Legitimate companies are being flooded with fake Likes on Facebook — and they’re being generated in part by abuse of Facebook’s own advertising tools.
It’s complicated, but here is how it works: Facebook lets people promote their pages with advertising tools called “Suggested Posts” or “Suggested Pages.” For small sums of money, companies with a few hundred fans can dramatically increase the reach of their Facebook material so it gets seen by thousands of new users. Prices for these campaigns can cost as little as $50.
The problem is that — according to four Page owners who have complained publicly about it — the incoming extra likes generated by the campaign are mostly fake. A company can accumulate thousands of new fans only to see engagement on their page drop because the new fans are fake, abusive accounts run from click farms in Egypt or India.
From there, the problem gets worse: Facebook does not have a tool that lets people delete fake followers in bulk. You have to do it individually. And for companies with thousands of fake fans, this is logistically difficult. The result is that after advertising on Facebook, companies are left with pages overwhelmed by useless followers — and all their metrics become distorted.
Legitimate ads created fake likes
The twist here is that these advertisers have not paid for fake likes. They paid Facebook for legit ads.
And the fake likes themselves don’t benefit anybody. Rather, they have been created en masse by click farms attempting to make their abusive accounts look real by clicking on legit ads. When a company advertises, asking for likes, the spammers respond and click on them to help their own appearance of legitimacy.
For these marketers advertising on Facebook is worse than useless — it renders their pages pointless.
Facebook has struggled for years to rid itself of click farms and fake like creators. These are companies, often based in the developing world, who sell unwitting marketers thousands of new likes for tiny sums of money. They generate likes by paying workers $1 for every thousand likes they create.
Facebook has an ongoing campaign to root out abusive accounts. In its annual report, the company said between approximately 0.4% and 1.2% of all active users are abusive accounts that create fake likes.
Facebook told Business Insider:
We’re always focused on maintaining the integrity of our site, but we’ve placed an increased focus on abuse from fake accounts recently. We’ve made a lot of progress by building a combination of automated and manual systems to block accounts used for fraudulent purposes and Like button clicks. We also take action against sellers of fake clicks and help shut them down.
“For $50, we ended purchasing 900 empty likes that we still can’t get rid of to this day.”
Here are some examples of companies that have fallen victim to the fake like plague.
PubChase is a site where scientists can write essays and share ideas. The folks who run it wanted to reach more scientists who might be interested:
We had about 100 “likes” from our science friends and decided to pay for promotion to accumulate more. This exercise (and the resulting “likes”) is still the most puzzling event in the two-year existence of our startup. For $50, we ended purchasing 900 empty likes that we still can’t get rid of to this day.
… We stopped our campaign right away, but it was too late. Facebook has no interface to remove these fake likes. You have to manually delete each follower and can only do so for a few dozen most recent ones. There is no way to clear the likes beyond the most recent. So, we got stuck with our following, and that means that it is senseless for us to promote any content on Facebook at this point.
Naturally, this experience would be disastrous for Facebook if it becomes widespread. Facebook has 1 million companies as clients who use both its free tools and its paid campaigns. The vast majority of them are relatively unsophisticated small and medium sized businesses who do not have time to patrol fake likes.
“The outward appearance to my real fans will be that I bought a s–tload of fake likes.”
The Next Web recounted the experience of “Bob”:
“[At first it was] 500 or 1,000 likes per day, then eventually up to 15,000 likes per day,” Bob said. “The growth was awesome at first and it seemed like we were connecting with a whole new audience.”
… “The outward appearance to my real fans will be that I bought a s–tload of fake likes, which isn’t the case and will be severely damaging to the social media aspect of my business,” he said. “And those people who actually paid for the reach, without knowing, actually did buy fake likes!
All the fake likes came from users in developing countries that had no genuine reason for going near his page.
Bioscience consulting group Comprendia is now advising drug companies to NOT advertise on Facebook for this reason, as up to 40% of new likes can be fake:
Our analysis shows that it may be a issue for company pages which have grown quickly through advertising, with as much as 40% of the ‘likes’ being suspected fakes in our estimation. Here we give best practices for avoiding this problem.
“Consider suspending all Facebook page advertising.”
Here are Comprendia’s specific recommendations for shutting down Facebook ads:
Remove targeting of the ‘problem’ countries in your ads, instead creating a demographic that more closely matches that of your customers. Here is a list of countries you shouldn’t target with ads:
… Consider suspending all Facebook page advertising until the company puts a stop to this fraud. Our eyes have been opened in doing this analysis, we are going to proceed much more cautiously with Facebook advertising now.
In an experiment that rubs salt into the wound, science video blogger Derek Muller created a deliberately awful Facebook page and paid for a $50 campaign to promote it.
Muller became interested in the topic after spending a $50 credit to promote his page, Veritasium, and found he got 70,000 likes from accounts that appear to be fake. “Most of the likes on my Facebook page are not genuine,” he says.