Shady promotion, sex trafficking, and data mining are just some of the tricks of the trade for Facebook's growing population of fakers

Ubiquitous and profitable, the world's largest social network, Facebook, Inc. (FB), is today contending a new threat to its users that has leapt from the pages of academic journals to reality.  Storming the gates are a new breed of artificially intelligent (in the crudest sense) of softbot or "fake user", as Facebook calls them.  With the arrival of these spam spewing undesirables, the world of Facebook phonyism is no longer confined to practice of mere aliases designed to obfuscate legally questionable ends.

Today malicious parties are passing off management of their Facebook accounts to these constructs in a reconstruction which blends the junk mail of yesteryear with the cunning of social engineering, to spawn super spam that masquerades as human opinion.  And with even darker data miners creeping about the social web, the worst may be yet to come.

In the following account I identify two clearly fake accounts and then dissect them, exposing their anatomy and data sources, noting the telltale signs indicating their guidance via some sort of scripted state machine.  Perhaps most troubling is finding that these nouveau spammers are using their wiles on behalf of a seemingly reputable online magazine -- AskMen.

While lies and false identies are practically as old as the internet itself, the use of softbots in the social space is a new twist.  With even seemingly legitimate business turning to these dark newcomers for unsavory promotion, it's time to recognize the new enemy of the social networker.

How are these fakers operating?  How do you spot the phonies?  What are the risks to your information?  And why are they doing this?  We shall explore all of these in depth as we journey into the dark world of for-profit sockpuppeting and softbots on Facebook.

I. Who are The "Fakes" of Facebook?  It's Complicated....

For all the familiar foes on Facebook -- most notably privacy concerns and account hijacking -- since joining Facebook in 2005, I've watched the social network mature into a service that provides balances its trademark promise of utility with a growing array of tools with which to protect your information from most third parties.  Yes, privacy issues still exist but most today are confined to esoteric fears of Facebook itself abusing your data or problems that are isolated to users who indulge in its data mining prone apps (not me).

But even as we've seen progress from Facebook on beefing up privacy protections and finding ways to cleverly combat account hijacking attempts, Facebook finds itself facing an emerging new issue that has today become one of the biggest threats to the service's legitimacy and atmosphere.

Enter the Facebook phonies.


To be clear, Facebook has technically been fighting fake accounts in some sense for some time now.  That said, the frauds and phonies of today are in many ways different demographically than those of a year and a half ago, let alone a few years back, when media scrutiny of "fake" accounts began to intensify.

At the heart of the matter is what you define as "fake".

In a 10-Q from 2012 filed not long after its tremendous, if chaotic IPO, Facebook estimated that 8.7 percent of users were "fake".  That number, of course, sounds alarmingly high.  But it turned out that the 83 million some "fake" accounts back in 2012 weren't as insidious as they sounded -- mostly.

The majority were either a user with more than one account, or a business representing itself as a personal account.  While both are technically terms of service violations and may be egregious in certain circumstances, one might guess that most of these "fakes" were in fact hatched out of good intentions.  Most were likely born out of a misunderstanding of Facebook's at times poorly explained policies with regard to how celebrities and business are required represent themselves on the platform.

Facebook iris
[Image Source: Getty Images]

Only one in five fake accounts at the time (or around 14 million accounts) were listed as "undesirable".  The undesirable accounts are the true bad seeds amongst the fakes, commonly used for such ills as viral marketing, identity theft, or -- according to the speculation of some -- state-sponsored domestic espionage. 

Back in 2012 these bad seeds represented only 1.5 percent of accounts and were less adept at their craft.  Many users like myself, spent our first several years on Facebook amassing friend lists of a few hundred people without ever being propositioned by a spambot.

Facebook fakers
[Image Source: SecretsOfTheFed]

But I have witnessed first hand the growing threat posed by this group on the world's most used social network.

Starting about a year and a half ago my personal Facebook account began to receive occasional friend requests from sketchy accounts.  Clearly these fake/undesirable accounts have fooled many of my acquaintances, but to me they were as a rule always fairly obvious.

Facebook is not alone here.  The outgrowth of softbots has become the source of substantial controversy on certain dating platforms.  Most notably disgraced cheating site Ashley Madison was accused of using softbots to lure in paying customers, something that the site appeared to institutionalize in its trickily worded terms of service.

Softbots of the "fembot" variety are increasingly being used to target and deceive gullible males online.
[Image Source: Tara Jacoby/Gizmodo]

On Facebook, though, the platform provider is on our side -- presumably.  It's trying to drive off the frauds and fakers.  The problem in this case is that for its good intentions it's simply not doing enough to stem the tide of undesirable accounts.

II. Sex Sells

In terms of the threat I think it's worth further distinguishing fake accounts into two categories:
  • Sellers of smut, illegal goods, etc.
  • Data miners/promoters who use softbots or manually controlled sockpuppets
The former category was initially the first to intensify in activity, per my findings, but arguably the less insidious.  I first noticed the arrival of these accounts around a year and a half ago when some began to send me occasional friend requests.

Notably most of these accounts featured not so-subtle oversexualized profile pictures.  Then there was the  fact that I didn't actually remember ever meeting the person who was trying to add me.  Then there was the fact that this was a friend of some acquaintance who I hardly talked to anymore.

Facebook sex solicitation

At first these occasional solicitations were mildly amusing at worst.  Sometimes I'd approve the request to do a bit of investigation, then report them.  Other times it was flagrant enough I'd just report them a priori.  But in the end the I would always flag them.  If anything, the whole process was a bit amusing, if nothing else because it was interesting to see which of my acquaintances had been doped into added these.  And Facebook, to its credit, always was fairly responsive to my complaints, giving me the added satisfaction of seeing the spammer deleted and driven off.

Facebook smut
Facebook smut is annoying at times, but lacks the creep factor of data miners and viral promoters. [Image Source: Amazon]

When I first noticed this trend, I was mostly getting adds from female users looking to reel in male patronage of their ... erhem ... "cam modelling" businesses.  Some were even local to me, and appeared to be using Facebook as a prostitution network of sorts.  To some that would be shock and horror.  But as a pragmatist I recognized this was pretty much par for the course from the internet.  And as they say prostitution is humanity's oldest profession.  Thus while I would diligently flag these sexual profiteers, I never found their antics particularly insidious.

But over time the amusement has given away to annoyance and concern as the spammer demographics  have seen some sinister shifts.

You like this
[Image Source: Jamie Irish/Flickr]

I would argue there is no greater evil in the digital age than purposeful misinformation campaigns.  Among other nuances, misinformation campaigns tend to more insidious not just for their intent to deceive, but in their efforts to make deception semi-autonomous.

Indeed those ending in the business of misinformation, the new wave scammers don't just misbehave manually on Facebook.  There's strong evidence that they're taking the human operator out of the loop, to the extent that they can control hundreds if not thousands of separate fake accounts via scripted systems.  That kind of mass production of fake, nonhuman phonies presents a massive threat to the credibility of any platform they flock to.  And no platform is being assailed as pervasively as Facebook.

III. A Little Less Human

Four years ago I reported on a study detailing how spammers and data miners could infiltrate the world's top social network with scripted softbots.  Given how successfully the authors appeared to subvert Facebook's authentication safeguards and let loose their flirty female softbot, I was keeping a close eye on this one -- or I was for a while at least.

While such subterfuge likely predated the 2011 publication, it was largely ineffectual and infrequent.  And while the writing was clearly on the wall the warning had almost been forgotten by the time the prophesied social cyberwar would transcend from hypothesis into cyber-actuality.

Socialbots were predicted by academics years ago as a future danger. [Source: U of BC]

But Facebook bots are now, at long last appearing with sufficient prevalence to make their arrival undeniable

In the past half year, particularly, I have received a growing volume of friend requests that I can no longer write off as profit-motivated smut.  Increasingly the phony crowd is shifting from mere illegal commerce to far more devious deceptions.  While they may actually be less flagrant than the black market crowd in terms of legal violations, the new crowd of phonies is significantly scarier and creepier.

At least before you were dealing with a real person.  Now you may be interacting with purely fabricated, non-human digital entities loosely controlled by operators.  And the shadowy objectives of the men behind the soft-machines are becoming stranger and less transparent in many cases.

In the most obvious case this new breed is employed in the business of dirty marketing and viral promotion.  But some of the new breed of Facebook phonies can be far stranger.

Human After All
[Image Source: EDM Tattoos]

In recent months as I began to receive requests from this subcategory of fakers, one incident in particular stands out.  Unfortunately I don't have any particularly good screenshots for this encounter, so a brief explnation in words will have to suffice.

A few months back I received a friend request from a friend of a friend.  They actually had no profile picture  -- which was odd.  But in some ways that provoked my curiosity.  While suspected they were fake, what were they playing at.  I confirmed their request to sate my curiosity, but instead I was rewarded with precious few clues.  From their limited number of feed posts there was no sign of overt sex selling on this account.  In fact, the posts themselves were remarkably vague and dull and didn't seem to have any clear purpose.  Unlike the incidents I will discuss shortly, there was no sign of attempts to promote any sort of business or website.  

But if they were peddling smut or viral marketing, precisely what were they playing at?  That question took on a haunting tone given the fact that this new "friend" of mine clearly wasn't human, which is to say that human-operated or not this clearly wasn't a real person or even the alias of a real person.

So who ... or what were they?

Was this Skynet gaining awareness?  Was the account part of some U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) spy trawling or similar effort by elite Chinese state-sponsored hackers (see: Unit 61398)?  Could it be some sort of social engineering collegiate research study?  Or was it perhaps an in-house effort from Facebook itself, studying user reactions?

watching eyes
[Image Source: PC World]

Sadly (and troublingly) I never would find an answer.  Desparate for some clue I messaged the bot.  But alas, the exchange resembled a digital age iteration of Poe's poem "The Raven"...

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"—here I opened wide the door;—
            Darkness there and nothing more.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
    But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token... 

... which is to say they never responded to my Facebook message.  Almost assuredly it was a softbot or human-controlled puppet account.  It had recently amassed virtually all its friends and with no apparent personal content or pictures to show it was a real person.  But what particularly bizarre was that it did not attempt to grow its friends list as aggresively as many other fake accounts I had seen -- both human and full-on fake ones.  Rather it amassed a small amount of friends, but otherwise sat virtually silent, its dark purposes undetermined.

Eventually I reported it.  And as usual Facebook deleted it, telling me my suspicions were substantiated.  But if that was the case, I wonder to this day, what was the account's objective?  As best I can guess, it presumably was engaging in some form of undesirable/illicit data mining.

Again, the whole incident took me somewhat unawarest and thus I can only offer this weak description.  But I'm offering this observation as is, as I feel it's important to note that as questionable as the antics of the phonies in this piece and the followup may seem, I'm pretty sure that there's far worse phonies lurking on Facebook.

After all, viral marketing seems downright noble compared to the kinds of domestic espionage networks my above encounter hints at arising.  The encounter also helps to explain why I documented the phonies below in such detail and why I imposed certain self-restrictions for safety's sake.

Viral marketing
Viral marketers are the seemingly innocuous, if irritating tip of the iceberg when it comes to Facebook's growing phony epidemic. [Image Source:]

Specifically, this shift from sleezy human operators to shadow softbots has ultimately forced me to stop approving the phony accounts temporarily in order to further investigate them.  While I still investigate and report them, it is apparent that it is an ill-advised protocol to let phonies that very well may be data-mining softbots past your privacy wall by approving their friend request.

My advice to anyone who receives these kinds of requests is to investigate and report, but to do so at a distance.

Lastly, let me touch briefly on the issue of prevalence.  In addition to the sea shift in the nature of fake accounts, the other alarming aspect of the Facebook phony epidemic has been the frequency.

When I first noticed this trend roughly a year and a half ago, I would be getting adds from undesirable human accounts every month or two.  But in the past six months, or so, the pace has intensified to monthly, if not bimonthly requests from puppet accounts which no longer appear human.  And in the past two days I've had a total of four different softbot/puppet accounts add me.

[Image Source: Flickr/Jessica Darlene]

Percentage-wise it's entirely possible that given the massive user growth that the percentage of phonies has not actually risen.  Maybe it has -- or it may in fact have fallen, even.  But either way, it seems that the softbots and sock puppets that are lurking on the platform are primarily becoming a bigger threat via an increase in activity and sophistication.

I'll admit that high number of contacts may be an outlier or statistical fluke. Maybe I just got unlucky.  But to me it is surely evident that whether or not the fakes and phonies on Facebook are rising in raw numbers and percentages, that their aggression and reach are most definitely growing.  And that growth means that Facebook's users must educate themselves and become somewhat savvier lest they become marks and tools to the legion of phonies.

IV. Beautiful Lie

But enough hypotheticals and coarse accounts.  Let's look in stark detail at the most recent adds to illustrate how this process plays out.

In recent days I've received adds from four clear sockpuppets/softbots.  In this piece I present two of them who appear to share the same operator (the other pair appear to have a different objective/operator which I will detail in a coming piece): So who do this pair purport themselves to be?

"Jean" and "Michelle", both are representing themselves as females.  Both have profile pictures, which while not inappropriate are the slightest bit racy.  Michelle is laying in her profile pic in a not so subtle attempt to show some cleavage:

Michelle Winter

Likewise Jean is looking a tad bit tipsy and is showing quite a bit of suggestive shoulder:

Jean Clift

How do I know these ladies are fake?  Well, first, I don't know them.  Second, both just joined Facebook in the last month or so, but summarily have added friends in droves.  Jean is at a modest 109 new buds, almost all of whom are male (in fact, I'm unsure if Jean has any female friends, although I can't see her full list to rule it out):

Jean Clift

Michelle is beating Jean.  She's wrangled in 221 new pals, also almost all male (maybe gentlemen truly do prefer blondes)?

Michelle friend count

At first I thought Jason Lewis was a friend of a friend, as both accounts curiously mention him as their most recent add.  But he's not in my region and we share no friends.  That leads me to believe that the accounts may in fact be softbots and may be employing some sort of common scripted search process to expand their friends lists.

Facebook faker

As both Jean and Michelle have public friends list, it's possible to dig deeper and the results are somewhat interesting.  Notably, while both have a couple of recently added "friends" in my neck of the woods, neither has any friend in common with me.  And even the regional connections are tenuous at best, as their friends list seems scattered across the entire country, a somewhat uncommon characteristic of their accounts that's perhaps another telltale sign of their fraudulent nature.  (Of course, fake accounts could just as easily add friends regionally, so I would call this suspicious but not smoking gun.)


The interesting question is how they found my account.  I have my account configured not to be searchable via Google Inc.'s (GOOG) titular search and Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Bing.  While my account is searchable on Facebook itself that doesn't explain how they pulled my name out of thin air, without common contacts.  Perhaps they have been accumulating some sort of list of Google-sourced names and found me via my articles/research.  Or perhaps they simply auto-generated my name.

The latter seems likely as Jean's friends list includes 12 other people with the first name Jason.  

Lot of Jasons

Jean sure loves her Jasons...

While Jason is a common name in the U.S., this seems a bit too many Jasons to be pure coincidence.  Either way, the subtleties here indicate a greater level of sophistication than I've seen with past Facebook spam accounts, which tend to either add names alphabetically (probably from a list of common first and last names) or stick to adding visible friends of their existing friends.

Further, the fact that we don't share friends provokes some interesting questions given how Facebook's algorithms have traditionally worked.  When adding new acquantances from outside my network (i.e. someone who I don't share friends with) I've found that Facebook at times asks you probing questions.  Granted, both accounts may be limiting out-of-network adds to just the occassion.  In other words, perhaps they're looking to turn me into the beachhead and would subsequently stick to adding my friends to keep a lower profile.  Or perhaps they've simply found some way to escape detection.

V. Are Softbots Foraging From The Chive's Puerile Publications?

Another small but interesting note is that "Jean" has apparently been endowed with the ability to post a short status update to perhaps sound a bit more human after all.  The comment itself "best day ever..." could of course be human generated, but it almost sounds canned given its shortness/ambiguity.

Best Day Ever

If indeed the fakers are incorporating the ability for their puppet accounts to post cheerful human-sounding gibberish to their feed, it again speaks to a relatively sophisticated guiding hand. While there's still far too many telltale signs here for the cautious and tech aware user to be fooled into thinking that "Jean" is a real girl, this development suggests that we may eventually see digital personas that are far more humanlike, capable of imitating us fleshy folks' digital presences.

Clearly some are fooled...

Clearly fooled

It's also interesting to note that at least some of the friends of the fakers are themselves fake accounts.  And some of these are surprisingly bold, such as "Alesandar Bojanic" -- an account that claims to be a "Product Manager" at Facebook.


This account hasn't contacted me, and it's clearly behaving differently than Jean and Michelle, but I believe it to be fake as well for several reasons:
  • "He" has few friends.
  • Most of its friends have been recently added.
  • Almost all of its friends are in Eastern Europe -- none appear to work at Facebook.
  • A search of LinkedIn Corp. (LNKD) resumes showed no person of this name listed as working at Facebook.
  • In fact, there's basically no search results anywhere for this first and last name.  The first name appears to be a misspelling of Aleksandar -- the spelling of Alex/Alexander common to the former Yugoslavian states.  There are several "Aleksandar Bojanic" profiles on LinkedIn -- but none working in California or at Facebook.
  • Again there's a suspicious lack of person detail on the account.
  • Lastly, a Finnish social network named Karike is the original source of the profile picture, and it lists the name of the pictured person as Dejan.
Alesandar Bojanic
The picture of "Alesandar" appears lifted from a picture on a Finnish website of a person named "Dejan".

That leads us, incidentally to the smoking guns of how we can know beyond a doubt that "Jean" and "Michelle" are phonies.  Both are found in picture collections published last year by The Chive.

To be clear my research indicates that in all likelihood The Chive (and its owners Resignation, LLC) is not directly involved with the Facebook scammers.  That said, it's equally apparent that The Chive's content publishing model is encouraging questionable harvesting of user images -- a tactic evidence indicates to be directly feeding the source food chain from the bottom on up.  It is the found material of The Chive and similar viral image sharing sites, already pre-primed to viral status, that provides a nourishing feast the Facebook fakers.

The Chive and similar sites (e.g. the revamped modern iteration of EbaumsWorld) have long been plagued by ties to hoaxes and scams in part due to their embrace of user submitted content.  A highly questionable but very succesful article format for these sites involves the collection of personal photos and repurposing them as viral entertainment.  Given the somewhat sarcastic/embarassing context, I would hypothesize that many of the pictured folks never opted in to have their picture published, but had their pictures mind due to poor privacy decisions in their social media profiles.

To make matters worse for those pictured, the popularity of this type of new media -- with The Chive's being perhaps its most prominent representative -- leads lower traffiic sites to regularly republish these lists, further amplifying their often unwanted attention towards the oft unwitting pictured persons.  Presumably this republishing is done without permission, but it's hard for sites like The Chive to argue with those in the lower tiers given that ultimately they used the same tenuous Fair Use justifications that The Chive was using in the first place.

Keep Calm and Chive on
[Image Source: Etsy]

Ultimately this opportunistic and predatory publishing practice takes few prisoners.  Those who find themselves on one of these lists soon find their face spattered across dozens of international websites a dubious and often unwanted form of forced celebrity.  Indeed the line between this kind of "found" personal photo content and revenge pornography (illegal in many states) (or, for that matter, digital stalking) is thin indeed. 

Jean's picture

Michelle search

Google searches reveal many duplicate apparent republications of The Chive's lists which the spammers harvested the girls' photos from.

And now those who find themselves in image lists on The Chive, et al. have yet another new headache to worry about.  It appears that the scammers are mining those lists for fodder for fake Facebook accounts.

Both "Michelle" and "Jean" are likely real individuals of some other name.  Both had pictures posted to The Chive, then to other republishers, and then finally to Facebook where their likenesses were outright stolen to fuel the Facebook fraud.

Before I share the source lists, let me just warn you in advance that these pictures are probably the most tame in those lists.  !! Most of the pictures in the lists below are NSFW/sexually explicit images of females. !!  You have been warned.
I'll save any further critique of The Chive and its trademark brand of sex marketing, and again as I said, I see no evidence that they are in anyway directly behind the fake accounts I'm detailing.  But suffice it to say they are not blameless in this growing problem, as their questionable publishing of personal images is proving fruitful grounds for scammers to mine photos.

While scammers of course can go to the same original sources as wherever The Chive found those images, the presumable advantage of grabbing them from these lists includes simplicity and the assurance that the person pictured in someway attracts attention, which is the key to a good Facebook scam campaign.

VI. The Endgame

And "campaign" appears to be the right word for this.  Aside from the common source of the account images, shared friends, and identical behavior (other than the status update from "Jean") perhaps the most compelling other clue proving these are fakes is the fact that they're both promoting the site AskMen in their comments.

Facebook phony

Facebook faker

Ah at last the softbots' reveal their endgame -- shameless promotion.

AskMen is sort of like halfway between The Chive and Men's Health -- an advice column and gentleman's cyber magazine with a viral bent.  The site boasts some impressive readership figures in its press kit for advertisers:


Now, I would hope that no one at AskMen is directly caught up in the dishonest business of creating fake promotional softbot/sockpuppet accounts on Facebook.  But clearly promotional posts don't grow on trees.

I would suspect that someone hired to help with search engine optimization/promotion/content driving is engaging in this questionable practice, likely without the explicit approval of the magazine itself.  While there's always the possibility of tacit approval in such a case, deniability would remain credible.

I do sympathize with AskMen to some degree in that it's possible they are truly completely unaware of what they unleashed.  I've been doing quite a bit of digging into the SEO/viral marketing crowd of late, and it's literally shocking the kinds of rabbitholes these people dig online.  While there are certainly a few good and brave proprietors of old fashioned/clean SEO, many are less scrupulous.  Those in the latter crowd oft stoop to shameless misinformation, shock posting, and fake webpages in their quest for hits.

AskMen spam

[Image Source: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC; orig. images: Dribble/FinPost]

That said, I suspect most -- even those in advertising -- aren't wholly aware of the extent of these shenanigans as the guilty parties tend to cover their tracks deliberately via domain anonymization and other technqiues.  Thus while the behavior may seem par for the course for those aware of the dark side of SEO, it's not unfathomable that AskMen paid promotional partners for what it thought was a legitimate effort.

While this kind of promotion may seem innocent enough, it's being done in a highly deceptive, bizarre fashion.  For all intents and purposes it can be viewed as good, old-fashioned spam in a pretty social network package.  But the premise is as unsavory as ever.

spam alert
[Image Source: CNN]

I'm reaching out to AskMen for comment to see what kind of "advice" they have regarding their ties to these shady tactics.

I will close with some simple suggestions:
  • Do not add anyone on Facebook who you don't know in real life no matter how hot/cool/etc. you think they look.  Stop.
  • If you spot a suspicious user, try to investigate them and report them as necessary, but do not add them.
  • Adjust your Facebook privacy settings to make your account non-searchable from Google/Bing and make your images accessible to friends only.
  • Don't post images that might be reshared by friends on viral social media (e.g. The Chive) to avoid image exploitation.
  • If your friends post an image that might be reshared, ask them nicely to delete it.  And if they don't force the issue by flagging it with a complaint on Facebook.
  • If you accidentally add a bot (say one who shares a name with an actual friend), recognize the deception for what it is via the telltale clues outlined above and your own common sense.  Delete and report immediately.
Only by altering your online behavior can the human public stem the tide of the Facebook phonies.  For those of you who avoid to boycott Facebook for any number of reasons I encourage you to check your snark about the network and focus on the fact that Facebook's increasingly active population of fake users has the potential to influence the opinions and impact the lives of over 1 billion human beings.

At the root of the problem is the level of trust we invest in our beloved social networks.  While some may say the above guidance is obvious enough to be left unsaid, I would counter that there's a broad lack of awareness on Facebook's phony epidemic.  Even the modestly tech savvy may be exploited by more sophisticated fakers.

Ultimately the proof of the public's ignorance lies simply in the number of users you see the bots above being able to successful capture in their influence web.  Together two bots captured more than 200 unique users and would doubtless continue to capture more if I had not unmasked their fabricated identity.  Now multiply that by the million plus active fake accounts lurking and you start to realize that this is perhaps the least document but most ubiquitous mass security threat, one which may be affecting tens, if not hundreds of millions of users worldwide already.

Facebook vs. machines
[Image Source: Haiderk]

And unfortunately it's a threat that no filter or firewall can save you from.  In the end the only weapon you have against the phonies is your common sense and the site's moderation reporting system.  Fortunately, these weapons are more than enough to stop most of today's brand of Facebook fakers crafty as they may be.

It's sad it's come to this, but Facebook users must approach every friend request in a wary and deliberate fashion.  Sometimes common sense can be a downright pain, I'll admit.  But whether or not we started the fire, as REM would say, it is up to us whether we make it to last.

Ziff Davis is the owner of AskMen.  Their privacy policy states:

We will engage third party providers to assist with the collection, storage and segmentation of Online Data; and the providers are required to maintain the confidentiality of this information. These efforts do not result in the collection of personally identifiable information such as name or address; and we do not intentionally collect data that we consider to be sensitive, such as financial, health, or medical information or data concerning racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, or sex life.
We partner with third party ad networks to either display advertising on our website or to manage our advertising on other sites. Our ad network partners may use cookies and Web beacons to collect non-personally identifiable information about your activities on our owned and operated sites and third party websites to provide you targeted advertising based upon your interests.

If my legalese translator is working accurately, I read this as an acknowledgement of the kind of traffic generation contracting I hypothesized strengthening my hypothesis that this was potentially the work of a contractor.

Note the language does not mention whether Facebook is a third party partner, but I think Ziff Davis will be equally troubled to discover this development, given that their language conveys a consistent pledge to respect user data and local policies on third party platforms.

Assuming Facebook validates my findings via the deletion of the fake accounts, then I would say whoever was behind the promotion was not adhering to Ziff Davis's ordered privacy standard across its family of publications.  My hope is that the guilty party is identified and I have reached out to Ziff Davis to start that process.

Note per my reading Ziff Davis clearly states that it renounces legally responsible for its third party partners' actions, to some extent at least.  So the onus will be on the contractor assuming the apparent violations of Facebook ToS were not commited in-house.  That said, I believe Ziff Davis will want to identify the guilty parties and explain how this happened to reassure Facebook users that its intent was not to sponsor, patronize, or in any other way condone spamming of users with fake accounts on its behalf.

Update -- 5 a.m. 9/15/2015

Facebook has deleted the accounts in question.  I'm awaiting their response (if any) and the findings of the folks over at AskMen and its parent Ziff Davis.  

The good news is that those two spammers are gone! 


That said, I'm guessing the operator may have been controlling a number of other accounts which were not directly linked to the suspended accounts detailed here.

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