Deep Dive: Why Social Media Platforms Must Rethink The Way They Treat Digital Identity To Maintain Users’ Trust

Approximately 4.2 billion individuals use social media sites globally, and 490 million new users signed on to such sites in 2020 alone. Leveraging these platforms for everything from entertainment to shopping has quickly become commonplace for consumers, but as usage has expanded, so has the threat of fraud. Active social media users are at particular risk of identity theft, according to one recent study, which found that these individuals were 30 percent more likely to be affected by it than those on other types of digital platforms, such as retail sites. The cost of identity theft is also on the rise, with the U.S. Federal Reserve indicating that synthetic identity fraud was the “fastest-growing” financial crime the country’s banks and businesses faced in January 2020.

Businesses are ascribing more value to robust identity verification processes, with one recent study finding that most organizations surveyed viewed identity verification as essential to maintaining consumer trust. Consumers appear to be valuing such services more highly as well, expecting platforms not only to safeguard their information but also to assure them that other users are who they claim to be. This makes it crucial for social media platforms to properly verify the identities of the individuals, businesses, brands and content creators using their sites. One recent study claimed that 55 percent of all influencers on photo- and video-sharing app Instagram, some unknowingly, engaged in fraudulent activities in 2020, for example, and the report also estimated that 45 percent of all active accounts on the platform were fake.

Distinguishing between false and legitimate users should be a top priority for such platforms. The following Deep Dive examines the way digital identity is progressing on social media and explores why strong identity verification solutions are proving increasingly vital to maintaining users’ trust on these community-based sites.

Responding To Identity Verification Shifts 

Social platforms have a pivotal stake in gaining user trust: They need it to foster and keep engagement on their sites, and that now means providing strong security. Sixty-four percent of social media users in one recent study asserted that platforms such as Facebook and Twitter should require “real” identification from prospective users — including driver’s licenses, passports or other forms of physical ID. Linking social media accounts with these real IDs, they argue, would allow sites to keep their users accountable for what they post.

Proper verification of social media users must be a twofold process to establish trust, however. It requires platforms to verify not just the identities of individual users consuming news or entertainment but also those of the content creators and brands with which those individuals interact. Both processes must run seamlessly on these platforms to create a secure environment for content sharing and for businesses or content creators to be profitable. Consumers willing to pay for exclusive services such as Instagram’s paid story feature, which is in development, need to know they can trust that the creators are who they say they are to be persuaded to complete their purchases, for example.

Verified content creators, on the other hand, must be sure platforms are not allowing false, imitative accounts run by fraudsters or fraudulent posts to circulate that could damage their professional reputations and harm their followers. Protecting against the growing threat of synthetic identity and related fraud is thus key for social media firms looking to maintain users’ sense of trust in their platforms and the content circulating on them.

Shining A Spotlight On Synthetic Fraud 

Fraud incidents have increased on social media sites as they gain global popularity, with cybercriminals all too willing to take advantage of these digital — and occasionally anonymous — environments to perpetrate increasingly costly schemes. Americans alone lost $382 million to online scams related to the pandemic in the past year, for example. Many fraudsters are also turning to social media to collect the personal data that more consumers are sharing on these sites. Sixty-eight percent of consumers admitted to including their birthdays on public social media accounts, for example, while 63 percent reported they had shared the names of their high schools.

Bad actors can combine this publicly available information with data they have stolen from other sites to create synthetic identities that are harder for social media and third-party businesses to detect — birthdays or similar details are often used as security questions authenticating digital account access, for example. Identity verification tools must therefore not just reassure users for the purpose of gaining their trust but also back up that reassurance with strong defenses against fraud.

The Future Of Identity Verification On Social Media 

Responding to social media users’ changing verification needs is possible only if platforms rethink their understanding of digital identity. Employing static details, such as usernames and passwords, or even detailed information, such as users’ high schools or the names of the first streets they lived on, is no longer sufficient to ensure that account access is legitimate. Social media platforms must incorporate solutions like biometrics that rely on unique identifiers and are thus more resistant to fraudsters.

Developing identity verification solutions that can soothe consumers’ and businesses’ security worries as these platforms become the linchpin of the online experience for both groups is therefore key. Social media is quickly becoming the way that most users interact both for professional and personal reasons, prompting businesses of all scales to utilize these platforms as well. Reassuring social media users — whether consumers, businesses or content creators — of the safety of their platforms requires the implementation of robust identity verification solutions that can respond to increasingly digital daily life.