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30 June 2023

Independent audits needs to measure true extent of fake accounts on social media

Fake and bot accounts on social media have the potential to cause significant political, economic, and social harms and should be subject to rigorous and independent audits, according to new research.


King’s academic, Dr Martin Moore found considerable uncertainty over the numbers of fake or ‘inauthentic’ accounts across major social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram because responsibility for auditing and quantifying such accounts rests with the sites themselves.

In research published by Internet Policy Review, Dr Moore argued that auditing should instead be carried out by an independent body to improve transparency and help rebuild trust in social media as a medium for reliable information.

Dr Moore said: “There is a need for detailed, consistent and assessable audits of the nature and extent of inauthentic accounts on major social media services. The companies claim, in their securities’ filings, that they already conduct such audits.

“Yet these audits are not sufficiently detailed, are inconsistent and are not properly assessable. Moreover, there are reasons to question the figures reported.

“There is therefore a compelling rationale for these audits to be conducted by an independent external body, and in such a way that they can be scrutinised by those outside the companies themselves.”

During the course of his research, Dr Moore found evidence of millions of fake and bot accounts on social media linked to potentially harmful activities including election interference, monetary scams and state-supported propaganda. There was also evidence, however, of bot accounts that served a beneficial or neutral purpose, such as automated prayer bots or bots used in crisis communication during natural disasters.

While social media firms have published estimates for fake accounts on their services in the past, Dr Moore’s research suggests the stated numbers could significantly underestimate the scale of the issue as the methodology used to make those estimates is unclear and because of difficulties being able to identify which accounts are fake.

Dr Moore drew on corporate reports, statements, filings and public posts from social media companies for his research, supplemented by industry surveys, journalistic investigations and internet archival research. Dr Moore also conducted a series of interviews with representatives from Twitter and Meta (the parent company of Facebook and Instagram).


You can read the research in full here.

In this story

Martin Moore

Senior Lecturer in Political Communication Education & Director of the Centre for the Study of Media, Communication and Power