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Facebook Like: Or, How to Spam the Socialsphere

Oliver Ewbank

by Oliver Ewbank on 1st September 2010

Where there’s traffic and visibility to be earned, spammers aren’t far behind. Here’s a look at the growing problem of Facebook ‘Like buying’.

Social media is a catalyst for conversation. It enables user-moderation and the viral spread of popular online content. It is quick, cheap and effective. As a consequence, people are willing to exploit it.

Facebook Like was developed to provide users with the opportunity to share interesting links with their friends. Just like the Twitter re-tweet, Digg and Sphinn – to name just a few – before it, this opened the doors for opportunists and spammers. Facebook essentially enabled what the search engines have been fighting, unmediated link sharing.

WebProNews ran an interesting story yesterday on the potential of ‘like buying’ [see: Does Facebook Face A Google-Like Issue With "Like Farms" and "Like Buying"?]. Controlling vast networks of people and convincing them to like your content in exchange for a reward. This gets you widespread exposure and helps circulate a single link across a huge network of profiles.

It all sounds so simple. The problem that Facebook have though is that’s exactly what it is, simple.

Opportunities Spawn Opportunism

Whilst Google has been constantly working to uncover link farms and paid links, the social bookmarking sites have faced similar problems. In any environment where more votes (read links, Diggs, Stumbles as appropriate) creates improved visibility, the likelihood of manipulation is huge.

Competition on the Internet is massive. If you want to be seen, you have to be active. Whether you’re targeting social channels, SEO or both, it’s vital that get your brand seen in the most prominent places.

The value of prominence can be equally substantial though. If you’re being discussed on social media and ranking top of Google, you have the opportunity to reach out to a vast audience of targeted users. Visibility can then lead to long-term, wide-reaching benefits.

Learning by Digg’s Example (or Failings)

Digg is a classic example of a site that has faced a constant battle with spammers. Designed as a user-moderated news source, its front page was considered an online Mecca for any story. Getting seen here offered the opportunity for any site to tap into Digg’s huge visitor stream. Therefore gaming the system isn’t unheard of.

A couple of thousand Diggs and you can expect global coverage. In most instances though a couple of hundred is enough to get on a niche front page, which still provides a decent level of targeted exposure. However, whatever your ambition, getting those Diggs is the difficult thing.

Of course you could generate a sensational piece of content that users naturally want to share amongst the community. Alternatively though you could just build a community of spammers willing to do your dirty work for you.

As Digg provides the opportunity to both ‘Digg’ (positive) or ‘Bury’ (negative) content, natural balance is seemingly more achievable. However, when large groups actively target individual stories the possibilities for unnatural tampering are huge.

Facebook have so far resisted developing a ‘don’t like’ button. But that doesn’t make their system any less susceptible to spammers; in fact some might argue that it is far more open to influence.

Buying Facebook Influence

A simple Google search reveals dozens of sites offering services that will add friends, fans and likes for your pages. These sites build up huge networks of users prepared to become fans or like any old nonsense. There’s no discretion involved, just cold hard cash. If you want visibility and have the funds, it’s a goldmine.

What makes this different to buying links? Well, not a lot really. You are artificially inflating your visibility by paying money to a secondary source. However, the main difference is that Facebook can’t (at the moment) do a damn thing about it.

This ‘like’ manipulation doesn’t contravene any rules per se – unlike with Google. Even if they did, how would Facebook possibly moderate all 500 million users. Herein lie the problems of massive growth and expansion into new realms.

Undoubtedly it has a great function but just like the re-tweet, ‘like’ has spam susceptibility issues. Social media is a victim of its own success in this regard. The more popular it becomes, the more ways people will find to subvert it.

Oliver Ewbank

Oliver Ewbank

Working in new media for over 8 years, Oliver Ewbank has worked for a range of brands including eBay and SportBusiness.com on SEO, PPC and Social Media Management. He has won awards for his SEO work and been featured in a number of publications, including Virgin online.

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