USA Today instantly loses nearly 5 million likes after Facebook shuts down massive network of fake users

A recent sting operation by Facebook has uncovered a massive scheme involving fake accounts that were planting “likes” on certain pages in order for them to fraudulently gain more followers. Caught in the fray was none other than USA Today, which apparently had nearly five million fake page followers that almost instantly disappeared after Facebook shut the whole thing down and issue an announcement.

As part of an ongoing plan to eliminate spam from its system, Facebook uncovered the fake user ring after observing that many user accounts were being suspiciously created for the sole purpose of liking certain pages, only to go dark not long after. In a statement, Facebook explained how it identified what was going on, and the action it took in response.

“The apparent intent of the campaign was to deceptively gain new friend connections by liking and interacting primarily with popular publisher Pages on our platform, after which point they would send spam,” Facebook said in a statement. “We observed that the bulk of these accounts became dormant after liking a number of Pages, suggesting they had not been mobilized yet to actually make connections and send spam to those people.”

As Facebook started deleting these fake accounts en masse, it noticed that many popular news sites such as Fox News and The New York Times were losing, on average, less than three percent of their followers, suggesting that the majority of these pages’ likes were legitimate. But for USA Today, that number was higher –a lot higher.

According to data released by CrowdTangle, USA Today’s Facebook page had about 15.2 million likes just prior to the takedown of all the fake accounts. Almost immediately after, that number dropped to 10.2 million, a decrease of 32.38 percent. No other Facebook page lost as many followers during this time as USA Today, which appears to suggest that the news site may have been involved in padding its own follower numbers.

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