Who are behind the fake accounts inciting anti-vaccine attitudes?

12.01.2021

Last week, Propastop wrote about how dozens of accounts whose owners’ identities are unclear are involved in the Facebook discussions of Estonian media publications. Such false or fake accounts allow one person or an interest group to express views that disguise the discussion in a way that is favourable them. Fake accounts are against Facebook rules.

In this story, we divide the accounts into three different types and provide instructions for identifying them ourselves. We focus primarily on fake accounts that share anti-vaccine views, although such accounts are involved in all types of important discussions.

1.Fake accounts that give the impression of being a real person
In most cases, the usernames of these accounts consist of first and last names, which are indistinguishable from honest personal accounts. In some cases, however, a humorous element can be found in the name, which, however, does not go beyond the scope of a possible personal name.

For example, here are some fake account names that are providing anti-vaccine views:

Sandra Saar (Sandra Island)
Daniel Hawks
Bob Lancaster
Teele Toots  (a character in a famous Estonian novel)
Mati Kavaler (Mati Cavalier)
Kostja Tamme (Suitor Oak)

More examples of the same type of fake accounts:
Aivar Tamm (Aivar Oak)
Peeter Kask (Peeter Elm)
John Smith
Joe Dren
Alex Valge (Alex White)

How to expose such an account as being fake?
One definite feature is if the account name is different from the account address. For example, Daniel Hawks’ account address is facebook.com/mait.peetsalu.6, which contains the personal name Mait Peetsalu. In the case of Joe Dren the name is Joss Hirmus, while for Mati Kavaler the name is kauono.kaldur, Sandra Saare is Johanna Paju. An account address other than a username, whether personal or not, is a sure sign that a person wants to hide their identity and is therefore a fake account.

Tips from other FB users are also helpful. For example, Propastop has received reports from several sources about the person behind Teele Toots’ fake account.

Sometimes a fake account is newly created; it has no history, no friends, and no photos referring to the person. All of these point to it being fake, although of course there is no definite evidence.

In any case, such fake accounts are the most dangerous type, as they are difficult to distinguish from real people accounts. There are likely to be many more fake accounts that are very similar to real accounts in the discussions and that are almost impossible to identify.

2.Fake accounts with a recognizable pseudonym
Here are examples of this type of account with Anti-vaccine views

Onu Villi (uncle Villi)
Rooli Latt (steering wheel)
Õnne Jupp/Valelik Vabariik (Lucky Piece/Wrongful Republic)

More examples of such active accounts:

Lehm Madu Uss (cow viper snake)
Mura Vei (ants)
Knessu Ülem (Knessu boss)
Somebody New
Tubaka Toivo (Tobacco Toivo)
Vihvi Miki (Wi-Fi Miki)
Kala Mees (Fisherman)
Aare Tbz
Sand Ra
Harri Ha
Minni Mann

Fortunately, in this type of account, it is obvious that it is a fake account – the name betrays it right away. Viewing the web address of the account also helps to reveal, for example, in the case of Mura Vei, the name Andrus Tamm appears there, and in the case of Lehm Madu Uss, Tambet Sander. Real people or not, it still indicates it being fake.

However, for this type, it is difficult to distinguish between two options. Sometimes it is a real person’s real account with just a confusing name. Sometimes, however, it is a fake account or even a fake network is created for covert purposes, where the fake accounts of the same person discuss with each other. Here, too, features such as a brief account history and limited submission of personal information, and sometimes only posting on a specific topic, help to differentiate it.

Fake accounts that give the impression of being an institution
For example, accounts that disseminate anti – vaccine views, such as

Kristiine Statoil (Kristiine area of Tallinn’s Statoil gas station)
Päästekomando Kommodore (Rescue command Commodore)
Selveri Taarapunkt (Selver food store’s bottle return)
Elu Ülikool (Life university)

Although, on closer inspection, the accounts that have an absurd name and are similar to other types of fake accounts, may not be so obvious in the discussion. Most members of the FB community are likely to see them as actually existing organizations.

A closer examination of the account helps to clarify whether, for example, Selver Taarapunkt is actually involved as an institutional user. Both Taarapunkt and the other two accounts in question have been set up on the same day, 28 December 2020. It can be assumed that the same person created them all.

What can you do about fake accounts?
If you suspect that it is a fake account, you can write to it and ask them to identify themselves. You can share the result with all FB users, both if there is a real person behind the account or if it turns out that, there is a hidden user.

You can report a fake account to Facebook or, for example, to a press publication on whose page the discussion takes place, by asking them to block the fake account from the discussion. Whether this happens is, of course, a matter of course. Why not let Propastop know about a fake account, for example by emailing propastop@gmail.com.

Above all, one must be aware of the subject and understand that opinions and attitudes may not be supplied by real people, but by interest groups or activists promoting a specific agenda. If you base your views on the impression you get from FB’s comments, they are probably wrong. For example, based on the commentary that there are many anti-vaccine people in Estonia, the conclusion is wrong.

According to Propastop, it should become the norm in the discussions of the Estonian FB in that the participants in the discussions are clearly identifiable and there is no covert influence.