Click Farms: The Like Factories
Social networks are becoming increasingly popular and there are billions of social accounts in the world: did you know that there are more active Facebook accounts than people alive in the world?Like factories are clandestine activities (also known as ‘click farms’) and their spread around the world seems to be really huge.
Food, fashion, music, movies, entertainment-all market sectors have gradually adapted to the logic of social networks and the most important people within them, the influencers. We all know who influencers are-people who are particularly followed on an app and who turn out to be very influential within their target market. The more followers an individual has, the more interactions they gain, the more engagements they get, the more money they make.
Behind this seemingly simple mechanism lies a phenomenon unknown to most: “Click Farms.” They have become an increasingly common presence in the social media landscape, representing an emerging but controversial trend. These organizations, also known as “social interaction providers,” offer a peculiar service: the sale of “likes” and other types of social media interactions, such as comments and shares, in exchange for money.
A Click Farm is an organization that artificially generates and sells social media interactions, such as “likes,” comments, and shares, using fake accounts or “bots.” These artificial interactions are used to increase the visibility or perceived popularity of a particular social media page, profile or post. However, because the interactions come from fake accounts and not real users, these activities can distort the true measure of engagement and undermine trust in social media platforms.
How do Click Farms work?
Click Farms work by exploiting fake accounts or “bots” on different social media platforms. Here is a step-by-step explanation of how they work technically:
Creating fake accounts
Click farms start by creating thousands or even millions of fake accounts on social media. This can be done manually, but automated scripts or bots are often used to create large-scale accounts. These accounts may have randomly generated names and profile photos and filler posts to appear more authentic.
Automation of interactions
These fake accounts to interact with the specific content for which they were paid. This can include actions such as liking a post, sharing a link, commenting, or following an account. These interactions are automated using scripts or bots.
Distribution of interactions
To avoid detection, Click Farms often distribute interactions over time and vary the actions their bots perform. For example, instead of having all bots “like” a post at the same time, interactions may be distributed over several hours or days.
Evasion of security controls
Social media platforms use a variety of controls to identify and block bots, such as suspicious activity pattern detection, CAPTCHA verification, and IP address checking. Click Farms must therefore use sophisticated techniques to circumvent these controls, such as frequently changing IP addresses, imitating human behavior, or using CAPTCHA recognition techniques.
Finally, these interactions are sold. This can be done on a per-interaction basis (e.g., a certain price per “like”) or through bundles (e.g., 1000 “likes” for a fixed price).
Clandestine Click Farms
The video illustrates a reality hitherto unknown to most: Click Farms are clandestine activities and their prevalence around the world is difficult to estimate. They are mostly anonymous places within which fake social profiles, shares and views are created and sold. Not only that: the most coveted “product” is “likes”.
“likes” are, initially devised by Facebook, soon spread to Instagram, TikTok and all other social platforms. A “like” alone has little value: it is by adding up millions and millions of likes that a business can be generated. And Clik Farms have figured it out: in these places, hundreds and hundreds of cell phones are connected to the Internet and dozens of operators, often very young, work full time to fuel this market.
The line between legality and crime is thin in these cases: in fact, creating a fake profile does not comply with the rules and policies of all social newtork. Clik farms seem to be particularly prevalent in South Asia, Eastern Europe, India, and China.
Clients looking for easy popularity are not only influencers and VIPs: requests for likes and views in social media platforms also involve companies, politicians, and even government agencies. Some research has estimated that more than 60 percent of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s Twitter followers may be fake accounts.
The impact of like farms on social media?
The impact of like farms is significant and has multiple aspects.
First, they distort the perception of engagement. These organizations can create the illusion of popularity or consensus around a person, brand or idea, thereby altering the public image of the individual in question.
Second, these services can help undermine trust in social media itself. Indeed, users may begin to doubt the authenticity of interaction and engagement on these platforms, undermining the integrity and credibility of the medium itself.
The Influencer who is not so influential
Imagine an emerging influencer on social media, let’s call this character “Mario.” Mario wants to quickly increase his popularity, so he decides to buy “likes” from a like farm. After paying a certain amount, Mario sees the “likes” on his posts skyrocket. At first glance, it looks like Mario is becoming a successful influencer, with thousands of people who seem to like his content.
But there is one problem. Despite the high number of “likes,” real engagement (genuine comments, shares, etc.) is surprisingly low. This is because most of the “likes” come from bots, not real fans. In the end, Mario’s strategy could backfire, damaging his reputation and credibility.
The small business and fake reviews
Let’s take a local small business, such as a restaurant, that has just opened its doors. The owner, eager to attract more customers, decides to buy positive reviews from a like farm. This leads to an impressive number of starred reviews on his social media profile, attracting new customers.
However, some real customers begin to notice that the experience promised by the reviews does not match reality. Doubts begin to arise about the authenticity of the reviews, and once the deception is discovered, the restaurant’s reputation suffers.
These two examples show how Click Farms may seem like an attractive solution to quickly increase online popularity, but in the long run they can create more problems than they solve, damaging the reputation and trust of users.
In general, Click Farms are a major problem on social media, as they can harm both the platforms and the users themselves. To avoid running into these issues, it is important to follow social media rules and use only lawful methods to increase the visibility of pages or profiles.