Dispatches to expose 'click farms' that provide fake Facebook followers

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When a few months ago, it was revealed that major record labels had been manipulating their view count on Youtube to artificially hype their latest releases, the biggest surprise of all was the utter lack of surprise.

Many have long suspected that Facebook ‘likes’ and Twitter ‘followers’ have taken a similar trajectory. With brands, bands and businesses judged on the numbers of ‘fans’ they boast, the scramble to inflate numbers by any means possible has seen the rise of small boiler room operations dedicated to selling ‘likes’ to paying customers.

Channel 4’s Dispatches programme is about to screen an investigation into the so-called ‘click farms’. Journalists found businesses who can provide 1000 Facebook likes for prices as low as $15, as underpaid workers spend all day creating fake accounts for the sole purpose of liking pages that they have been paid to like. Bangladesh seems to be a hub for this cottage industry, with people on as little as $120 a year systematically boosting a brand’s apparent social media status.

There are several clues to a rigged system – the most obvious of which is a huge concentration of ‘fans’ based in one city – especially a city in the developing world. But another telling insight is the complete lack of interaction with posts or tweets, which raises it’s own questions about the value of fake likes. Surely the point of having a ‘fan’ page and building up its reach is so information you put out on it reaches your target market and encourages engagement. But when a page has 100,000 ‘fans’ and yet only 3 or 4 likes on an average post – something is clearly not right.

People do check the social media ‘shop fronts’ of businesses and organisations as part of their consumer research before buying a product, and on the face of it - a high follower count does seem to be a thing of value. But even without addressing the wider moral issues and the intrinsic superficiality of surface popularity, just how much good does this actually do a business in the long run? Especially as being rumbled for buying in ‘followers’ is terminally embarrassing and perhaps far worse than settling for an honest relationship with people who actually like what you do.

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