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Viral Spam: Help a Human, Not a Hoaxer

Laura Phillips

by Laura Phillips on 2nd October 2012

Facebook ScreenIf there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to ruin my experience on Facebook, or any other social media platform for that matter, it’s viral fan spam. Images, quotations and jokes that get passed from person to person, imploring the recipient to share with ten friends or risk illness, bad luck or being ridiculed for their lack of caring. It’s a mess and one that really drives me mad!

Like if U think puppies are cute. Like if U hate cancer. Like if U love your friends. Like if U love your friends? You’d better, or the puppy will be sad, cancer will kill more people and your friends will think you don’t like them.

Every day my (occasionally) informative Facebook news feed is sprinkled with a generous pinch of puppies (sometimes poorly or disabled), strangers’ babies (sometimes poorly or disabled), and soldiers (nearly always poorly or disabled)… do you see a theme running here? All of these images were designed to pull at the heart strings and emotionally coerce you into liking the picture presented, some even going so far as to label, insult or even threaten you if you do not comply.

 

 

My question to you, dear reader, is what do these Likes actually achieve? Does not Liking the first image automatically mean you have no respect for the soldier pictured? Did those 1,002 altruistic Likes create a magical bone healing elixir for the injured horse? Did the cameraman who (opinions aside) took the photo of the terrified child actually get shot in the face 2,430 times? And if you chose not to show you do not like that photo by Liking it, did you check if the Devil was behind you? Was he?

Now I may be well off target here but I’m going to give this a big fat rhetorical NO. The horse was not healed, the cameraman did not get shot multiple times, and hopefully the Devil wasn’t looking your way when you chose not to ‘click on demand’.

It may or may not surprise you to know that all of the above images came from the same Facebook page. 293,067 Facebook users currently Like this page, and I struggle with this fact. Why do hundreds of thousands of people Like it so much? The page does not promote one or multiple charities. It does not offer to pledge help, gather volunteers, raise awareness or in any other way benefit those pictured, or anyone else in fact.

So what is achieved by clicking on photos of cute animals, poorly babies, and war heroes when directed by an anonymous stranger who apparently has the Dark Lord by his side? It depends who is positing it. From what I can tell, Satan’s buddy is only in it for the Likes in this instance. There is no website link on their profile, in fact there is no information at all save the date they joined Facebook. They are not trying to link, promote or sell anything so I deduce they simply post this questionable content when they have nothing better to do. The only person gaining benefit from this page is the page owner and his well stroked ego, and maybe misguided individuals who get a warm feeling of righteousness and/or positive reinforcement while thinking they are helping by clicking.

Just to drive home the mentality of those who post these Like extorting posts, I give you this little gem of an example:

Other more sinister Facebook characters have used this form of promotion to steal money from unsuspecting Facebook users who think they are actually doing something to help such as described in this article on Yahoo. The fake charity, New Jersey Horse Angels, was set up on Facebook page pleading with horse lovers and equestrian fans everywhere to Like and donate funds to save horses from being sent to Canada to be slaughtered. Sharron Crumb and her convict partner Frank Wickoff managed to rake in over $145,000 in less than 12 months through this page, which they used to fund their gambling holidays, buy jewellery, and send money to Crumb’s son in prison, among other things. Sadly this is far from a unique incident.

In another take on the power of the Like and social media in general, in the case of Jill Meagher it is reported today that a hate group set up on Facebook against her suspected killer has gained over 18,000 Likes since he was arrested less than 24 hours ago at time of writing. The effects of this and other social media noise around the case has led to the victim’s husband requesting people be responsible about their posting on social media sites as it may have the power to jeopardise the case. Such is the power of social media in 2012.

On a more positive note, Facebook Likes can remind us of the overwhelming power of kindness and generosity, in this case demonstrated by the response to a photograph of John Unger and his dog Schoep. Schoep is 19 years old, making him roughly 133 in human years. Unsurprisingly Schoep has numerous health problems, one of the greatest being chronic arthritis. Schoep’s owner, John Unger, takes Schoep to Lake Superior of an evening, allowing the dog some respite from his arthritis and to sleep a little. The waters allow Schoep to take the pressure off of his aching limbs, while John kept the dog’s head afloat by leaning it onto his own chest.

 

Caught on camera and posted to Facebook by Hannah Stonehouse Hudson, this image was quickly Liked and shared over and over reaching thousands of users, many of whom wanted to help. At present a staggering 348,965 user have Liked and 212,977 have shared this image. Among these Likes were a number of kind hearted Facebook fans (as well as many others) who sent everything from cards to money, specialist arthritic dog beds to raised bowls designed to reduce the need for Schoep to lean while eating. Over $25,000 was raised off the back of this photograph so Shoep can be kept in the best health possible for the rest of his life and John plans to start a legacy foundation to help other animals in need. All that power, all that media, despite no Like request or other call to action, no labelling, no judging, or threats of a visit from Beelzebub  for not liking it…

Likes for emotive subjects and images can have tremendous power. The responsibility of which lies with each and every individual using Facebook, and how they use their ability to post, Like and comment on the life and times of businesses and individuals all over the world. With so many fakes and fraudsters it’s worth checking and double checking the source and purpose of anything you Like on Facebook.

On a sensible note, if you really want to help don’t click on a photograph crafted with emotional blackmail by an individual with no intention of helping the subject themselves, get out there and help the thousands of charities and support networks in place and make a real difference.

Here’s a few to get you started:

Image of poorly or disabled animals = Don’t Like it, donate to or help the RSPCA, Blue Cross, PDSA, Dog’s Trust or another animal charity of your choice.

Image of poorly or disabled babies = Don’t Like it, donate to or help Great Ormond Street Hospital, NSPCC, Action For Children, Roald Dahl Charity, or another children’s charity of your choice.

Image of poorly or disabled soldier = Don’t Like it, donate to or help Soldier’s Charity, Help For Heroes, Support Our Soldiers Soldiers Off The Street or another soldier’s charity of your choice.

In business there’s no denying the value of a genuine Like on Facebook. If you supply a product or service and want to extend your reach to potential customers I’m all for it. Once a user has Liked a page, the owner has gained another member to their audience, and the opportunity to engage with them being a potential to benefit both parties. This infographic from Lab42 neatly demonstrates the real and perceived value of the almighty Like. According to Lab42, 87% of Facebook’s users, currently thought to be 955 million individuals, Like brands. That’s a whopping 830,850,000 users Liking an untold number of brands each. 82% of users surveyed indicated that they feel Facebook is a good place to interact with brands and 75% feel more connected to the brand for having done so.

On the downside, it seems 46% had Liked a brand they never intended to buy from, 52% only did it to get something for free, and 24% only did it to help out a friend. These Likes hold no immediate value to brands but the positive correlation between social media signals and SERPs ranking is becoming harder and harder to ignore. This post from SearchMetrics asserts that “Facebook and Twitter signals correlate…with higher rankings in the US and UK”. While correlation does not imply causation, the case for brands using any means necessary to increase their Facebook Likes is stronger than ever.

It is however worth bearing in mind that Facebook is in the process of culling millions of profiles after roughly 8.7% of them were found to be ‘fake’, used by spammers and unimaginative marketeers to boost the profile of certain brands worldwide. This move has even affected the Unstoppable-Bieber-Machine, with ickle Justin recording a five digit drop according to TechCrunch.

Could this be the first Penguin/Panda style Facebook retaliation against spammers and link builders?

Image Source

Facebook On Screen via BigStock

Laura Phillips

Laura Phillips

Laura has experience of SEO, PPC and Social Media both in-house and within an agency environment. Having worked across a variety of industries from travel to law, and retail to education she is always looking for new and innovative ways to improve the search and social visibility of her clients across various platforms.

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23 Comments

  • Jim Seward 2nd October 2012

    Oh I love this post and I’m going to share it on every ****ing social media channel I participate in….I get fed up to the back teeth of these heart string pulling images on facebook!! And more to the point, my idiotic friends who believe that somehow by magically clicking like, they are somehow helping….idiots!

    The ones I really hate are the “97% of people won’t repost this” ones….and by reposting it, you’re suddenly helping to “raise awareness” of something that everybody was actually aware of in the first place.

    In reality all they’re doing is “raising awareness” that they really shouldn’t be let out unsupervised

    Reply to this comment

  • Max 2nd October 2012

    I believe it’s mostly attention seeking. Annoying, but mostly harmless. The internet has allowed a swathe of shy (and sometimes cowardly) people to express thmeselves and get attention from thousands of people with little effort and more importantly, little comeuppance.

    Good post Laura. *LIKE*

    Reply to this comment

    • Laura Phillips

      Laura Phillips 2nd October 2012

      Thanks Max!

      The internet and especially platforms like Facebook allow anyone and everyone to express themselves to the world, as they are entitled to, I just wish they wouldn’t sometimes!

      Reply to this comment

  • Ruth 2nd October 2012

    I read an article in the Guardian about what we choose to spend our money on, ie “causes”. Only relevant to this post in as much as people do sometimes take the opportunity to give, but this article was discussing how one person’s worthy cause is another person’s waste of money. Attitudes like “why give money to animal charities when people are living on the streets” etc. It’s all about personal priorities. At the end of the day, we choose who to give our money to. Interesting perspective though.

    Reply to this comment

    • Laura Phillips

      Laura Phillips 2nd October 2012

      Thanks Ruth, that’s such a tricky one isn’t it – so many charities and factors to consider. No one can give to them all but making that decision is tough.

      Reply to this comment

  • Laura Phillips

    Laura Phillips 2nd October 2012

    Thanks for your comment Jim! I think the bit I struggle with is the guilt attached to not liking something.

    I saw another one on a friend’s wall yesterday – ‘like of you hate bullying, ignore if you were/are a bully’ – really?! Saying that it has since been removed so may be he read this post!

    It’s all a matter of perspective but I personally take umbrage to the more offensive of these posts, and simply get annoyed by the others!

    What’s the best/worst you’ve seen outside of this post?

    Reply to this comment

    • Phillip Johnson 24th October 2012

      Yeah, I almost exploded when a picture of a baby with it’s heart outside it’s chest appeared on my newsfeed… along with the dialogue “Pls Dont Ignore, 1 like = 1 pray”
      Since the dialogue implored me to not ignore it, I gave my 2 pence and it was not pretty. I nearly had a go at my cousin for sharing such an image, I mean there was literally no information, how to help, just nothing. Categorically useless post that had nearly 500,000 likes….
      Nice article btw thanks!

      Reply to this comment

  • Besh 2nd October 2012

    Hooray & here here. Although I am all for freedom of speech this ‘epidemic’ has become stupid. I have had to delete a FB friend because every time I logged in I was (I felt) bombarded with unnecessary upsetting pictures of disabled/beaten/injured children/soldiers/animals, & for what? Ultimately no point. The time it must take to set up these groups & post pictures could be better spent on actual charitable work if the poster feels so strongly about these things.

    Reply to this comment

    • Laura Phillips

      Laura Phillips 2nd October 2012

      Thanks Besh, I’ve been tempted myself! I totally agree, if you’re that bothered do something for a charity specialising in the issue at hand.

      Reply to this comment

  • Matt 2nd October 2012

    Thankfully my friends on Facebook would seem to agree with you, as I’ve not really seen many of the worst cases above. One good thing about them, at least, is that they’ve stopped the torrent of chain emails promising a happy life full of love, friends and money if only I forward them on.

    Reply to this comment

    • Laura Phillips

      Laura Phillips 2nd October 2012

      Hi Matt, thanks for your comment – you must be one of the lucky ones…

      We were just saying in the Koozai office this morning that we should start a chain letter again as this form of spam seems to be so poular at the moment!

      Reply to this comment

  • Steve Ollington 2nd October 2012

    Kudos on the subject matter… this is something that always bothers me. I cannot help but picture the creator of each “Like this if you think dying painfully is bad” laughing hysterically at just how many thousands of naive people fall for their ridiculous spam.

    The fact that the more recent ones are stating “Share = Care, Ignore = Don’t Care” is even more manipulative with added guilt trip.

    One lady on my Facebook feed falls for similar ones continuously because she’s a mum, they’re variations of “Like if you love your kids!”.

    Then you get the military based ones of “Like = 1 Prayer for the soldiers to come home safely” with an image of a wounded soldier… at which point you see the comments where, strangely peoples only gripe is “why not just pray instead of click Like?” As if one is any different from the other in terms of having any actual affect, clicking Like isn’t going to do squat, and neither is praying… the irony of it all melts my brain!

    Reply to this comment

  • Laura Phillips

    Laura Phillips 2nd October 2012

    Hi Steve, thanks for commenting – I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there!

    If people gave an hour of their time or £1 to charity each time they Liked a post we could collectively make a huge difference…maybe this is something to look into…

    Reply to this comment

  • e-Marketing Strategy blog 2nd October 2012

    I also cannot stand these images myself.

    I remember the first one that I saw and thinking to myself what a joke and how can people actually believe this and comply whilst being offended by the creator having a personal go if you didn’t comply.

    Definitely not an endearing marketing tactic any respectable person would use.

    Reply to this comment

    • Laura Phillips

      Laura Phillips 3rd October 2012

      Hi There

      Hundreds of thousands of people seems to Like these images, I just wonder if they think it through – WHY am I liking this? What will my Like achieve?

      Of course it is often simply a cheap marketing tactic, but I don’t think most people understand that. Hopefully in time Facebook users will come to realise this and the current trend will subside and disappear.

      Reply to this comment

  • John Henry 18th January 2013

    You’ve left out one important motivator behind this manipulative tactic.

    https://www.google.com/webhp?q=facebook%20page%20for%20sale

    That link just loads a prefilled google search form. Hit the go button and see what you find.

    Reply to this comment

    • Laura Phillips

      Laura Phillips 18th January 2013

      Hi John – thanks for commenting. I’m actually planning a follow up post to cover that side of things in the next month or so, I’d love to hear your thoughts when it’s released.

      Reply to this comment

  • Justin 18th January 2013

    People are stupid, thus our problem is explained.

    Reply to this comment

    • Bruce Williams 17th April 2013

      Interesting. The “I’m OK; your* stupid” theme is one of the most popular and annoying causes of garbage on Facebook, at least as evidenced by the number of those smug ‘rottenecards’ that pollute my news feed.

      Reply to this comment

  • Laura Phillips

    Laura Phillips 18th January 2013

    Hi Justin, thanks for commenting. I think as time goes by more and more people are cottinong on to the true meaning of these pages; the comment sections are often now littered with comments such as ‘this is a waste of time’ and ‘liking doesn’t change anything’. I’m hopeful that in time the vast majority will realise this is a scam and stop falling for it…and stop sharing these images with me!

    Reply to this comment

  • Bruce Williams 17th April 2013

    Great article, Laura. I’ve made similar comments repeatedly on Facebook, along with providing links for contacting government representatives, petitions, and other actual ‘action’ options. For the most part, they’ve meet with a resounding indifference. mentioning the reality behind the hoaxes and the emotionally manipulative posts – and the fact that many of them actually hurt the causes they purport to support seems so unpopular, I suspect doing so may be more of an annoyance to most people. I wonder if the increased use of mobile devices on FB has anything to do with it – maybe it’s easier to click ‘Share’ and ‘Like’ than to actually type in one’s own thoughts. Whatever the cause, I’ve taken to using a filter to block ‘Fan Page’ shares, which has cleaned up the garbage quite nicely.

    Reply to this comment

  • George Rosier 24th June 2013

    Absolutely bang-on. I also recommend unfriending people who perpetuate this stuff: it’s only way to be sure. ;-)

    Reply to this comment

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