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Do you really know who your friends are?

Having a healthy friend count on Facebook is always a nice ego boost and can present you with a sense of self-satisfaction. You have hundreds of friends, fantastic. You must be popular!

However, have you ever considered that many of your “friends” could be simply spam?

Well, according to research from the BBC, Facebook is littered with fake profiles that are generated by computer programs. While these accounts are not uniquely created to hinder the experience of individual users, they could be more of a menace to businesses who are looking to expand their brand presence with the use of the web site.

Advertising on Facebook has been championed in several corners because – compared to other advertising platforms – it can be used to directly target a specific demographic that a business wants to take advantage of.

Attributes such as age, location, gender and interests can all be configured to give the advertiser a clear picture of who they’re aiming their campaign at.

But are companies are losing out on their investments? This study shows that an imaginary business gained over 1,600 likes in 24 hours but was stung by potential spam profiles. The accounts were claiming to people that they were clearly not. For instance, there was a user by the name of Ahmed Ronaldo that was supposedly employed by Real Madrid – the account had liked over 3,000 other pages.

Facebook outline in their signing-up policy that users must be a “clear connection to one’s identity” and that profiles cannot be impersonations. However, despite this, there are still believed to be around 54 million fake profiles on Facebook. Some will target individual users and some will target the pages of companies looking to gain likes.

How can users filter through the spam? Well, Graham Cluley from Sophos security firm advocates a rather old fashioned approach.

He says: “These days the only way tell if a Facebook friend request came from someone you actually know is to ring them up and say, ‘Hey, did you send me a Facebook friend request?'”

While that is probably a rather extreme way of preventing spam profiles from adding you, we advise to take accepting friend requests as more than an opportunity to increase your friend count and to be sure that you know the person who is attempting to become a mutual friend with you.

These spam accounts can post links on your profile page and, if clicked, can be extremely harmful. Potentially, they can get hold of personal information and possibly infect your computer with viruses.

Having a hundreds of friends to show off with or thousands of likes on your Facebook page may look gratifying but you have to ask yourself the question; what are you really getting out of it?

Time to give that ego a rest.