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Facebook Removed Nearly 3.4 Billion Fake Accounts In 6 Months

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, pictured earlier this month in France, told reporters on Thursday that the tech giant is making great strides in fighting hate speech and crime online.
Francois Mori
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, pictured earlier this month in France, told reporters on Thursday that the tech giant is making great strides in fighting hate speech and crime online.

Facebook says it removed 3.39 billion fake accounts from October to March. That's twice the number of fraudulent accounts deleted in the previous six-month period.

In the company's latest Community Standards Enforcement Report, released Thursday, Facebook said nearly all of the fake accounts were caught by artificial intelligence and more human monitoring. They also attributed the skyrocketing number to "automated attacks by bad actors who attempt to create large volumes of accounts at one time."

The fake accounts are roughly a billion more than the 2.4 billion actual people on Facebook worldwide, according to the company'sown count.

"Most of these accounts were blocked within minutes of their creation before they could do any harm," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg toldreporters in a call on Thursday.

While acknowledging that Facebook "knows that there's a lot of work ahead," Zuckerberg also touted the company's progress in curbing hate speech and graphic violence across the platform.

"We are increasingly catching it before people report it to us," he said, adding that 65% of the hate speech on the site was removed before any users alerted the company. That is an increase from about 24% a year ago, Zuckerberg said.

During the same period, Facebook identified about 83% of posts and comments trying to sell drugs, before the company was informed about them, he added.

Facebook is facing a number of controversies on its platform including election interference, misinformation and privacy concerns. And a growing number of critics, including politicians and one of its co-founders, are calling for the company to be broken up. They argue Facebook, which has acquired Instagram and WhatsApp in recent years, wields far too much power and has a monopoly in the industry. (Facebook is among NPR's financial supporters.)

Chris Hughes, who co-founded the company in 2004, toldNPR earlier this month that Zuckerberg "is unaccountable."

"He's unaccountable to his shareholders. He's unaccountable to his users, and he's unaccountable to government. And I think that that's fundamentally un-American. And I think government should step up, break up the company and regulate it," he said.

He added that the company "totally dominates the social networking space."

"Of every dollar that's spent on ads and social networking, 84% goes to Facebook," Hughes said. "If you look at the time spent on the site, you know, the average user [is] spending an hour on Facebook and another 53 minutes on Instagram, not to mention what they're spending on WhatsApp."

Dipayan Ghosh, co-director of the Platform Accountability Project at Harvard University's Kennedy School, previously served as Facebook's privacy and policy adviser. "Without some sort of public transparency into steps the company takes to take down nefarious accounts, we should not conclude it's doing enough," he told NPR.

But on Thursday, Zuckerberg argued the new report is evidence of the company's efforts to be more transparent. He also asserted that breaking up Facebook would only make it harder to quash fake news and phony accounts across the site.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
Amy Held is an editor on the newscast unit. She regularly reports breaking news on air and online.