We are rushing into a world of social awareness, social politics, and social media entering almost any facet of our lives. But there is no gatekeeper yet. The lack of gatekeepers is enabling fake social media accounts to be set up, maintained and used in ways from just annoying, to truly dangerous.
President Obama recently held the first ever Twitter town hall for a President of the U.S. While he was busy answering questions there were teams of people assessing questions and assisting in the background. The assumption in this situation was that the twitter accounts that were being used to ask questions were actually from real people.
This assumption about reality is probably false, at least a bit. There are already concerns surrounding this twitter town hall, with the possibility of fake accounts being used to pose questions. This follows news of the Fox News Twitter account being "hacked" to send out tweets about the assassination of President Obama. While this is a horrifying example, Fox did correct itself and issued an apology to the White House. However, most of the faked social media accounts are maintained by people or smaller groups without the resources or ethical obligation to either correct false information; or potentially even with the desire to create harm.
As early as 2008, people started focusing on the issues around fake social media accounts, with the initial emphasis being on identity theft and how to protect one's own name. Now the issues are being elevated to politics, security, and even warfare.
The Obama administration is exploring lots of different uses of social media. So are other government agencies. It turns out there are even government contractors who have not only developed software platforms to create and maintain fake social media accounts; but are now attempting to sell such platforms to the government and corporations. The "HBGary" story is just one example of this recent trend. It turns out there are lots of companies making tools like this. But not many are making solutions yet.
There are many stories appearing in multiple media outlets about the emerging problem with faked social media accounts. Even the Pope has weighed in about the problem of faked social media accounts giving the whole issue a level of realness not seen for other technology issues. When the Pope weighs in on something like this it should make people think about it. The U.S. Military has publicly acknowledged that it too has been involved in this, recently hiring a company to do just that.
How to solve this? This is a good question. It is my opinion that we won't see "solutions" to this problem until a faked social media account is used to enact murder, kidnapping or some other nefarious act and the media hops on this as "what can people do about this?" Already smart law firms are creating practices around "fixing the problem of fake social media accounts." If one Google or Bing searches the term "fake social media accounts" there are thousands of stories about the negative side of this, very few mentions if any of ways to combat this emerging problem.