How do you get a few hundred people to like your “Why are courgettes* so neglected?” page? Paid advertisements? Viral publicity? Trusting in the innate power of that most underestimated of Summer squashes? With the success of such options being variable at best – leaving much to chance – there are some who would rather try to cheat the system, paying for likes, followers, and other quantifiable indicators of popularity.
The “Why are courgettes so neglected?” Facebook is one of many that has been exposed as paying for likes, using companies that hire ‘click farms’ – low-paid workers tasked with clicking on the appropriate button (‘Like’, ‘Follow’, ‘Retweet’), over and over, via a series of fake accounts – to inflate their popularity. This particular page paid a team in Dhaka, Bangladesh for its measly half-a-thousand likes.
Dispatches, a Channel 4 investigative journalism show in the UK, has exposed just how prevalent this underhanded practice really is. The reveal is sure to hurt the veracity of social media platforms and their accidental involvement in misleading their users.
“There’s a real desire amongst many companies to boost their profile on social media, and find other customers as well as a result,” Graham Cluley, an independent security consultant, told The Guardian.
Using ‘click farms’ is not limited to pages about green vegetables, though – Dispatches found an online casino, which had licensed the Monopoly brand from owner Hasbro, was also guilty of the practice. Hasbro ordered that the page be closed following the deception’s reveal, saying that it was “appalled to hear of what had occurred.”
“Potentially, a number of laws are being breached – the consumer protection and unfair trading regulations. Effectively it’s misleading the individual consumers,” Sam DeSilva, IT and Outsourcing Law lawyer for Manches LLP, added.
An undercover sting also exposed the middlemen who act as agents for ‘click farms’, with Dispatches secretly recording its meeting with Sharaf al-Nomani, owner of Shareyt.com, which offers likes, follows, and other indicators of popularity on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and YouTube, for a fee.
While the site claims that it is “a crowd-sourcing platform to help you improve social media presence and search engine ranking FREE,” al-Nomani, in meeting with undercover Dispatches reporters, revealed that “around 30% or 40% of the clicks will come from Bangladesh” as part of a deliberate, organised strategy.
*That’s a zucchini to anyone from the Americas.