A Facebook friend requested that l like her Facebook fan page, the site where she promotes her books. She said she’d nearly reached 7,000 and hoped a few of us would put her over the top. My eyes popped when I saw the number. I have a fan page on Facebook. My likes stand at 136, which may explain why Facebook keeps urging me to buy one of their promotional packages. I never do as I’m not convinced getting “likes” correlates with selling books. Besides, let’s be honest, who but Justin Bieber has 7,000 fans?
How mere mortals attain those lofty numbers became clear after reading Doug Bock Clark’s article in the New Republic. (“The Bot Bubble: how click farms have inflated social media currency,” by Doug Bock Clark, The New Republic, May 2015, pgs 34-40) What Facebook and other social media sites sell are the identities of people, the names of which are obtained from what’s called a “click farm” company. A click farm acquires its lists from “account farms.“ And where do account farms get their information? Largely, they invent people –- ghost people as I like to think of them.
To be fair, Facebook and other social media try to weed out fake identities but according to Clark’s article, they are hugely unsuccessful. The New York Times speculates that as many as 70% of President’s Obama’s 19 million Twitter followers are fake.” (Ibid, pg. 39) Another researcher from The Max Plank Institutes reports that Facebook had “caught less than 1% of the fake profiles he investigated.” (Ibid, pg. 40.)
Do Facebook and other social media have an incentive to catch these fake identities? Well, yes and no. Yes, they need credibility to sell their promotional packages. if their numbers are disproportionate to customer responses, they lose credibility. On the other hand, because the price of advertising is based on the number of clicks they receive, Facebook and other purveyors of promotional packages have a disincentive to weed their lists too vigorously.
Believe it or not, no laws exist anywhere in the world that makes generating this form of fake identity a crime. Scammers work in the open without fear. According to researched reports, the market for fake Twitter followers brings in about $40 million a year and for Facebook it’s around $87 million. (Ibid pg. 41.)
After reading Clark’s article, I’m glad I resisted buying a promotional package and kept my money in my wallet, Who needs 7,000 fake admirers? I’ve got 136 fans who are real and for whom I am grateful.