It's laughably simple to buy thousands of cheap, plausible Facebook identities

Twitter draws a lot of fire for making it easy for anyone to set up an anonymous account or a bot; the argument against this says that making it easy to be anonymous also makes it easy to be shady.

By contrast, Facebook has a "real names" policy that forces dissidents to use their real names and risk detention, torture and execution; endangers the safety of LGBTQ people, survivors of physical and sexual abuse, sex workers and other vulnerable groups (and also puts the company in the absurd position of deciding what a "name" is, with predictably racist outcomes).

Advocates for "real names" policies argue that this is price we have to pay to fight manipulation from synthetica personas, bots, puppets and astroturf.

Except that Facebook bots are incredibly easy to buy: for $13, a Buzzfeed reporter was able to buy the longstanding Facebook profile of a fake 23 year old British woman living in London with 921 friends and a deep, plausible dossier of activities, likes and messages. The reporter's contact said they could supply 5,000 more Facebook identities at any time.

Which is to say: Facebook endangered all those people and visited all that pain on innocents in the name of preventing the bulk creation and sale of fake accounts, and failed.

A Facebook profile seller told BuzzFeed News they typically purchase pictures from a group in India that harvests photos from places like the Russian social networking site VK, which is not indexed by Google and therefore less likely to show up in a reverse image search. The seller told BuzzFeed News that they prefer to buy photos of attractive women. "If you post pics of a sexy girl and send friend requests to Indian men, Arab speakers, or South American men, they will accept quick and then all their friends will request you," the seller said. "In a few days you will have thousands of friend requests."

For most buyers, what really matters is that the fake accounts are believably real to the untrained eye and don't trigger Facebook's spam protections. To make sure of the latter, many of the aged-account purchasing websites offer explicit instructions to "warm up" the accounts and make them appear authentic. The website for AccsMarket tells users they "must first perform some common actions that a normal person would do after registering. Example: fill out the page, subscribe to several people, put a few likes, fill out the page, fill in some photos, make a few reposts, comments, etc." The accounts seller noted that one successful way to warm up a profile is to engage in political debate. "I'd make the account pretend to be in favor of Catalonian independence and as soon as you post anything about Catalonia and independence you get dozens of friend requests from indepentists," the seller said. "All them are VERY active and ONLY interested in posting and sharing this kind of political extremism."

Shady Marketplaces Selling Fake Facebook Profiles Operate In Plain Sight. [Charlie Warzel/Buzzfeed]

(via Super Punch)