Let’s say you were able to positively identify more than 15,000 fake social media accounts.  You reported a significant number of them to social media platforms as fake.  Nearly a month later, who many do you think would still be on the platform?

If you said 95% of the fake accounts were remaining online, you’d be right.

The NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence did just that.  In a report, the organization said it bought engagement and followers on social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.  Spending less than $350, they acquired more than 25,000 likes, 20k in views, 5,100 followers, and more than 3,500 comments to content.

There were able to back check out of the accounts associated with the purchase and uncovered more than 18,000 accounts that were fakes.  When they reported the fake accounts, they noted that after three weeks, 95% of the accounts were still on the various social platforms.

“Self-regulation is not working,” the group said.  “The manipulation industry is growing year by year.  We see no sign that is becoming significantly more expensive or more difficult to conduct wide-spread social media manipulation.”

GRAPHIC: NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence

Here were the key points they made about the “black market” for social media manipulation:

  • The scale is greater than previously reported
  • It is an easily accessible marketplace, openly advertising on major platforms.
  • Russian providers dominate the social media manipulation market.
  • They identified hundreds of providers and significant revenue.

I did a couple of quick Google searches myself and found dozens of companies that say they’ll provide “real and authentic” social media followers, but appear to be selling fake followers.  Some of these companies have been around for years and are still operating.

FYI:  The NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence is not affiliated with the NATO Command Structure, but their website says they contribute to “improved strategic communications capabilities” for NATO, NATO allies, and NATO partners.