Facebook search change causes increase in requests from fake friends

  • It’s not just you: Some Facebook users are getting far more friend requests from seemingly fake accounts than ever before.
  • The accounts are linked to “verified” Facebook users, which include “public figures, celebrities or global brands” – people with public life who wish to protect their social media identities from misrepresentation. Facebook approves and whitelists verified accounts.
  • The influx of friend requests for verified users is “likely due to recent search changes” on the platform, according to Facebook, which were aimed at highlighting search results for verified accounts over non-verified accounts. verified.
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At first, I received a few new friend requests on Facebook every day.

As a journalist with a verified user profile, this sometimes happens. You write something that touches a lot of people, that perhaps strikes a chord, and readers are looking for you on social media.

But, if I’m honest, I hadn’t done it in January. And these accounts apparently weren’t “people” in the strict sense – their accounts all had the red flags to be false: users with no shared friends, no reason for me to know that person or vice versa, and often with a profile page.

Still, friend requests kept pouring in, day after day.

It wasn’t until I saw my friend and former editor Tim Stevens tweet about a similar issue he had on facebook that i realized i was not alone.

His responses from other reporters with verified Facebook accounts more echoed the issues I was having.

It turns out that Facebook has changed how its search functionality works.

This change had the unexpected result of some Facebook users – people with verified accounts, like Stevens – who saw an increase in friend requests from random and seemingly bogus Facebook accounts.

“This is likely due to recent search changes that now allow certain verified accounts to appear more prominently in results,” Facebook spokesperson Jennifer Martinez told Business Insider. “We’re always exploring updates to improve the ‘friendship’ experience for verified accounts.”

In short, since users of verified accounts are now more easily discovered through Facebook search, it is easier for search bots through Facebook to discover and send friend requests to those users.

If a verified account holder agrees to be friends with one of these fake accounts, this gives validity to that account. And validity is especially significant when you are mining a bunch of fake account profiles.

Verified Facebook account badge

The little blue check mark is how you can tell that a Facebook account has been verified. Mine is due to my career as a journalist.

Ben Gilbert / Facebook


Fake Facebook accounts – called “bots” – serve several purposes.

They can be used to spread misinformation and to create a false sense of support, anger, or any other response to a particular topic or event. It was fake accounts like these – masquerading as people, but actually exploited by the Russian government – that helped to sow discord and influence voters in the 2016 US presidential election.

Facebook routinely bans fake accounts, and the company’s latest report demonstrates a persistent fake accounts problem that rivals even Facebook’s huge user base itself:

Facebook has banned accounts over time


Facebook



While we have not received any more up-to-date figures – the latest transparency report released by Facebook only contains data up to September 2019 – it is clear that Facebook was facing a sharp increase in bot accounts from beginning of 2019 and continuing throughout the year.

Facebook representatives noted that they had not seen evidence of organized attacks or targeted campaigns, and unverified users should not be affected by the search changes.

Notably, Facebook has over 2 billion users and a small portion of that user base is verified. As such, for most Facebook users, changes to Facebook search shouldn’t lead to a sudden increase in friend requests from seemingly bogus accounts.