Facebook is watching all the links you send in messages in order to increase the the number of likes on any given website. But as Wired notes, this opens the door for companies to bump up their likes dishonestly.
You’ve seen the Facebook “like counter” before. It’s that small box on a website that indicates how many people, well, like the content. “Likes” on these counters, however, don’t only indicate that a person has pressed the like button but also includes and shares of the website’s URL on Facebook (such as in a post), any likes or comments on those shares, and any URL shares in messages.
This does not count for Facebook fan page likes, however. Those likes are truly from people who have “liked” the page and are not increased by shared links through messages.
Facebook explained to The Next Web that it examines the URL in each post or message in order to “render the appropriate preview.”
But because of the broader definition of a “like” that shows up in the “like counter,” companies could drive likes up by sending messages about their pages. It’d be under the radar, since the it could send such things through private messages, and the messages could go out by employees, as opposed to the company itself, to further avoid being pegged for ballooning their likes.
The company is also currently experiencing a bug where the like counter actually adds two likes per link sent, but Facebook is working to fix that problem.
As The Next Web notes, a concern beyond inflated company likes is whether a person’s profile is associated with those likes — likes they often don’t realize their giving. Facebook flatly denied this in a statement to The Next Web:
Absolutely no private information has been exposed and Facebook is not automatically Liking any Facebook Pages on a user’s behalf.
Many websites that use Facebook’s ‘Like,’ ‘Recommend,’ or ‘Share’ buttons also carry a counter next to them. This counter reflects the number of times people have clicked those buttons and also the number of times people have shared that page’s link on Facebook. When the count is increased via shares over private messages, no user information is exchanged, and privacy settings of content are unaffected. Links shared through messages do not affect the Like count on Facebook Pages.
Facebook has been fighting against fraud on the social network, removing thousands of fake accounts, and thus fake likes, on fan pages. Recently, a number of fan pages saw tens of thousands of their likes come down due to the campaign, but Facebook assures fake accounts make up less than 1 percent of fan page likes, so companies shouldn’t be too concerned.