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It's still hard to tell just how many bad accounts are on Facebook

The world's largest social network continues to report that "undesirable" accounts on its service represent a small percent of its service, but it won't say exactly how many.

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Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook. Probably not counted among the "undesirable accounts."

James Martin/CNET

Just how big is the problem?

For people who've been following Facebook's expanding scandals over Russian election meddling and data privacy, it's been hard to figure out exactly how bad everything is for CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his team. 

Facebook's put out a few data points, like that about a third of US Facebook users were exposed to Russian-backed content and that as many as 87 million user accounts may have been caught up in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

But when it comes to how many bad people are on Facebook's service, that's harder to say.

For the past few years, Facebook has included a section in its financial filings referring to "undesirable" accounts. They include "misclassified" accounts (such as a personal profile for a business, instead of a "page"), and also accounts created to violate the company's terms of service, such as duplicates, fakes and spam accounts, which were the focus of an investigative piece by the Washington Post on Friday.

But of course, Facebook doesn't break out how many of those undesirable accounts are really bad actors versus the misclassified ones out of its 2.2 billion user base. And even then, the undesirable category is really just an estimate. For example, last week, after announcing earnings that beat Wall Street expectations, Facebook put out a filing that said those "undesirable accounts" represented as much as 4 percent of its user base, or about 87 million accounts. That number is up, by the way, from 18 million back in 2016.

Facebook declined to break out the two categories further.

We may never really know how many bad accounts are on Facebook. And as noted, even Facebook says it's an estimate. But the next time you wonder how bad the problem Zuckerberg is up against, at least now you have a little more context.

Cambridge Analytica: Everything you need to know about Facebook's data mining scandal.

iHate: CNET looks at how intolerance is taking over the internet.