Faking It on Social Media

Click Farm - Rows of laptops
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Faking It on Social Media

Right, so you want to promote the new video for your new restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan… You need people to fill your restaurant so you can pay your employees and your rent, period. After all, you are in business to make money, plain and simple.

You get an email from someone, stating that they can get you 100,000 likes on YouTube for $24.99. You reply and ask a few questions. You also ask them to prove that this is real. You send them the URL to your video and ask for 100 likes. In an hour, they reply to your email and tell you to look at the video on YouTube. You hit up the page and bingo, you have 102 new likes. You ask if they can do comments and subscriptions too. He replies that he can do 1,000 subscriptions for $29.99 and 100 comments for $19.99. He also asks for some words describing the video, that he can put in the comments. You buy all three options and pay your $75.00, you also draft a short blurb for the “Farmer” to use and you anxiously wait.

The next morning, you hit up your page and find that you now have 100,439 likes, 103 comments, and 1,008 subscribers. Sure enough, it worked and you could not be happier.

In Comes the Click Farm
A click farm is a form of click fraud where a large group of low-paid workers is hired to click on paid advertising links for the click fraudster (click farm master or click farmer). The workers click the links, surf the target website for a period of time, and possibly sign up for newsletters prior to clicking another link. For many of these workers, clicking on enough ads per day may increase their revenue substantially and may be an alternative to other types of work. It is extremely difficult for an automated filter to detect this simulated traffic as fake because the visitor behavior appears the same as that of an actual legitimate visitor.

How Does It Work
The setup can be very simple or very complex. The simple setups can be a room full of paid individuals, who are all operating one or more phones or a computer; they have a list of sites to interact with. Let us say that I want 1,000 likes on a certain YouTube video. We have a room full of 200 people each with five phones and each phone has a unique account on it. Each person would have my video on their list, and they are told to either like, subscribe, or comment on my video. Some are told what words to include in their comments.

Another play on this is where the “Farmer” has 1,000 people that he pays to interact with him. They all work from home and he sends them their list and their time frame. Each one does their thing and bingo your likes, subscriptions, or comments go up by 1,000 or more.

The more complex setups are where one person manages a bank of phones from a computer system. This one person may manage four to eight screens; each screen displays 20 different smartphones. So one person could manage 120 or more phones. It sounds like it is a lot for one person to handle, but all they are doing is pasting a URL and clicking a subscribe or like button.

So What’s The Big Deal?
First, YouTube does not allow anything that artificially increases the number of views, likes, comments, or other metrics either by using automatic systems or serving up videos to unsuspecting viewers. In addition, content that solely exists to incentivize viewers for engagement (views, likes, comments, etc.) is prohibited. Wow, thanks for clearing that up YouTube. You can see other entire Fake Engagement Policy here.

Second, you will usually get your subscribers or likes from countries like Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan, Russia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nepal, Ukraine, Malaysia, and so on.

Lastly, you will get the likes or subscribers that you pay for. But, they are often from obviously fake accounts and they often only stay for a short period of time and then they leave. Accounts would be names like “rymie138214”, “vzvuwyuie” and “ytclkr132i51”

Why they are so short-lived? Simply, either YouTube has caught them and shut down the account, or in order to not get caught by YouTube, they play a cat and mouse game with YouTube and unlike or unsubscribe from videos that they previously liked or subscribed to, this is designed to mimic real behavior. It looks very odd to YouTube to have a user with thousands or millions of videos and channels that they like and subscribe to, but no comments or no followers or likes for anything they may have posted.

I’m Still Not Understanding Why This is Bad for my Video
The problem is Google (who owns YouTube) has gotten good at detecting bots and fakes. They are aggregating all the lessons learned, all the fake usernames, and all the IP addresses of the “Farmers” and “Fakers”. After all, Google which is a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., owns Google Search and all things Google, like Google Maps, Google Wifi, Google Fi; YouTube, Waze, Blogger, and a line of Smartphones like the Nexus and Pixel; a line of home automation products like Nest; the Android operating system for Smart devices (phones and tablets); Gmail, Google Classroom and more. All that translates to billions of records of search patterns and interactions on how humans interact with computers. Google is data, period. It is estimated that Google Search alone manages 5 billion searches per day which is a ton of knowledge. This all means that they can tell when something is being faked. In addition, if you are kicked off of YouTube, you might get the boot on Google Search.

When YouTube detects a bot or fake likes or subscriptions, it removes them, which means they are removed from your like and subscription count. YouTube penalize you if it believes that you are defrauding them in some manner.

Why is My Restaurant Still Empty?
Keep in mind, we were just trying to promote our restaurant in Michigan, so all the fake likes and subscriptions from overseas do nothing to put “bodies in seats” at your restaurant. However, hey, you got a million likes on your video and not one new person in your restaurant.

This would also apply if you were selling a widget or promoting a book or anything like that. Those fake likes and views do nothing to sell or promote your product.

Now there is some small benefit that you might see. Someone from Michigan may be friends of “rymie138214” who liked your video and they may have seen the video based on that and now they are sitting in a chair in your restaurant, but honestly, that type of scenario isn’t real at all. Another possible benefit could be that if your video goes viral, then you might make it big.

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