of false news.”

This update limits a user’s ability to growth hack a Facebook Page, as in gain followers (or Facebook “likes”) by sharing fake (but highly-engaging) news articles. Paying for Facebook ads allowed these fake news articles to appear in users’ News Feeds. 

Facebook introduced a partnership with third-party fact-checkers, months after CEO Mark Zuckerberg belittled the impact of fake news on the 2016 presidential election. Shortly after the election, Zuckerberg wrote “more than 99% of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes.”

Since that claim, Facebook has taken several steps to lessen the abundance of fake news on the network. Other moves include shutting down the bot networks used to defraud advertisers and suppressing links from websites with bad ad experiences. 

Facebook has broken up its fight against fake news into three buckets: disrupting economic incentives, building new products, and helping people make informed decisions.

The most recent change falls into the first category. Still, Facebook remains steadfast against being an arbiter of truth. Pages can regain the ability to advertise and are not banned.   

“It is possible that someone could inadvertently share something, so we want to make sure that it is a repeated behavior,” Leathern said. “We want there to be an incentive: good maintenance. If they no longer are sharing [fake] stories, they can regain the ability. A repeated pattern of this occurring has a consequence.”

Facebook declined to share an exact estimate of the financial impact. The company earned $9.32 billion in the second quarter of 2017, the majority of which comes from mobile advertising

“I think overall the order of magnitude of the size of this is relatively small,” Leathern said. 

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Facebook is finally purging annoying fake videos from your News Feed


No more fake videos on Facebook
No more fake videos on Facebook

Image: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Say goodbye to annoying fake Facebook videos.

The social network is tweaking its algorithm so you’ll see static memes disguised as videos and images with fake play buttons way less often. 

Spammers have been flooding the site with these trick formats to take advantage of Facebook’s fanatical focus on promoting video above other types of content. Uploading single images as videos can earn the poster advertising money, and photos made to look like videos can lead users to sketchy sites with malicious ads.

An example of a photo with a fake play button that leads to a sketchy website.

An example of a photo with a fake play button that leads to a sketchy website.

“People want to see accurate information on Facebook, and so do we,” the company said in a statement. 

Expect to see less misleading videos as Facebook implements the changes in the coming weeks.

“People want to see accurate information on Facebook, and so do we”

Facebook has been pushing hard for the past couple years to grow the platform’s volume of videos, which command much higher prices from advertisers than other content. 

But despite Facebook’s phenomenal video growth, the company is only now starting to iron out kinks like pirated videos and deceptive practices.

The push is also part of Facebook’s bigger effort to crack down on all types of misleading content, which started after it was blamed for spreading fake news during the presidential election. Other updates have included suppressing links to sites with intrusive ads and shutting down bait-and-switch ads.

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Lara Trump is here to deliver our souls from the epidemic of fake news


Our savior.
Our savior.

Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

Real talk is like sweet, frigid-ass lemonade on a sweaty, hot day: refreshing.

America, Lara Trump is here to give you the lemonade that will parch your news-starved throats. Who better to slice a hot knife through all the fake news out there than President Donald Trump’s second most powerful child-in-law? 

Lara Trump launched “Real News” on Trump’s Facebook page this past Sunday, and it seems like this is gonna be a weekly thing, which, thank the gods to whom you pray, because if you’re like me, you’ve been scouring the internet for weeks just begging it to produce more news video. REAL news, like Lara said. No funny business with the tricky graphics or whatever, just give me somebody saying some words I could read in 1/4 the time. Inject that shit straight into my red-blooded American veins.

Lara Trump, who’s leading the president’s 2020 effort and is married to Trump’s second-oldest son, Eric, is evidently the anchor for this little program. In the inaugural episode, she talks about #GoodTrumpNews that is #Real and #NotFake while sitting in front of the blue Trump backdrop that inspires either love or nausea depending on your political affiliation. 

“I bet you haven’t heard about all the accomplishments the president had this week because there’s so much fake news out there,” is how Lara Trump starts the video after introducing herself. The president had accomplishments!

Lara Trump’s got a lot of courage going up against Game of Thrones on Sunday night, but the only way to be the best is to beat the best, as the sports people say. You know what, I am already vibrating with anticipation for next week’s edition of Lara Trump Says Words to Me. Quaking, really. If only there was a way to fast-forward time so I might know what accomplishments the president was going to have. If only.

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Did Trump approve a viral fake Fox News story?


President Donald Trump speaks to the media after new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was privately sworn in during a ceremony in the Oval Office, in Washington, D.C., on July 31.
President Donald Trump speaks to the media after new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was privately sworn in during a ceremony in the Oval Office, in Washington, D.C., on July 31.

Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

If you thought the White House Russia Collusion Story mill was running low on creative new twists, think again. This one involves President Donald Trump reviewing a pre-publication Fox News story—about a knowingly fake conspiracy designed to distract from Trump/Russia news—and personally pushing for its publication. Fun! 

On Tuesday, NPR published a lengthy piece floating the possibility that Trump himself pushed fake news, pegged to a lawsuit against Fox News filed by a man named Rod Wheeler. 

Wheeler’s a former detective who used to work for the Washington, D.C. police and has been a paid contributor to Fox for several years. Earlier this year, he was asked by a Fox affiliate to investigate the murder of former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich. 

Rich was murdered last year in what police say was a botched armed robbery. But prominent right wingers—notably, for example, Fox News anchor Sean Hannity—tried to spin self-serving tales about the murder. They’ theorized that Rich was murdered because he had tried to leak DNC emails to Wikileaks that would damage Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Such a story would cast doubt on whether Moscow was actually behind the hack of DNC emails, and would take the punch out of stories about collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign/administration. No one had ever provided proof to back up the Hannity-shilled version of events, but Wheeler was about to become enmeshed in the most significant attempt to push this conspiracy into the mainstream.

He and and the other Fox contributor—a Texas investor named Ed Butowsky—met with then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on April 20 to talk about what they’d found. Spicer confirmed the meeting to NPR. On May 16, when Spicer was asked about the Fox News story on Rich’s murder, he didn’t acknowledge the meeting.

Wheeler and Butowsky continued apace, along with Fox News producer Malia Zimmerman, who would go on to write the Fox News story that would end up sparking a rush of interest in Rich’s story. 

The plan was to publish the story, and have Wheeler make the TV rounds to play it up, which he did. And here’s the wild part: 

Days before Zimmerman’s story went online on May 16, Butowsky called and texted Wheeler, to let him know that the White House was watching—and that Trump had reviewed the story. And was eager for it to hit the internet. 

Whether the sentiments of those messages are true, or whether Butowsky was just trying to keep Wheeler on point, is up for debate.

Zimmerman let Wheeler review the article before it published, but Wheeler says the initial copy differed from the published version in a significant way—it included two quotes attributed to Wheeler that he says were made up. The quotes make Wheeler sound like he’s the driving force behind the story. Both begin with “my investigation” and one says “there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and Wikileaks.”

Wheeler’s lawsuit states that, “According to Butowsky, the statements were falsely attributed to Mr. Wheeler because that is the way the President wanted the article.”

Fox News ran with the story all over the network, and only retracted it on May 23, saying it didn’t meet the networks’ editorial standards. Wheeler says Fox blamed him as the story went up in flames, and now Wheeler is suing, in effect, to salvage something of his reputation. And if what the lawsuit alleges is true—a significant if at this point—his reputation is in tatters because of Trump.

Fox News, for its part, vehemently denied that the network colluded with the president to tamp down stories about the connections between the Trump administration and the Russian government. 

“The accusation that FoxNews.com published Malia Zimmerman’s story to help detract from coverage of the Russia collusion issue is completely erroneous,” Fox News President of News Jay Wallace said in an emailed statement. “The retraction of this story is still being investigated internally and we have no evidence that Rod Wheeler was misquoted by Zimmerman.”

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