I’m also one of the sceptics on this cryptocurrency release for a number (pun intended) of similar reasons as outlined below.
Like many people I have observed the growth of social media platforms and have noted the close correlation between their claimed monthly active user (MAU) and their received advertising revenues, as you might expect.
The main gripe I have with this, and it would be a much larger gripe - more of a grievance - if I were one of the advertisers using (i.e. funding/subsidising) these platforms. Let me explain – and bear with me on this as I’m something of a numbers geek and am going to show you why.
According to Facebook, for they are the particular social media platform we are discussing here, as of the third quarter of 2018 they had 2.375 billion monthly active users. Facebook sells advertisers on its access to real people — 2.375 billion of them, an ‘audience’ that is greater than the combined populations of Africa, North America and South America and Africa.
Moreover Facebook claims that it acquires 500,000 new users every day!
So from an advertising perspective this sounds like they have accessed the mother lode.
But hold on a minute, before we all get too excited and join the gold rush, these statistics require a closer scrutiny.
Many will have read of the assertions of Mr Zuckerberg’s disenfranchised erstwhile buddy, Aaron Greenspan, who earlier this year alleged that “…* .there was no way to accurately measure Facebook’s true user base…", i.e. that accounts that are matched up to real people, and "….that Facebook’s reported metrics substantially overestimate (by at least 50%) the number of real monthly active users…*”.
As you might expect Facebook did not take this lying down and released a strong denial but failed to expand or comment any further at the time.
Going a little further back in time we know that Facebook itself admitted that it was aware of fake or duplicate accounts existing on its platform and it was taking measures to address the problem, the company went even further by stating that there could be as many as 270 million accounts in these categories.
Later file in 2018, hidden in the very small print down on page 10 of the Facebook Q4 2018 Results report under ‘Limitations of Key Metrics and Other Data’ you will find the admission by Facebook that “…Duplicate and false accounts are very difficult to measure at our scale, and it is possible that the actual number of duplicate and false accounts may vary significantly from our estimates…”
So, given the normal level of spin Facebook and other similar companies use in their PR, what this could/should really be interpreted as is that they have little real measure of their customer base despite all the smoke and mirrors used to convince the public and advertisers otherwise.
Without total clarity and transparency of where and how these figures are sourced, this just adds to my scepticism. It cuts no ice with me to claim that this falls under the protective shroud of commercial secrecy. To my mind this has serious implications for the manipulation and abuse of the platform, as well as the company’s business.
What I find of even greater interest here, warned you I was a number’s freak, is that under Facebook’s own Community Standards Enforcement Report they divulge that they took down 694 million fake accounts in Q4 2017, 583 million in Q1 2018, 800 million fake accounts in Q2 2018, 754 million fake accounts in Q3 2018, 1.2 billion in Q4 2018 and 2.2 billion accounts in Q1 2019. So that’s more than 6.2 billion fake accounts taken down in 18 months ended March 2019, or about 11 million a day!
Did I mention that I love numbers and that closer scrutiny could bring up even more questions than answers?
So given that the world’s population is, according to latest estimates/surveys, around 7.75 billion, with Facebook claiming to have 2.375 billion monthly active users whilst having taken down 6.2 billion fake accounts taken down in 18 months ending March 2019 – do you see where my doubts start to creep in as to the veracity of their MAU claimed figures?
OK enough numbers for now, I’ll end on a slightly lighter note as I always like a good laugh (as well as my numbers of course!).
In 2018 the New York Times found 205 accounts impersonating Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook CEO Sheryl Kara Sandberg on their platform and their partner photo site Instagram. This number did not include MZ or SKS fan pages or satire accounts, which are permitted under the company’s rules.
I rest my case.