Business · Economics

How Facebook Fakes its Active Users: The Fake Deactivation Request

Among the big tech companies, Facebook is arguably the shadiest one. Nary a month goes by that does not see them getting embroiled in yet another scandal. As suspected by some analysts, Facebook meddles with the numbers of active users. Some reports even suspect that as many as 50% of all accounts are fake or bots.

I have essentially quit Facebook about one year ago. The last time I logged in was last August because some people wrote on my wall, wishing me a happy birthday. I removed my birthday from my profile and wrote on my wall that this account is inactive. Now, one important metric for Internet companies is the number of monthly active users (MAUs). There are other metrics, such as time between logins or daily active use. Some analysts consider inactive accounts dead if they have not logged in within a certain interval.

How do you get a user to log in who is no longer using your site? It seems Facebook sends out fake deactivation requests. Note that the following is conjecture, based on the evidence I have. I may be wrong in my conclusions, but I would be very surprised if I was far off the mark. So, the other day I got an email from Facebook that stated the following: They have received a deactivation request for my account. If I do wish my account to be deactivated, I do not have to do anything. However, if this was a mistake, then I only have to log in to prevent deactivation.

This fake deactivation request surely is only a regrettable “system error” and in no way due to Facebook employees scheming to inflate their active user numbers.

This made me wonder. First, how do you deactivate your Facebook account? That’s right, you have to be logged in. Then you work your way through some menus until you find that particular option. There is no way to issue a deactivation request for an account you do not have the login information of. This is where things get interesting because if there had been a login by someone who is not me, I would have gotten to know about it. The alternative is that Facebook’s two-factor authentication has been hacked, and if that had been the case, we would have heard about it.

Thus, here is what I think is going on: Facebook has an automated process that retrieves inactive accounts. It may be six months. Then they send out this fake deactivation confirmation request which, strangely enough, only wants you to log in. This is in complete contradiction to all other kinds of requests, for instance a password change, which you have to confirm by performing a particular action, such as clicking on a link. Even more interestingly, if you log into Facebook afterward, you do not get any kind of confirmation that the mysterious deactivation of your account has been cancelled. The end result is that Facebook can now report your account as active, which is surely helpful for their quarterly reports. As you may have learned Facebook has been stagnating if not declining in the developed world, so fudging their user number is firmly in their interest.


Did you enjoy this article? Excellent! If you want to read more by Aaron, check out his excellent books, the latest of which is Meditation Without Bullshit.
Aaron is available for one-on-one consultation sessions if you want honest advice.
Lastly, donations for the upkeep of this site are highly welcome.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.