Facebook is overrun with fake accounts impersonating tech execs like Tim Cook, Elon Musk, and Sundar Pichai

mark zuckerberg protest fake accounts face100 cardboard cutouts of the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and CEO stand outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Tuesday, April 10, 2018.Kevin Wolf/AP images for AVAAZ

  • Facebook is overrun with fake accounts pretending to be famous technology industry executives.
  • The fraudulent accounts are purporting to be everyone from Tesla CEO Elon Musk to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
  • The existence of the accounts raise questions about Facebook's ability to police its app for malicious behaviour.
  • Last year, Facebook was criticised over fake accounts of CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Those have been banned - but these still remain.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Facebook has a fake account problem - and the Silicon Valley elite aren't going to like it.

The California tech giant's social network is overrun by fraudulent accounts impersonating high-profile technology industry executives like Apple CEO Tim Cook, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Business Insider has found.

There are dozens of personal profiles on the platform purporting to be tech luminaries ranging from YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki to Evan Spiegel, head of Snapchat's parent company Snap - often misleading ordinary, actual Facebook users who have crowded onto their profiles to ask questions, complain, and otherwise try to interact with them.

The existence of these accounts - some of them years old - raise new questions about the diligence with which the $531 billion company patrols its social network for fake accounts, especially given the blatant nature of their attempted deception. Facebook itself has previously estimated that it has as many as 116 million fake accounts on its platform.

jack dorsey sundar pichai facebook fake accountsBI

Back in 2018, The New York Times reported that Facebook was teeming with fake accounts pretending to be CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg. The company has since removed with these accounts - but these new impostors show the company has not managed to effectively police itself for fraudulent activity relating to non-Facebook technology executives.

In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said: "We use sophisticated technology and reporting tools to detect accounts set up to impersonate other people. That's a clear violation of our policies and our teams are continually improving our technology and processes to keep imposter accounts like these off Facebook."

The accounts make no attempt to hide

The fake accounts are easy to find: Just search for them.

By using Facebook's search tool, Business Insider was easily able to surface numerous accounts pretending to be Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, and Snap CEO Evan Spiegel.

Even Peter Thiel, a Facebook board member, had at least one seemingly fake account.

elon musk fake accountBI

Some of these accounts seem relatively inactive, while others post regularly about their target. Some were created as early as 2013, and have managed to evade Facebook's fake account detection systems for more than half a decade.

Facebook users have flocked to some of the profiles to try and talk to the apparent owner. A Tim Cook profile has numerous complaints about Apple's customer service, for example; one for Susan Wojcicki has been targeted with anti-Semitic abuse.

The existence of these accounts aren't just embarrassing for Facebook - they could put unwitting Facebook users at risk. When The New York Times discovered the fake Sandberg and Zuckerberg accounts, it also reported that some were being used to scam Facebook users out of cash via a hoax called the "Facebook lottery."

Business Insider hasn't seen any evidence that the fake tech executive accounts are being used for criminal or otherwise fraudulent ends, but it's not implausible: Scammers frequently purport to be representatives of companies like Apple and Google in attempts to steal from people.

fake facebook accounts evan spiegel tim cookBI

Impersonation isn't allowed

Facebook has a real-name policy that requires all users to "use the name they go by in everyday life," unlike other social networks like Twitter and (Facebook-owned) Instagram that allow for pseudonyms or parody accounts, as long as they're clearly labeled as such. It also provides a blue checkmark graphic on the pages of verified, high-profile users - Peter Thiel's official profile, for example, has such a blue checkmark, as you can see in the screenshot below.

Facebook's policy is designed to "keep you and rest of our community safe from impersonation, scams and phishing," it says. Facebook also allows users to create groups and fan pages for public figures - but these accounts are all personal profiles, governed by the real name policy.

Some other top tech leaders have seemingly managed to avoid being targeted by impostors. We found no fake accounts pretending to be Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, or Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, for example.

facebook fake accounts susan wojcicki peter thielBI


Do you work at Facebook? Got a tip? Contact this reporter via encrypted messaging app Signal at +1 (650) 636-6268 using a non-work phone, email at rprice@businessinsider.com, Telegram or WeChat at robaeprice, or Twitter DM at @robaeprice. (PR pitches by email only, please.) You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.


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