Looking at Fake Social Media Profiles

Somewhere in the middle of all the drama last week was a discussion on fake social media profiles, and as usual the white hat zealots were ready to crucify anyone associated with them, claiming they were yet another tool disparaging the SEO and internet marketing industry. Well it’s my profession responsibility to provide some examples of this nefarious behavior and out some of these high profiles social media spammers …

The first one has nearly 50,000 followers on twitter, is one of the most popular people on facebook, has more than 400,000 myspace friends, and 15,000 youtube friends. Clearly this level of involvement and activity in the social media space can’t be the work of one person, what we’ve got here is a team of people keeping this fake profile running. So who is this nefarious social media spammer …

That’s right none other than the current Democratic Party Presidential Nominee Barack Obama. Are you going to argue that he isn’t using a friend bot, but somehow found the time to friend 52,000 people on twitter? Look at his myspace profile, not only do I believe there is friend bot helping him get 400,000 friends but his top 8 is dominated by astroturfing sock puppets like Women for Obama and Obama Pride.

Now of course I’m being a bit facetious, I don’t actually believe the Obama has anything to do with the day to day operation of any of his official social media profiles, and to think otherwise is being unrealistic. So why are we so gung ho to grab our pitchforks and torches, when we see a marketer or social media consultant doing the exact same thing?

Let’s take another look at a fake social media and forum account, and this time I’m going to pick one a little closer to home. Another favorite target of inflexible white hats are profiles that are maintained or published by more than one person using multiple IP’s. In fact that sort of behavior is down right scandalous in some circle’s and will result in accounts being banned. Who am I pointing the long finger of accusation at this time … none other than the infamous GOOGLE GUY.

See back in 2005 Google was caught cloaking, a debate raged on for a few days, and eventually Google banned themselves (three years later that’s still funny). During the few days that it took to resolve the issue, more than one person was posting under the GoogleGuy account, in fact the tone was so obviously different it was hard to ignore (read the comments). So what happened GoogleGuy was temporarily banned (aaahhh threadwatch those were the days when website owners had cajones and none of this peace, love and unicorn crap we have today). Eventually a deal got worked out and GoogleGuy got reinstated (and the post banning him got pulled cause I’ll be dammed if I could find it … and I really looked too)(added it looks like it was separate incident 2 weeks later that got GG banned, my bad thanks Nick).

So what have we got cloaking a website and multiple people postings for one account … sounds pretty much like those social media spammers every seems so intent on burning at the stake today doesn’t it?

Deciding whether a fake social media profile is or isn’t a spammer isn’t quite as cut and dry as people would like to believe. We enter that weird world that exists between determining intent and ethics. Just last week Valleywag highlighted 50 of the hottest women on Digg and guessed about half of them were fake. You might be able to make some educated guesses as to what someone’s intent was when they created a profile, but at the end of the day it’s just a guess. Debating ethics with anyone on the internet is as close to pointless as you can get, it’s just a waiting game until Godwin’s Law eventually occurs.

Let’s recap fake profiles aren’t the big evil everyone likes to think they are. In fact using a fake profile is sometimes preferable to using your real personal information. I wouldn’t want to have things commingled if at all possible, it would seem to make it much easier to pierce the corporate veil. The problem is users often use narrow interpretations, jump to conclusions about intent, and exercise double standards in judgment in the cases of celebrity, or fame.

I doubt this post will get many to change their opinion on fake social media accounts, so I suggest using the corporate boardroom friendly version and call it a roll account instead. Then it just becomes a semantics debate.

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