Facebook Ads May Encourage Fake Likes, Report Says

Facebook Ads May Encourage Fake Likes, Report Says

Science website Veritasium has put together a compelling report suggesting that Facebook turns a blind eye to fake Likes. But more importantly, in an indirect way, it suggests Facebook  advertising products may encourage them.

In other words, if you buy official Facebook advertising, you could well end up with a large number of disengaged “fans.” Many of these may come from countries not within your target market. Others may actually be fake Facebook accounts altogether. These “fans” come from websites such as We Sell Likes, and from countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Egypt.

What is a Disengaged Fan?

Basically, it’s someone who does not interact with the status update you are trying to promote. They lurk in the background, reading and watching, but not saying anything themselves. That’s assuming, of course, that the fan is a real person at all.

And why is having disengaged fans a huge problem to your bottom line?

Derek Muller from Veritasium explains it this way.

“When you make a post, Facebook distributes it to a small fraction of the people who like your page just to gauge their reaction. If they engage with it by liking, commenting and sharing, then Facebook distributes the post to more of your likes and even their friends. If you somehow accumulate fake likes, Facebook’s initial distribution goes out to fewer real fans, and therefore it receives less engagement, and so consequently you reach a smaller number of people.”

There’s a robust market for fake Likes. Italian researchers estimate that fake Facebook activities add up to about $200 million a year in revenue. These accounts will click on any visible company Pages and Profiles they can easily find. The attempt is to make it harder to track the Likes they are actually being paid to deliver. And they quickly focus on Pages from legitimate Facebook ads that show up on the right side of many Facebook pages.

Some of these Likes come from users who have also been deceived. A classic example is the “Pink Floyd scam” where people are asked to Like the cover image of a Pink Floyd album with the promise that something magical will happen. Obviously, nothing does. But now you have done the scammer’s bidding by putting the image on the Walls of all your Facebook friends.

The report does not suggest that Facebook itself is delivering fake Likes when businesses advertise. It only suggests that people in offshore click farms use the ads as an easy source of Pages to find and click on. Muller said:

“In August 2012, Facebook reported it had identified and deleted 83 million fake accounts. . .that was 9% of the total at the time. This resulted in noticeable drops for popular singers and celebrities. So did they (Facebook) delete all of the fake likes? Nope, not even close.”

Like Photo via Shutterstock

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Mark O'Neill Mark O'Neill is a staff writer for Small Business Trends, covering software and social media. He is a freelance journalist who has been writing for over 25 years, and has successfully made the leap from newspapers and radio onto the Internet. From 2007-2013, he was the Managing Editor of MakeUseOf.com.

11 Reactions
  1. Good point that a disengaged fan could hurt your potential distribution, but many brands will buy likes to validate their presence with a certain threshold number. Sad but true.

  2. Wow. Facebook deleted 83 million fake accounts? That’s just, wow. If FB’s deleting that many fake accounts, I don’t know how they’re really going to get to the bottom of the issue (that’s a HUGE amount of accounts), but they’re gonna have to at some point.

  3. While it is technically a ‘fake like’ just because the fan is disengaged, it is still even better than all the authentically fake likes – auto generated likes for money purposes. It’s funny that I have to use the word ‘authentic’ with ‘fake’ here. But the two types of fans are just different.

    • I guess when you put it that way, Aira, yes, it is better. Auto-generated ones are well and truly empty/hollow. And yes! I see the funny juxtaposition of “authentically” and “fake likes”. 🙂

      • Perhaps the important thing is to advise Facebook Page Administrators that their work goes beyond just attracting Page Likes and posting for engagement to actually managing their Fans? This can be done through CRM tools like Agorapulse.

  4. Unfortunately, the fake likes benefit Facebook by pushing page owners into buying ads to promote a posting. Which causes more fake likes. Which promotes more ad selling. Facebook doesn’t have a lot of incentive to deal with the issue. Thanks for the great article.

    • I think you might be right there, Thad. If it’s not having a negative effect on Facebook financially, then what’s the urgency for them to deal with it (or even see it as their issue, or an issue at all)?

  5. This happened EXACTLY to me last week on Facebook. Here’s my story:

    My book sales for my book Confessions of a Teacher Recruiter have been slower than I expected after the new year with organic outreach, so I decided to do some social media advertising on the various platforms and measure conversions in my Google analytics to see (1) who subscribed to my newsletter and (2) who clicked on the link to buy it on Amazon. Then I could make better decisions on paid media for the year.

    I advertised on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google for 5 days. Some I paid for, some I used coupons for. I haven’t done a full ROI analysis yet, but here were trends.

    – LinkedIn and Twitter brought me newsletter subscribers. LinkedIn was about $2 a click and Twitter was .30 cents (yes) and Twitter brought me about 10X as many. Twitter is my hero right now.

    – Google brought me some people who clicked on Amazon but did not subscribe to my newsletter. Most did not buy the book when they got to Amazon. It was about $1.50 a click.

    – Facebook brought me 90 likes and zero conversions or traffic. I just posted something today and even though I just spent advertising with them, only 4 of my 200 “fans” saw my post.

    I targeted my Facebook ads for people who lived in NYC who liked specific pages about teaching. After this result, I started looking at people who liked my page and at least half are foreign non-English profiles… so basically I might have well thrown the money I gave to Facebook out the window and I have no recourse (right?). It feels like fraud.

    It is sad because there was a time where Facebook ads converted for me… and I had a great community for my coaching business that I built from the ground up that I could reach organically. I can’t do either now so I can’t justify spending any money- or time- on that platform.

    Thanks for sharing this so other business owners know this and don’t do what I did… and ultimately Facebook’s shareholders get it too.

    • Oh boy, that’s not good, Tracy re: Facebook. I’d avoid buying ads there too if it were me and that’s what I got back after paying for exposure. And like Thad said, Facebook still makes money from it, fake or not.

      I’m glad Twitter’s working well for you.