In 2019, a Swedish e-commerce company named, A Good Company and analytics firm HypeAuditor, assessed 1.84 million Instagram accounts across 82 countries. The research concluded that the top three markets with largest numbers of fake accounts were the United States (49 million), Brazil (27 million), and India (16 million). The researchers interviewed around 400 influencers, 60 percent of which confirmed that they had bought followers, likes, views or comments at some point in their careers.

There are many companies in place, which sell followers and likes on social media. These companies create thousands of fake accounts per year and mostly run on offers, such as, 500 Instagram likes for Rs. 250, and 1,000 Twitter followers for Rs. 1,449.

In January 2019, the Attorney General of the New York state, Letitia James, announced a precedent-setting settlement over the sale of fake followers, likes, views and comments on social media platforms, including Twitter and Youtube.

In October 2019, the Singapore government notified the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, 2019. The Act includes measures to detect, control and safeguard against coordinated immoral behavior and other misuses of online accounts and bots.

There is no such law in India to curb or monitor the use of fake accounts in India. In the absence of a specific law, police can take recourse too Section 468 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The section deals with committing forgery of a document or electronic record for the purposes of cheating.

Supreme Court advocate and cyber law expert, Karnika Seth said, “Since a fake account is an electronic record that can be used to misrepresent, one could book a person under that.”

The most recent case of misuse of fake accounts in India

A first year Delhi University student has been arrested for allegedly creating fake IDs, and stalking and harassing women on social media.

The Delhi Police said that the accused, Mohammad Kafil, used to borrow hotspots from random people on false pretexts and used others’ Wi-Fi to stalk and harass women. He also didn’t use his own internet to create the false IDs.

The police also said that the investigation started when a woman complained about obscene and abusive messages on Facebook from an account in the name of a certain Karan.

The deputy commissioner of police (South), Atul Kumar Thakur said, “An FIR of impersonation, stalking, giving threats and outraging a woman’s modesty was registered. The Cyber Cell of Delhi Police was asked to track the man.”

What can social media platforms do?

Most social media platforms have provisions against impersonation in their Terms of Use. Therefore, are eligible to take action when a profile is not being operated by the person themselves.

The terms of services specified by Twitter declare that Impersonation is a violation. The terms states, “Twitter accounts that pose as another person, brand, or organisation in a confusing or deceptive manner may be permanently suspended under Twitter’s impersonation policy.”

It also clarifies, “users are allowed to create parody, newsfeed, commentary, and fan accounts on Twitter, provided that the accounts follow the requirements”. Which means stating that it is a “parody”, “fake”, or “fan” in the bio of the account.

Instagram’s help centre states, “Only the person who’s being impersonated can file a report,”. On the platform itself, Instagram gives an option to a person being impersonated to report the issue .

A research concluded that fake profiles run by bots accounts for 75% of the media cyber attacks. These crimes involve stealing personal information, like passwords, payment data, spreading social propaganda or disseminate spam.

The NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence conducted a study last year, testing the efficiency of Facebook, Google and Twitter in detecting protocols. The research team purchased 3,500 comments, 25,000 likes, 20,000 video views and 5,100 fake followers. It concluded that 80 percent of their fake engagements were still online after one month. Approximately 95 percent of the remaining profiles were still online after the announcement of results of the research by the NATO team.

Social media websites have denied to publicly announce their policies to curb the issue. According to the platforms, if the fraudsters know too much about their prevention techniques, they will be able to bypass them.

Third-party developers have introduced solutions to curb the spread of illegitimate accounts, with many utilizing artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML). They said that everyday a thousand of fake profiles are created. Also, it is not possible for human analytics to look after every profile closely. AI and ML can develop a pattern for recognising details that all true profile share. This can further filter out profiles those do not fit the criteria and club them for human review.

According to the study their is no way of obvious authentication, which can completely prevent fake profiles.