Marketers are using fake social media personas — enhanced by AI-generated portraits — to expand their reach without busting their budgets.

What’s new: Renee DiResta and Josh Goldstein at Stanford Internet Observatory combed LinkedIn and discovered over 1,000 fake profiles with false faces they believe to have been produced using generative adversarial networks, the radio network NPR reported.

How it works: Companies hire independent marketers to expand their markets by messaging potential customers on social media. These marketers use fake profiles to send sales pitches. Responses are routed to a salesperson at the original company.

  • LIA (for LinkedIn Lead Generation Assistant) sells access to online avatars that “love nothing more than prowling LinkedIn profiles to find high-quality, engaged leads” for $300 a month.
  • Renova Digital enables its customers to control two automated avatars for $1,300 a month. It doesn’t use deepfakes as profile pictures.
  • Alerted by DiResta and Goldstein, LinkedIn deleted profiles that violated its community standards. It removed 15 million fake profiles during the first six months of 2021, nearly all of which were blocked automatically at registration or following suspicious behavior.

Spot the fake: DiResta and Goldstein shared tips for recognizing forged LinkedIn profiles.

  • Portraits produced by generative adversarial networks show telltale signs like eyes that align horizontally with the image’s center, ears adorned with asymmetrical jewelry, and wayward strands of hair.
  • Fake profiles often list employers — commonly major companies like Amazon and Salesforce — but little detail about the roles.
  • Fake educational histories may contain inaccuracies. For instance, several profiles discovered by the researchers mentioned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from a school that didn’t offer such a degree.

Why it matters: In the era of social media, companies have access to far more potential customers than their sales teams could possibly reach. This gives them ample incentive to look to AI for assistance. However, the risk of blowback for deceiving the public may outweigh the prospective gains.

We’re thinking: Need we say it? Deceptive sales tactics are unacceptable no matter how cool your technology may be.


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