We’d be surprised if there wasn’t any frequent user of Facebook left that wasn’t familiar with the ubiquitous “1 like = 1 prayer” type posts that so often pop-up on ours newsfeeds.
You know the ones. Those posts that show some sick/starving/disabled/injured child/animal and are emblazoned with a caption imploring users to both like and share it, asserting those Facebook actions will result in prayers for the child. Many ask readers to comment things like “Amen” just for good measure. Some even claim those likes and shares actually result in charitable donations.
It can perhaps be too easy to see these posts and in a fleeting moment of compassion to click the like button. An easy way to show that we are empathetic to the person in the photo, and that we wish them the best. We are, after all, human.
But the chances are that for most of us, after scrolling past a few more posts, the photo is long forgotten, resigned to a memory we’ll probably never recollect. We’ve done our part, and our Facebook newsfeed has more to offer us in an environment filled with real-time updates from our friends and family.
But the apparent good-willed nature of these posts is misleading at best. There is a darker story being played out. An underbelly that most are simply unaware of. What many fail to realise is that there is a specific motivation to these sorts of posts that implore likes and shares, and it has nothing to do with compassion. The motivation is more sinister, and it’s something we refer to as like-farming.
Like-Farming: One of the biggest motivations of Facebook spam
Whilst the optimistic side of you would like to believe that the Facebook page that uploaded a photo of an injured child, asking for likes in return for prayers, was doing so with the best of intentions, you’d probably be wrong.
What you’re really seeing – almost certainly – is like-farming, which in its simplest sense is trying to attract followers to a particular Facebook page through exploitation or deception. The like-farming process is actually quite straightforward. The like-farmer creates a Facebook page with the goal of attracting as many people to is as possible (more on why below.) To do that, the like-farmer creates a series of posts specifically designed to attract likes and shares.
Likes and shares are great for a post. Not only do they help the post spread from friend to friend, but the more likes and shares it gets, the more interesting Facebook’s algorithms assume it must be, and the more attention Facebook will give it.
Posts can attract hundreds of thousands, even millions of likes, and a consequence of this is that people will also begin following the page that made the post. Essentially, the more posts a Facebook page manages to get viral, the more followers it will pick up in the process.
Like-farming is bigger than those “1 like = 1 prayer posts.” It encompasses them, and many other different types of posts. Fake competitions. Posts that excitedly claim “watch what happen when you click like!”. Fake giveaways. “Like if you hate cancer” posts. They’re all like-farming. They all manipulate the Facebook user into hitting like or share.
Instead of sharing a post because they believe it is interesting or worthwhile, the user is essentially being exploited or tricked. Or both.
Why does Like-Farming exist?
Which brings us to the important question. Why?
Because Facebook pages with lots of followers can be considered many things. A Launchpad. A commodity. Online real estate. Having so many people follow your page gives you reach. It gives you influence.
And with that comes opportunity. Facebook pages with lots of followers can be used to launch more serious scams. They can be sold off to marketing companies or used to lure people to spammy survey websites that harvest personal information. They can direct followers to malware-laden websites. Or they can be used to help other like-farming Facebook pages take off.
Like-farming is the 21st century social media equivalent of having a really large database of email addresses to expose your spam to. The spams and scams can vary, but one thing is for definite, you don’t want to be on the receiving end of it.
Like-farming can be abhorrent, immoral, manipulative and at best, just spam. Like-farmers exploit children, families, Facebook users and trending events just to get more likes for their Facebook pages. They exploit the good-willed nature of us all and they do it – more often than not – for financial profit. If you encounter a Facebook page that seems solely concerned with attracting likes without providing anything of real value, do everyone a favour, don’t click like.