Like for instance – for you Facebook users out there – did you know that there exists a thing that can be best described as “Like Farms”? Their sole purpose is to create false identities in order to boost the popularity and search prospects of their clients via fake “likes.” They’re actually called “click farms” and there are a lot of them, busily creating counterfeit identities around the world.
One such farm located in the Philippines was recently described in the June 19th issue of “The Week” as reprinted from an article in The New Republic. Equipped with a computer, an array of cellphone SIM cards and an old cellphone, a room of eight workers sit in two rows.
There, employees check for client instructions, sometimes quite specific. A Brazilian gym might request 75 female Brazilian fitness fanatics, or a bar in San Francisco’s Castro district might want 1,000 local gay men. Fake Facebook profiles “of beautiful American women between the ages of 20 and 30” are a popular request. Once a client has received his accounts, they are mostly used to sell Facebook likes to customers “looking for an illicit social media boost.”
Just Google ”buy Facebook likes” to see how easy and widespread this little black market has become. (1,000 Facebook likes currently go for around $30.) If social media is the engine of the internet, “that engine is running on some pretty suspect fuel,” notes the article.
Basically, it works like this. The click farm staffer enters a client’s specifications into the website Fake Name Generator, which returns a “sociologically realistic identity,” complete with a name, age home town, occupation and education. The staffer then creates an email account. That forms the foundation of the fake person’s Facebook account, with is then fleshed out with a profile picture from photos scraped from dating sites. While all this is going on, a proxy server makes it seem as though the staffer is actually accessing the internet from Manhattan, not the Philippines, while other software disables the cookies that Facebook uses to track suspicious activity.
Once the staffer inserts a SIM card into a Nokia cellphone and the phone becomes live, she’ll type its number into the fake Facebook profile she created, and wait for a text verification code to arrive via text message. She enters that code into Facebook and, voila, she now passes Facebook’s security algorithm to become a real person. The whole thing takes about three minutes.
Turns out this is a pretty big market. The market for fake Facebook users is valued in the hundreds of millions; ditto for fake Twitter users. Celebrities as well as many big name companies have been accused of employing click farms, not to mention a few well-known political candidates.
All told, click farms give the lie to the notion that social media interactions are simply between real people. Increasingly, and apparently very profitably, they are not.
All of this is not illegal however in the Philippines, and as the article points out “Facebook’s terms of service are not international law.” No one’s bank account is being hacked. Proprietors of these farms of course simply say they are “offering a service that people are clamoring to pay for – while providing for themselves, their families and their countrymen.”
Facebook recently announced that about 100 million of its 1.4 billion accounts were fakes or duplicates, with about a quarter of those being “undesirable,” used for activities like spamming.
Facebook knows about these folks, and pursues them by apparently “barraging their inboxes with cease-and-desist orders.” Yet another case of the never ending game of virtual leapfrog played out every day between the techies and the hackers.