Like Farming, Spam, and Scams are Still Alive on Facebook
It’s been more than two years since I first wrote about like farming on Facebook.
Now that we’re living in the future, I’d have hoped I wouldn’t need to write about like farming and other types of spam anymore. I’d have hoped that Facebook, with its mighty powers of algorithmic evolution, would have figured out a way to magically zap every malicious post before it could even be published.
But the people behind such malicious posts are wily, and as Facebook’s algorithms and reporting features have evolved, so have they.
I want to bring you up to speed on what types of posts to keep an eye out for now, and what you can do to help keep them out of your news feeds.
But first, let’s take a step backwards to revisit what like farming is all about.
The, er, “fine” art of like farming
What happens in like farming is that a person or group of people create a Page and start publishing content that encourages people to like or share. After the Page has grown to be sufficiently popular enough, the owners usually sell it for a profit to someone else who strips the page of its old content and uses the platform to push out spam messages to its base of “likers.” It’s the old bait-and-switch, adapted to the modern social network.
Here’s an example of a real like farming Page in progress.
The Page owner started off by leaving tons of comments on other viral posts, begging readers for likes. “She” had a heartwarming human-interest story behind the request: she’d promised her dear grandma she’d reach the 50,000 mark.
Wow, I had no idea Facebook popularity meant so much to grandmothers!
Clicking into the Page itself, more alarm bells began ringing. Firstly, the name is a ripoff of a real Facebook Page named OMG Facts. Secondly, the profile picture is of a teen girl, but the content is far from what a typical teen would share. Every post was obvious clickbait that linked back to the same obviously spammy website — the url is quite literally a string of gibberish.
When I first found OMG Facts and Texts it had over 5,000 likes, but at the time of publishing it’s back down to 20 — probably due to (rightfully) being reported as spam. But while this Page is having a hard time converting into a successful like farm, there are plenty of other pages that are successful — and they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
Like farming is part of Facebook spam, and it’s a jungle out there
Like farming falls under the large umbrella of Facebook spam. At the annoying end of the spam scale, Pages can be used to drive traffic back to a website that then collects ad revenue on all the clicks. At the dangerous end, they can be used to launch phishing scams that attempt to solicit personal information such as contact details, credit cards, and passwords; or to infect your computer with malware.
Here are the most popular types of spam content I’ve seen on Facebook lately:
The way this works is a Page with an official-sounding company, product, or celebrity name posts an incredible opportunity to win a dream vacation or expensive tech gadget, simply by liking, sharing, and sometimes commenting. If you scroll down the Page, though, you’ll usually see that the same promotion has been posted over and over, and strangely, winners are rarely announced. Of course, there are never any real winners — it’s all a ploy to collect “likes.”
Polls on hot-button topic
These posts try to get you to cast a “vote” on an issue by either liking, sharing, or commenting to indicate how you feel. The folks behind these polls don’t really care where you stand on the matter — they’re just trying to amplify their popularity on Facebook by any means necessary.
An amusing variation on this theme is to present a series of hypothetically alluring images and one bad one, and suggest that by “ignoring” the post you’re voting for the bad one.
Yep, that’s one vote for “evil clown” from me!
Fake news stories
These can range from ridiculous National Enquirer-style hoaxes about aliens to stories that almost appear to be the truth, like one that made the rounds earlier this year claiming that Facebook was set to ban “religious” posts (they weren’t). I feel like a broken record, but again, the people coming up with this fake news is only doing it for one reason: to get it to spread far and wide through likes and shares.
“Share to donate”
These have been going on for so long that I’m surprised there’s anybody left to trick. Why would Facebook or CNN or any other company ever pledge to donate money for a poor girl’s heart transplant every time you like or share? It would be pretty rude for a rich brand to effectively say, look, kid, we could afford to just pay for your whole operation up front, but instead we’re going to hinge our donation on your popularity on social media. Good luck!
Stop. Everyone just stop sharing these.
“Share to catch this guy”
While the “share to donate” camps operates by tugging on the ol’ heartstrings, the “share to catch this guy” camp operates by tapping into your fear and outrage. These posts are usually a photo of a presumed criminal with a description of the terrible things he did, along with a call to action to help identify him by passing the post on.
But while it’s true that police departments routinely release descriptions of suspects, and that they’ve increasingly turned to social media to help raise awareness, they’re not doing it like this.
The fakes are recognizable by a breathless tone, use of all caps, and lack of an official source, yet these posts still manage to get circulated widely by the unsuspecting. People today are still passing around the below post from 2013 — it’s at over two million shares now!
Make their faces go viral? More like “make my spammy Page go viral.” Nope, sorry. Not falling for it.
You won’t believe what happened next! Except we can, because it ends with your name on a million marketing lists and/or your computer infected with malware.
The video scam is always a multistep process: first you’re asked to share it with your friends (thus ensuring the video’s spread), then you’re taken to a page where you must “verify you’re a human” by taking a survey. After the survey is over, you’re taken to a page that tempts you with prizes in exchange for your contact information. Alternatively, you get a popup urging you to update your video player, but surprise! That update is actually a virus that compromises your operating system. All that and you never even get to see what happens in the video.
These aren’t standalone posts, but are typically hidden inside a giveaway post or, as outlined above, a shocking video post. The method of delivery may vary, but the end goal is to always get your name into the hands of nefarious marketers. Every time a scammer is successful in collecting information, he or she gets a commission. In other words, scammers are motivated to keep on tricking you by any means necessary, so you can’t expect this scheme to die anytime soon.
So how can you fight back?
There are a number of things you can do to identify like farming, spam, and scams in your feed.
Double check the name. Scammers get away with creating Pages that look official because there’s only a tiny difference between the fake company or celebrity name and the real one. Telltale signs are dashes where there should be spaces or unnecessary punctuation. But other changes are more subtle, like adding or subtracting an “s” (think “American Airline” v. “American Airlines”). Unless you’re careful, these can be difficult to catch.
Double check the source. Any article being shared from a sketchy-looking website is just that: sketchy. Make sure to look at the website url listed at the bottom of the post before clicking to read!
Look for the verified badge. Real company or celebrity Pages will have a blue tick next to the name — you can trust any contests or giveaways run on these Pages.
Review the content. If the post is riddled with misspellings, full of urgency and excessive exclamation points, or seems like it’s been translated to English from another language, that’s a clear sign that you’re not dealing with trustworthy material.
Reporting is your most valuable weapon
The most important thing you can do once you’ve identified spammy content is to report it.
Reporting a Page or post doesn’t mean it automatically gets deleted — imagine the potential abuses of power if that were true. But reporting will certainly help reduce a post’s distribution, and at the very least will guarantee you never have to see it again (well, until the next one comes along, anyway). So report away!
How to report a Facebook post
- Click the arrow at the top right of the post.
- The message you see will vary depending on whether you’re following the person or group that shared the post, and depending on the content of the post. From the options in the drop-down, you’ll be able to choose either “Report photo/post” or “I don’t like this post.”
- Among the questions that follow, you’ll be able to choose to report the post as spam.
- Lastly, Facebook will provide you with an option to message, block, unfollow, or hide the user who shared the post.
How to report a Facebook Page
- Click the ellipsis (three dots) icon in the Page header.
- In the dropdown, select “Report Page.”
- Among the questions that follow, you’ll be able to choose to report it as a “spammy Page.”
- Facebook will provide you with an option to hide all posts from the Page.
Facebook spam forever?
Until, perhaps, we invent technology that can read the intentions of a person creating a Page, we’ll always have to deal with like farming and other types of spam. Hopefully Facebook will keep refining their reporting tools, but until then, our best tool to reduce the flow of spam through our feeds is simply ourselves.
You don’t have to do it all by yourself, though. If you’re looking to ramp up engagement in your Facebook audience — in a non-spammy way, of course — we can help.
Image credit: illustration by Eduardo Salles / cinismoilustrado.com