Hiding in Plain Sight: A Turing Test on Fake Persona Spotting

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Psychology


My PhD research focus is on fake identities in the online space, specifically social media, and how these fake identities present in the form of fake social media profiles. The main overall aim of the research is to investigate whether humans can accurately detect fake social media profiles and the processes they use to detect said profiles. The bulk of the current literature on fake social media profiles and how they can be detected is derived from computer science researchers, who have developed a series of algorithms or data bots (Efthimion et al., 2018; Van der Walt & Eloff, 2018) to detect and remove said profiles from social media platforms. However, there is a lack of research in this area from a psychological perspective, specifically in relation to what is actually analysed on the profile to conclude that it is fake (i.e. the profile characteristics, and who the people are behind the creation of such profiles). To investigate these issues, we seek to extend traditional research on social perception and 'realistic accuracy judgements' (Funder, 1999) to the domain of real and fake persona by applying a 'Turing test' style methodology.
A total of three studies have been completed so far, all of which involved the same methodology: participants were required to view a series of fake and real Facebook profiles (screenshot images of the profile) and asked to judge the authenticity of the profile. The fake profiles were created specifically for this research using google images and photoshop. The information regarding the characteristics of the profiles that were manipulated were gathered from statistical reports regarding Facebook use, and the limited literature available on the topic. The real profiles were obtained from people known to the researcher to allow for them to be officially authenticated as real.
Once participants had made their authenticity judgement of the profiles, they were asked to click on the areas of the profile they used when making their judgement. The purpose for this being that it would allow us to see which characteristics of the profile are used the most and thus may provide us answers as to which characteristics to look out for when judging a profile ourselves.
Results from these three studies indicate that humans overall are not very accurate at judging the authenticity of social media profiles, a result that was predicted due to the larger amount of literature on human deception detection accuracy being around the level of chance (DePaulo, 2004). Additionally, consistently across each study, participants clicked the most on the photos on the profile, which came under the umbrella characteristic of Photo-Type, more than any other characteristic, suggesting an overreliance on the visual imagery presented on the profile and less so on the language used and items posted on the 'wall'.
The fourth study that is currently ongoing is using the same methodology as the previous three, with the introduction of a different culture. The study will be comparing profiles from Western culture to Eastern cultures, specifically India. India is the country with the highest Facebook use around the world, with over 40 million users, and so is an area of great interest to this research. The main aim of this study is to analyse whether humans from one culture are more accurate at detecting fake profiles from another culture or from their own culture. Further, the aim is to also understand what constitutes a fake social media profile in another culture, i.e., what areas of the profile are they looking at/using when making their authenticity judgement. Do these areas differ from the results found previously from Western participants? To test this, the same methodology will be used alongside a series of new Indian fake profiles that have been created and real Indian profiles that are being sourced from International students at Lancaster University.


10 25 50

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/R513076/1 30/09/2018 29/09/2023
2590138 Studentship EP/R513076/1 30/09/2019 30/03/2023 Grace McKenzie