Popularity Fraud and Click Farms
In HBO’s “Silicon Valley” season 3 episode 9, Pied Piper’s (a fictional data compression platform company) existence is threatened by its unfavorable Titular Metric (number of daily active users). Jared, the business chief, elects to purchase the services of a click farm in order to save the company from shutting down. The episode ends dramatically by zooming out slowly over a massive data center with hundreds of people sitting in front of monitors, laboriously and repeatedly clicking.
As touched upon in 3 Media Elements of Marketing: Earned vs. Owned vs. Paid, 92 percent of consumers trust word-of-mouth recommendations over advertisements. Before a consumer makes a decision to purchase, he or she often researches it or relies on the general popularity of the brand to confirm its value. Customers approve of brands based on the number of Facebook likes, Twitter followers or YouTube views a company has. In fact, 31 percent of consumers will check ratings and reviews, including social media followings. This behavior has prompted companies to turn to click farms to enhance their social media prowess.
What is a Click Farm?
Click farms are most commonly located in Bangladesh, India and the Philippines. Dhaka, Bangladesh is an international hub for click farms. There are an estimated 25,000 workers in Dhaka who are paid to simply click on pages repetitively to increase visibility for clients. The renowned soccer player, Leo Messi, has 51 million likes on Facebook and most are tracked to Dhaka. Shareyt.com in Dhaka boosts Facebook ,Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn and YouTube company and brand accounts. The company claims to have generated 1.4 million Facebook likes and has at least 83,000 registered users.
There are many companies like Shareyt that offer similar services. BuyPlusFollowers sells 250 Google+ shares for $12.95. InstagramEngine sells 1,000 followers for $12.00. AuthenticHits sells 1,000 SoundCloud plays for $9. LinkedIn members purchase connections in order to appear well networked and attractive to recruiters and employers. Record labels even judge potential talent based on numbers of plays on Soundcloud and views on YouTube.
Why does this matter?
The use of click farms is problematic for several reasons. The working conditions and wages of click farm employees are questionable. Workers sit and stare at computer screens all day in crowded rooms and can be forced to work through the night. Workers are at risk of developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome from repetitive use of their hands. The main cause of Ganglionic cysts is repetitive work with bent wrists. Computer operators often suffer from eye and vision problems from staring at bright screens and small fonts for hours on end.
One click farm in Bangladesh states that each worker to earn just one dollar must generate 1,000 Facebook likes or Twitter followers. Meanwhile, the same company charges $15.00 for the service. Kim Casipong is a teenage girl who works full-time at a click farm in Lapu-Lapu City in the Philippines. She earns about $215 per month. For developed countries, this setting and wage rate is certainly problematic. But it is possible that click farms provide one of the few sources of income for certain individuals in undeveloped countries.
Click farms are not only harmful to workers, but using them is also immoral and illegal for the misrepresentation of popularity they create. According to Sam DeSilva, an IT and Outsourcing lawyer in Oxford, the fake clicks breach consumer protection and unfair trading regulations. The practice also has adverse effects on advertisers who buy pay-per-click ads. Companies use click farms to generate clicks on these ads because regardless of whether or not the advertisement leads to a sale, the advertiser is charged each time a user clicks on it.
What’s being done about click farms?
Fortunately, fake clicks, likes and views are slowly being uncovered and tech companies are beginning to develop software to filter them out. Both Facebook and Twitter prevent links to Shareyt.com from appearing on their sites. Facebook investigates vendors who sell likes and scans the feeds for fraudulent activity.
Overall, as consumers look to social media outlets for information and affirmation of a company or brand, it is crucial to realize that appearance may not be reality. If consumers are highly considering making a purchase, they should not just glance at the number of likes on a page, but instead, should take the time to read some product reviews and testimonials.
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