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We’ve all seen them.
Click “like” if you love Jesus. Click “like” if you support the troops. Click “like” if you think this tragically disfigured burn victim is still beautiful. Click “like” if you have a heart, care even a little, love puppies, and aren’t a selfish evil jerk.
But what’s really going on when we’re being asking to click like for a million different clearly good causes and wonderful feelings? Who’s really benefiting? As it turns out, more often than not, someone is manipulating our emotions and moral sense to score some cash via a process known as “like farming.”
Because, once pages have enough likes and attention, they’re valuable to advertisers and spammers.
“I’d guess that 99 percent of them are people accumulating likes and shares on Facebook to sell their pages to advertisers,” web developer and photographer Alan Bailward told me via Facebook.
For example, a page on “Hhamburgers” with almost 500,000 fans was sold for $5,000 before Facebook deactivated it. Another about cuddling — who doesn’t like that — had over a million fans and was listed for $7,000. Other pages with close to two million likes have been sold for undisclosed sums, and then are used to drive traffic and sentiment in ways that line their new owners’ pockets.
It’s easy to see how people fall for the scam — this Facebook page asks you to “click like if you love your Facebook family and friends.” 64,000 Facebookers do, apparently, while the rest of us are just rotten people. And if you’re a parent, do you love your son? 1.2 million people here do, while over 130,000 like their dogs better. And 1.4 million like their kids.
Above: Merlin German was a U.S, soldier injured in a IED attack in Iraq. He died in 2008, but his photo has been used by many Facebook like farming campaigns
But there’s a backlash to this sort of like farming. And that backlash can be against you when you unwittingly partner in the someone else’s farm.
“They are stupid and manipulative, and I tend to think less of a person after they post it,” Bailward says.
That’s probably not a goal that most people have in mind when they share a post on Facebook, or like something. But there’s worse too — creating or passing along like-farming posts might also make your Facebook friends suspect your motives.
Entrepreneur Kyle Kesterton, who is the co-founder of social humor and sharing startup Freak’n Genius, wonders if there are unmet psychological needs at the root of these campaigns:
“I think they are just trying to boost their own social presence and feed their ego,” he told me via Facebook.
That rings true with others as well, who told me that “click like” stories made them feel manipulated and fake. And others said that they felt a sense of “nagging guilt” if they didn’t like something they saw as good or important, and yet, felt forced.
But some people that I talked to pointed out the obvious: These campaigns are clearly working — even though they are annoying. And the reason that they’re working is that we’re participating in sharing them.
“Their popularity clearly indicates that it is an effective strategy to provoke engagement,” says Marijn Berk, who is the founder of the Phorce gadget-charging bag, which raised over $150,000 on Kickstarter. “Who is at fault: The creator or the audience? Whoever’s to blame, those things are damn annoying and I wish I could opt out.”
If these like campaigns are farming, their product is you. And that turns everyone off, it seems.
“Maybe I’m cold and callous, but I simply don’t care,” says Chris Saunders, a Facebook user. “I feel they’re a waste of my time and wish everyone else would stop posting these like stories and making them live on well past their best buy date.”
Everyone except, of course, those who keep clicking like.
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