Laura Phillips

Viral Spam: Help a Human, Not a Hoaxer

2nd Oct 2012 Social Media, Facebook 8 minutes to read

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

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