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The Problem of ‘Like Farming’

By Tracey Dowdy:

If you’ve spent any time on Facebook, you’ve no doubt been asked to “Like if you think this girl is beautiful!” or “Like if you hate cancer!” The problem is, by liking the link you may be giving away more than your opinion.

Welcome to the digital-age phenomenon of “Like farming,” which has become one of the more popular scams on Facebook.

What is the point of these pages? Really, is anyone actually pro-cancer? Of course not, but advertisers are pro-revenue, and that’s where we as consumers come in.

We all know Facebook monitors the activity of its one billion users. Most of the monitoring is legitimate and helps Facebook and advertisers match potential customers to a product or service.  In the case of Like farming, the higher the number of Likes, Shares, and Comments a Facebook post generates, the greater the amount of exposure it receives both short term and long term. This creates a high “edge ranking” for the page.  The higher the ranking, the more often the page appears in Newsfeeds, and Facebook uses that information as it decides what content to display to millions of other users.

Daylan Pearce of daylandoes.com explains how Like farming works:

  • A Facebook page is created.
  • The page sends out an image – sometimes funny, sometimes tragic or heart breaking – tied to a call to action: Like, Comment, Share.
  • The post is shared among a group of people with high edge rankings, meaning the post eventually leaks to legitimate Facebook users.
  • The post gets a response – people Like, Comment, or Share – and it spreads quickly.
  • One of your friends sees it and responds.
  • It shows up in your feed.

Soon, the page has generated a significant amount of exposure and has become a valuable marketing tool. The page is sold, giving the buyer an instant list of potential clients. The post is then tweaked, reposted with some minor changes to generate additional names, and history repeats itself.

Sure it’s annoying, but it’s hard to feel sorry for some people. Did you really think something was going to happen when you clicked on that photo and added a comment? Well, something did happen: your name got added to a list.

Keep in mind that not all those pages are so innocuous.  Take the This is my sister Mallory scam for example. The Johnson family was shocked to learn their daughter’s image was being used for a Like farming scam, totally without their consent. She has Down Syndrome (sic) and her image was posted with a fake name and fake story line solely to generate Likes.

Equally shameful is the case of Merlin German, a U.S. Marine who received 3rd degree burns over 97 percent of his body in a 2005 roadside bombing in Iraq. German died in 2008, yet his image is still being used to generate income for advertisers. Even more despicable, his family has never given permission for his image to be used and, like the Johnson family, is constantly battling to have the image removed.

So what should our call to action be? Instead of instinctively liking, commenting, or sharing, we should take the time to check the sources. A simple Google search or a few minutes on Facecrooks.com, ScamChecker.com, or Snopes.com could tell you fairly quickly what’s going on.

Besides, chances are your friends already know you hate cancer.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.

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