Let’s be honest: It’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate facts from fiction online. We’ve all heard about fake reviews, inflated social media numbers and blatantly false information widely circulating on the Internet. A few weeks ago, photos on Facebook displayed the pyramids and the Sphinx covered with snow for the first time in well over a century. The pictures were incredible but fake. Now the Associated Press (AP) informs usthat the latest problem/manipulation/scam revolves around click farms. The news organization reports that celebrities, businesses and even government organizations such as the U.S. State Department have bought bogus clicks in order to expand their networks and, in some cases, reap financial gains.
These fake “Likes” and followers represent more than pocket change. According to Italian security researchers and bloggers Andrea Stroppa and Carla De Micheli, more than $560 million changed hands for fake clicks on Facebook and Twitter alone in 2013. The State Department admitted that it had paid $630,000 to boost its numbers last year.
Apparently, organizations pay as little as half a cent per click to boost their numbers. Countries such as Bangladesh are hotbeds of activity. According to the AP, Facebook’s own security page (which has 7.7 million Likes) and Google’s Facebook page (which has 15.2 million Likes) claim more fans in Dhaka, Bangladesh, than anywhere else in the world.
I’m not sure where the future of the Internet lies, but I am sure of a couple of things. First, the short-term gains associated with fake numbers do nothing to boost long-term brand viability. It’s a lazy and just plain dumb shortcut for marketing and building a loyal customer base.
Second, this practice contributes to widespread and growing mistrust of business and government. A few cheaters—particularly the firms that sell these so-called services—prosper at the expense of everyone else.
Sadly, it seems as if the Internet is steadily devolving into a netherworld of cheating, lying, deception and hoaxes. Let’s face it, when a business model revolves heavily on fakery to boost egos and advertising revenues, we’ve arrived right back at an Old West medicine show filled with hucksterism and trickery.
Disgusting? Yes. Sleazy? Definitely. The growing lack of honesty on the Internet threatens consumers, businesses and society.