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Think Before You Like: “Like Farming” and the World of Facebook Spam

Cute, right? But there’s more to it than just your “like.”

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other morning when I spotted a photo of a man stopping traffic on a road to let a duck and her babies cross. The caption read, “Hats off to this man….How many likes for this man?!!!”

Well, awww. How could anyone not like a heartwarming photo of a human helping animals? One of my friends had, and she wasn’t alone — this particular photo already had almost 200,000 likes, as well as over 5,500 comments and 11,500 shares.

In a cold world where it sometimes seems as if most of the news is bad, it’s nice to collectively celebrate a feel-good moment with others.  After all, “liking” something is an easy way to agree, and to show you care.

But unfortunately, your “like” doesn’t always end there.

Many posts like this one fall into a category of Facebook spam that can have repercussions far beyond your quick clicks — and they’re only getting more popular.

Some of them simply seek your approval, while others tug hard at the old heartstrings. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

“My friend Devon doesn’t think he’s beautiful. ‘Like’ to show him he’s beautiful.”

“My Dad said he’d stop smoking if this gets 10,000 shares.”

“Like if you think this guy’s a hero. Ignore if you don’t.”

“Like if you hate cancer!”

“Like if you love your kids!”

“Please help! If this 18-month-old girl gets 10000 shares her heart transplant is free.”

It’s not just liking and sharing, either. Other posts beg you to participate in different ways:

“Name a city without an ‘R’ in it. It’s harder than it looks!”

“Leave a comment and something amazing will happen! You have to see it to believe!”

What’s wrong with posts like these? Well, for starters, too many are blatantly untrue. The heart transplant one has appeared on Facebook in many iterations, and has been disproven by Snopes.com. Moreover, many of the photos used in posts like these are unknowingly stolen from their original sources — in one instance, a woman found that a personal photo of her disabled daughter was being used in a viral Facebook wall post to garner sympathy likes. Disgusting, right?

So why would anyone want to do something like this? What’s the point of making up a story to collect something as frivolous as likes, shares, or comments?

It’s called “like farming,” only the practice is not nearly as bucolic as the name would suggest.

What happens is this:

  1. A person or group of people create a Facebook page or website with an appeal to “like” something, and shares it among their networks.
  2. The people in the creators’ networks like and share the page with their own networks, who in turn like and share it. In this way, the post continues to spread.
  3. Facebook’s automated algorithms notice a lot of activity on the post, so they work even harder to make sure its seen.
  4. The more people see it, the more people like it, and the more people like it, the more people see it. And just like that, the post goes viral, briskly boomeranging in popularity by the sheer force of its own momentum.
  5. The creators sell the Facebook page to a business or advertiser for a hefty sum, and now the new owner can send commercial messages to any user who has “liked” it.
  6. Alternatively, if the post is linked to a website, the creators collect ad revenue based off of all the traffic — the biggest websites can generate millions of unique visits per month.

Like farms are not exactly a brand new concept, but they’ve gained traction since Facebook introduced its Open Graph API, which allows users to like and share across a variety of platforms.

In order to help combat all this spam, Facebook’s algorithms need to evolve. Right now it can’t tell the difference between “good” content and “bad” — so both get promoted equally. This means, for now at least, that spammers have absolute free reign.

What can you do about it in the meantime besides ignore it? Help spread awareness about like farming — tell your network to think before they “like!” After all, the less your friends click on like scams, the fewer like scams you’ll have to see in your feed, and the fewer dollars will go into the pockets of spammers.

Good luck out there!

And if you’re looking to engage your Facebook audience in real, non-spammy ways, we can help!

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