It appears Facebook is presently testing a new Messenger feature that will automatically identify suspicious accounts who send unsolicited direct messages.
The feature will also let users know the fake account's country by virtue of their phone number, and whether it was created recently.
Motherboard was the first to report the feature, with multimedia artist Erin Gallagher providing a screenshot of the feature in question. Facebook has since confirmed to Motherboard that it is, indeed, testing such a feature, but a spokesperson clarified that it was a "small test" for now.
Here's How Facebook Is Trying To Deal With Fake Accounts
"We are testing a way to provide people with more context on folks they may not have connected with previously," according to Dayla Browne, who is part of the team working on Facebook's Messenger app.
In the screenshot, a banner at the top of a conversation thread shows the account's name and profile picture, and below it is a disclaimer saying, "using Messenger without Facebook." Multiple lines of text below also provide more information about the account's whereabouts. In the example, it's revealed that the account "logged in using a phone number from Russia," and that it was "recently created." If the account shares the same name with an existing friend, the feature also indicates that the two are different people. This last point would definitely be helpful in case an account tries to impersonate other users.
When Will This Feature Be Released?
It's not clear whether Facebook plans to roll out the feature more broadly, but doing so would make sense as the company has been embroiled in some of the messiest misinformation and data privacy scandals of late, particularly one incident wherein a Russian troll farm deliberately spread fake news during the election, or when another Russian troll factory enticed U.S. citizens to launch anti-immigrant protests.
Facebook's new feature may help users identify whether the account they're talking to is legitimate or not. By doing so, there's less chance of someone running into a fake account and never knowing that it is, in fact, fraudulent.
That being said, Facebook's protections don't seem to be entirely foolproof. A person wanting to create a fake account could very well bypass such identifiers by registering a phone number in a different country and using an older account to dupe other people. Again, though, it's a small test at the time being, and Facebook might develop more secure ways to expose scammers going forward.