The Law and Business of Social Media
November 24, 2014 - Terms of Use

Facebook Dislikes Fake Likes

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Money may not be able to buy happiness, but it can buy phony Facebook “likes.” And those can go a long way toward making a small business owner’s dreams come true, right?

Wrong, explains Facebook site integrity engineer Matt Jones in a recent post on the company’s official blog.

Businesses that purchase fake likes “won’t achieve results and could end up doing less business on Facebook if the people they’re connected to aren’t real,” Jones observes.

Phony likes don’t help companies to reach their target audiences on Facebook because, for one thing, the creators of phony likes—which usually originate from fake Facebook accounts or real ones that have been hacked into—aren’t actual paying customers with whom the business would benefit from communicating, digital marketing gurus explain.

Nor do phony likes represent people who are likely to be Facebook friends with consumers looking for peer recommendations.

Further, fake likes won’t increase the likelihood that the business purchasing them will reach a relevant wider audience because, according to Jones, the Facebook algorithm that decides when and where to deliver a page’s legitimate ads and content takes page engagement rates into account, and “the people involved [in creating a fake like] are unlikely to engage with a page after liking it initially.”

As one digital marketing blogger notes, “[Q]uantity [is] not the metric that [is] important with Facebook marketing; it’s all about the quality. Having 10,000 fans in India is great, but they’re not going to buy anything or visit you if you’re a furniture store in Sydney, Australia.”

And so, for these reasons, and for the sake of maintaining its own advertising-dependent business model, Facebook is doing all it can to rid the social network of phony likes, reports Jones. The company’s efforts to achieve this end include automated measures such as algorithms that block spam and help Facebook to identify fraudulent activity. The company also asks for verification from accounts with particularly high like activity.

Indeed, Facebook’s recent ban on the practice of “like” gating appears to be part of this same initiative to ensure the legitimacy—and marketing value—of each individual like.

There is one group of businesses for whom bogus likes make economic sense: Those that profit from selling such likes. Pssst—wanna buy a like? For $480, you can reportly purchase 10,000 likes, while $1,200 gets you 50,000 new likes. It’s big business; a 2013 study estimated that fake Facebook activities generate $200 million a year. But Facebook is fighting back.

Jones’s Facebook blog post highlights the nearly $2 billion in legal judgments that the social media platform obtained by filing lawsuits against spammers. The most publicized of those suits concern more traditional spamming—the gaining of unauthorized access to Facebook user accounts for the purpose of sending unsolicited commercial electronic messages. But Facebook has filed at least one suit against a seller of phony likes, and, based on Jones’s statements, one can expect Facebook to commence more such suits in the future.

And while Facebook isn’t likely to see much money from these lawsuits—the defendants often file for bankruptcy or simply disappear—the resulting judgments are likely to deter parties from selling phony likes.

As we’ve recently discussed, the Facebook like has now achieved legal status—as property, as protected speech under the First Amendment and as protected “concerted activity” under the National Labor Relations Act. So it’s not surprising that, with the growing business and legal importance of the like, we’re seeing a greater effort on Facebook’s part to ensure the integrity of the like.

And, if it is to have integrity, a like needs to be earned, not bought.