Originally published in ConsumerAffairs
If you’re a regular Facebook user, you’re pretty much guaranteed to run across lots of “like-farming” scammers – maybe without ever even realizing it.
At best, these like-farming pages clutter your friends’ feeds, crowding out content they actually want to see (and possibly making them annoyed with you, for drowning their feeds in such noise); at worst they put your personal information in the hands of unscrupulous marketers, or help spread dangerous computer viruses and other forms of malware.
But what is like-farming? Facebook policy forbids it, though of course scammers and con artists by definition tend not to follow the rules. Like-farmers start pages and fill them with content dedicated to collecting as many “likes” or “shares” as possible in the shortest amount of time.
Since Facebook’s algorithms place a high value on popularity (as measured by likes and shares), these highly liked and shared pages therefore have a much higher chance of appearing in people’s “Feeds” and being seen by other Facebook users.
Then, once the page has a sufficiently high popularity rating, the like-farmer either removes the page’s original content and replaces it with something else (usually malware or scam advertising); leaves the page as is and uses it as a platform for continued like-farming in order to spread malware, collect people’s marketing information or engage in other harmful activities; or outright sells the highly liked site to cybercriminals in a black market web forum.
Appeals to emotion
How do like-farmers lure people into liking or sharing their content? As with any scam, it appears in multiple forms.
Many like-farmers rely on appeals to emotion: anytime you’re urged to “like” or “share” a post that pulls at your heartstrings or pushes your buttons, there’s likely a like-farmer behind it. “This poor little girl with cancer lost her hair to chemotherapy — ‘like’ this post to let her know she’s still beautiful!” “This new government policy is outrageous — ‘like’ this post if you’re outraged, too!”
Confession: I fell for a couple such like-farming scams myself, back when I was still new to Facebook. And I didn’t even realize it until a couple weeks ago, when I went on a nostalgia-crawl though my old Facebook “activity log” and was appalled to see that back in 2010 or so, I’d allegedly “liked” a couple pages advertising some scammy pseudo-scientific quack medications.
But of course I never “liked” any such nonsense; I’d actually “liked” posts shared by various friends of mine – probably posts to the effect of “’Like’ to let this little bald girl know she’s beautiful!” or “’Like’ if you’re outraged by this new policy!” – and only later, after the page collected enough “likes” for a high Facebook popularity ranking, did the page owner scrub the original content and replace it with ads for scam products.
Not all like-farmers rely on appeals to emotion, though. Others will claim to offer valuable prizes to people who “like” or “share” a post; those posts you see promising the chance to win a free Macbook or latest-gen iPhone, free chain-store gift card or some other valuable freebie are pretty much guaranteed to be scams.
Last week, for example, the anti-scam website Hoax-Slayer issued an alert about a fraudulent Facebook page promising to give away 100 Macbook laptops: all you have to do is like and share the post, and specify whether you want a white or black one.
The “Fans of Mac” page has 22,925 “likes” in the screenshot Hoax-Slayer included in its alert; as of this writing, that number had grown to 25,660. The “About” section says that Fans of Mac is “Facebook’s LARGEST and most vibrant Apple community with worldwide fans! If you LOVE Apple … then join us today!”
Yet the page contains no posts from fans discussing the pros and cons of the latest Apple iThing, nor even links to media coverage of the latest iThings. There are, as of press time, only eight posts visible on the entire page, and every single post claims to offer valuable free iStuff to people who like and share it. A post from April 7 claims “We have got 100 boxes of Macbooks that can’t be sold because they have been unsealed. Therefore we are giving them away for free. Want one of them? Just Share this photo & Like our page.”
Even by the standards of fake-free-stuff postings that makes no sense: since when does Apple or any other tech company have the policy “If the packaging on our expensive new latest-gen products becomes ‘unsealed,’ those products cannot be sold or even destroyed; we’ll just give ’em away for free”? They don’t.
Unsurprisingly, if you scroll a bit further down the Fans of Mac page you’ll see the exact same post on Nov. 25, 2014: “We have got 100 boxes of Macbooks that can’t be sold because they have been unsealed. Therefore we are giving them away for free….”
No free iPhones
The first post on that page is dated Sept. 23, barely two weeks after Apple unveiled its then-new iPhone6, and it said: “We have got 10 boxes of iPhone 6’s [sic] that can’t be sold because they have been unsealed. Therefore we are giving them away for free.” (Coincidentally, Sept. 23 is also the day we here at ConsumerAffairs published an article headlined: “Watch out for these iPhone6 scams; nobody’s giving free phones away over Facebook or email, either.”)
Anytime you see a Facebook post offering free valuable items in exchange for “Likes” and “Shares,” you’re almost certain to find a similarly scammy Facebook page behind it.
Still other like-farming posts are high-tech variants of the old chain-letter scam, promising good though vague results if you forward the post. Just this week, one of my own Facebook “friends” shared a photo showing thick stacks of $20 and $100 bills, over a caption reading “Money will come to you sometime this month say Amen and Share” [sic]. As of this writing, that one single photo and caption has 14,441 “likes” and 284,926 “shares.”
Another insidious form of like-farming presents itself almost as a religious duty: “’Share’ this post if you’re willing to publicly proclaim that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!” (Consider: even if you need to share your faith on Facebook — why would you need to “share” that particular post, rather than simply write your own announcement on your Wall?)
A close cousin of like-farming might better be called “response farming,” or just clickbait: posts designed solely to elicit a response. It differs from like-farming in that like-farming is done by actual scammers, whereas response-farming is usually promoted by actual companies to increase their Facebook popularity rankings. Look at the promotional Facebook page of a typical genre-music FM radio station, for example, and you’re almost certain to see lots of response-farming memes.
One such meme that’s been around since at least early 2013 involves asking a ridiculously easy question, usually followed by commentary suggesting the question is actually quite difficult:
Can you name a band that
has no letter “T” anywhere
in their name?
This is harder than you
Post your answers below,
and share with friends.
Most people think they can
do this but fail, can you do
Name a ‘FISH’
That does not
have the LETTER
‘A’ in it.
I bet you can’t 😉
Some of these non-challenging intelligence tests came from like-farmers, but most were local-radio or business clickbait — still driving up like-counts and cluttering your friends’ Facebook feeds, but at least they won’t likely spread malware or put money in a scammer’s pockets the way like-farming pages do.
If you’re going through your own old Facebook archives and discover you’ve “liked” a scammy page you don’t recognize, you can send Facebook a scam report for that page, and then click the “unlike” button to remove your own name from it.