By Rob Price
Facebook has a fake account problem — and the Silicon Valley elite aren’t going to like it.
The California tech giant’s social network is overrun by fraudulent accounts impersonating high-profile technology industry executives like Apple CEO Tim Cook, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Business Insider has found.
There are dozens of personal profiles on the platform purporting to be tech luminaries ranging from YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki to Evan Spiegel, head of Snapchat’s parent company Snap — often misleading ordinary, actual Facebook users who have crowded onto their profiles to ask questions, complain, and otherwise try to interact with them.
The existence of these accounts — some of them years old — raise new questions about the diligence with which the $531 billion company patrols its social network for fake accounts, especially given the blatant nature of their attempted deception. Facebook itself has previously estimated that it has as many as 116 million fake accounts on its platform.
Back in 2018, The New York Times reported that Facebook was teeming with fake accounts pretending to be CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg. The company has since removed with these accounts — but these new impostors show the company has not managed to effectively police itself for fraudulent activity relating to non-Facebook technology executives.
A Facebook spoksperson said they were working to find and take down the fake accounts identified by Business Insider. In a statement, they said: “We use sophisticated technology and reporting tools to detect accounts set up to impersonate other people. That’s a clear violation of our policies and our teams are continually improving our technology and processes to keep imposter accounts like these off Facebook.”
The accounts make no attempt to hide
The fake accounts are easy to find: Just search for them.
By using Facebook’s search tool, Business Insider was easily able to surface numerous accounts pretending to be Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, and Snap CEO Evan Spiegel.
Even Peter Thiel, a Facebook board member, had at least one seemingly fake account.
Some of these accounts seem relatively inactive, while others post regularly about their target. Some were created as early as 2013, and have managed to evade Facebook’s fake account detection systems for more than half a decade.
Facebook users have flocked to some of the profiles to try and talk to the apparent owner. A Tim Cook profile has numerous complaints about Apple’s customer service, for example; one for Susan Wojcicki has been targeted with anti-Semitic abuse.
The existence of these accounts aren’t just embarrassing for Facebook — they could put unwitting Facebook users at risk. When The New York Times discovered the fake Sandberg and Zuckerberg accounts, it also reported that some were being used to scam Facebook users out of cash via a hoax called the “Facebook lottery.”
Business Insider hasn’t seen any evidence that the fake tech executive accounts are being used for criminal or otherwise fraudulent ends, but it’s not implausible: Scammers frequently purport to be representatives of companies like Apple and Google in attempts to steal from people.
Impersonation isn’t allowed
Facebook has a real-name policy that requires all users to “use the name they go by in everyday life,” unlike other social networks like Twitter and (Facebook-owned) Instagram that allow for pseudonyms or parody accounts, as long as they’re clearly labeled as such. It also provides a blue checkmark graphic on the pages of verified, high-profile users — Peter Thiel’s official profile, for example, has such a blue checkmark, as you can see in the screenshot below.
acebook’s policy is designed to “keep you and rest of our community safe from impersonation, scams and phishing,” it says. Facebook also allows users to create groups and fan pages for public figures — but these accounts are all personal profiles, governed by the real name policy.
Some other top tech leaders have seemingly managed to avoid being targeted by impostors. We found no fake accounts pretending to be Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, or Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, for example.