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Used On Facebook: How Internet Scammers Pull At Your Heartstrings To Make A Buck

Think clicking “Like” will help a child in need? Think again.

You’ve seen them: Those posts on Facebook that have a gazillion likes, comments, and shares. It’s usually an image with some corresponding text that goes something like, “Click this photo, comment, and see what happens,” as if clicking on an image of Jesus, a girl in a bikini, or a hundred dollar bill would make something magical happen.

And what happens? Nothing, right? It did absolutely nothing to click that image, or comment, or like it.

Those posts infuriate me.

I think they might bother me more than when some clown posts an Obama birth certificate or death panel comment. (Especially since Baby Boomers are increasingly turning to social media for news.)

It’s not just that these idiotic and useless posts are littering an already-cluttered page and wall that should be packed with posts about my friends’ fantasy-worthy vacations and stories about their ungifted children. What really gets me is that these scammers use horrific circumstances, like cancer, sick kids, and tortured animals, to get clicks.

What exactly is the benefit of posting something that says, “Like if you hate cancer, ignore if you don’t,” or “90% of my friends won’t click like, the rest of my ‘real’ friends will”?

The explanation is a little nerdy, but there is an explanation. It’s all about the “Facebook Like Algorithm,” the secret recipe that makes liking, sharing, and commenting on the most popular social media site a valuable commodity.

The Facebook Like algorithm is the way that Facebook determines whether or not content is of any value to users. The more likes/shares/comments it gets, the more exposure to certain people it (and the profile it belongs to) will get both short term and long term.

Hold on, it gets a little deeper.

All of these metrics contribute to a Facebook user’s “EdgeRank” – basically, the score your profile gets, which in turn determines how your page interacts with other profiles. The greater your EdgeRank, the more your stuff will appear in other people’s newsfeed. That’s why you see a lot more crap on your wall these days. Somehow, in their infinite wisdom, Facebook has decided that it’s relevant to you.

So why do these pages exist? The simple answer is money. People can make money off Facebook pages with large followings. Businesses around the world are still trying to figure out how best to use social media platforms. While they know that likes, followers, and brand exposure are important, they don’t necessarily know why or what to do with it. Since building an audience and acquiring EdgeRank is time consuming, and time is money, this happens:

Facebook scammers

So if you’re a business and don’t feel like building a following based on loyal customers and your brand, you can buy it. You don’t even have to look very far – there are plenty of brokers like FameSwap, which says right on the front page, “FameSwap is a marketplace to buy, sell or trade facebook [sic] fan pages and instagram [sic] accounts.”

Here’s how these pages come to be:

  1. A page is created.
  2. The page puts out a constant stream of heart-wrenching or mildly amusing images that are shared publicly with a call to action to click, share, or comment.
  3. These posts are initially shared by a big group of people who all belong to the same network and have built up their EdgeRank over time so that the posts will eventually leak into the newsfeeds of real-life accounts.
  4. These people share, like or comment, which then causes the post to spread.
  5. Eventually, a friend of yours hits that little thumbs up button and voila, it’s in your newsfeed.

You may remember the post about Mallory. The post stated that someone’s sister Mallory has Down Syndrome and doesn’t think she’s beautiful. It asked that you click or comment to show her that she really is. How could you not? The thought of a little girl smiling and feeling pretty because people clicked a link is too tempting. And what does it say about you as a human being if you don’t click ‘Like?’ What will your friends think? And really, it’s a click. It’s nothing to you, and you get to make a little girl happy.

Within three days that post had 70,000 likes and got as high as 3.5 million – which means that someone made a nice chunk of change by selling that page to a business too lazy to invest some real effort into their own page.

The buyer only needs to make a couple of changes to the details of the page and PRESTO, instant fan page with a huge following and a built-in EdgeRank enabling them to push out content to thousands of Facebook users.

You probably sort of had a feeling about this already, but maybe now you know what’s behind it. Anytime there’s profit to be made, someone is going to figure out how to game the system.

Incidentally, the real story behind this particular post involves a case of “cyber impersonation” and exploitation – of an innocent, disabled minor. Mom detailed the scam in a first-person account: “Facebook stole my disabled daughter’s identity.”

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2 comments

  1. Dear Mr. Zombeck,
    Apparently you find making a tempest in a teacup interesting, deeply moving, and heroically tragic; and all mover the clicking of “like” on one’s Facebook page account. This seems a tad over-the-top reaction (Sort of similar to your reaction to certain slightly demented-of-theLeft critics of President Obozo birth claims and the not-as-yet disproven death panels [when the government takes control–which you again slavishly approve of–you don’t have control and the result is scarcity and inflated prices, resulting in rationing: Meaning people will die because treatment was denied by a panel, i.e. “death panel.”], while of course ignoring the malfeasance both political and economic directly resulting from the “leadership” of Obozo; but if you don’t care that your friends and family and the general population are still stepping backwards and not forwards to better and better lifestyles, that’s your lack of visual acuity; mine is 20/20 informed by and with an IQ 0f 181. But i digress.). I find the answer to be smple and effective: Don’t click “like.” Why should I? While the tragedy and sad condition of whatever-is being-portrayed is maybe worthy, one should recognize that “clicking” forth “likes” like raindrops in a storm might give a certain low-level positive emotional lift, eventually it becomes a tired, repeated motion that one automatically does and with no thinking behind it (Again, sort of like defending Obozo). Perhaps you should inveigh against something more worthy, such as people who click “like” without thinking and therefore without no-feeling behind the action; just could wake them up to improve their conscious decisions about what they do on the internet generally, and Facebook, specifically.

    • Thanks for yet another ridiculous comment from the fringe and egocentric right-wing lunatic asylum. If your IQ was actually as high as you claim, you wouldn’t be saying half the things you did in this incoherent rant, as entertaining as it was to read.

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