Facebook acts on fake ‘likes’

Facebook lgo

"A 'like' that doesn't come from someone truly interested in connecting with a page benefits no one." So begins a blog entry posted by the Facebook security team on Friday. It might look a statement of the obvious - but it signals that the social network is finally emerging from its state of denial about the true value of "likes", which have been presented as a valuable currency to advertisers.

Back in July, we questioned the worth of "likes" and asked whether Facebook was awash with questionable accounts which appeared to like just about anything. But the company was dismissive of our Virtual Bagel experiment which had managed to gain 3,000 "likes" for a non-existent business in a few days by placing some adverts. Fake accounts were not a serious problem and getting thousands of dubious "likes" was not the experience of most advertisers, Facebook told us.

But now the message has changed. The security team at the company is warning that it is now acting to remove "likes" on pages that "may have been gained by means that violate our Facebook terms." That includes fans that have been bulk bought by companies - there is a healthy trade in likes as a quick search will show - and others generated by spam accounts or malware.

Our research showed that all sorts of big brands which boast about the millions who have given them the thumbs up appear to be "liked" in rather unlikely parts of the world. And when we looked at some of the "likers" - for my virtual bagels and for some other pages - quite a few of them seemed to be engaged in "liking" everything they saw, with thousands of businesses benefitting from their admiration.

That kind of behaviour - whether genuine or the result of some automated system - is raising questions about Facebook's usefulness as a platform where businesses can engage with consumers. One correspondent put it to me like this:

"What marketing or demographic value does Facebook see in the fact that an 11-year-old girl I know - who is on Facebook, yes - 'likes' American Express? She doesn't even know what it is, and is 10 years from being able to have an American Express card, at the least."

Now, though, Facebook says it will act to remove those questionable "likes" - which would include an 11-year-old girl if the company could work out its users real ages. The social network says that on average less than 1% of "likes" will be removed, and the move will benefit both businesses and users because the system's integrity will be reinforced.

But some brand owners will no doubt wake up to the fact that the love they thought they were getting from Facebook users is not quite as heartfelt as it appeared. And that in turn may make them "like" Facebook's adverts just a little bit less.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I cannot understand why people would 'like' ads in the first place.

    For me, Facebook is a social tool which enable me to keep abreast of what my friends are doing. I couldn't give a hoot about ads and I certainly don't wish to inflict ads on my friends' news feeds. We're surrounded and subsumed by advertising everywhere and anywhere which makes me more determined than ever to totally ignore it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Completely agree with the 'dislike' button concept; to bring Facebook in line with the likes of Youtube, etc.

    Plus, it will put the 'click here to get a dislike button' spammers at bay until they jump onto the next irritating load of spammy nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    It's going the way of MySpace. As soon as MySpace was sold to Murdoch and they started to clutter and mess with it the user base declined.

    The only thing missing at the moment is a viable alternative. Once one appears people will jump ship.

    What is really needed is an Internet standard for social media so these big companies can't control everything.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Facebook is the biggest gift controlling governments ever, ours included. It's a goldmine of information, willingly posted, often by vaccuous ill educated, celebrity obsessed people. "Oh but nobody can access 'my facebook' without my permission". Dream on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Deleted my account. Sick of massive adverts appearing in my news feed when one of my "friends" clicks like, Oh and trending articles? Really? Always from Yahoo! as well it seems.... Hmmm.

    Too much Facebook. I'm out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Facebook haven't listened to their users, who have not wanted the latest user interface update "Timeline" (every time a "we hate Timeline" comment is posted it gets a whole lot of "likes"). It seems they are breeding a hostile user base, which advertisers will not appreciate.

    If it takes them so long to pick up on the fake "likes", maybe they won't notice this until their share price plummets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Isn't it a bigger story that the man tipped to be next Chair of the Conservative party sells a software package that creates websites that simply copies other content in order to gain ad revenue? See http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/sep/02/grant-shapps-google-howtocorp-adsense

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Facebook "likes" are meaningless anyway. Without a "dislike" option to counterbalance the "likes" there is no way to put the "likes" into context.

    1000 likes with 100 dislikes is more "liked" than 10000 likes with 20000 dislikes, but Facebook offers no way to express that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Aren't all "likes" on Facebook fake?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The bigger problem is surely Facebook algorithms deciding who gets to see or not see posts from pages they genuinely follow.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I have to confess that I never understood the point of the Beeb's experiment in the first place.

    The purpose of advertising is to sell goods, not to garner eyeballs. One evaluates money spent on advertising by seeing how much extra revenue it brings in, not by how many real or fake people see it. A company that doesn't know what effect its advertising budget is having deserves all it gets.


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