This is a summary of the article, “The Bot Bubble” by D.B. Clark, formerly published in 2015 by The New Republic, 246, (4), 32-41.
Because so many of us use social media, we need to understand the effects of fake bots and accounts used to create counterfeit traffic, social media followers and trolling operations.
How Click Farms Have Inflated Social Media Currency
Summary of “The Bot Bubble” by D.B. Clark
Doug B. Clark, author of “How Click Farms Have Inflated Social Media Currency”, describes how “onlining” is compromising social media advertising. Black market bot farms can easily counterfeit social media accounts such as Twitter, Facebook and Youtube, providing automated “likes” for customers willing to pay the price to boost their social media image. When one considers the drastic upswing of social media usage from 8% in 2005 to 70% in 2014, (Clark, 2015, para.11) the likelihood for increased marketing for fan followership also skyrockets. Studies found that after Facebook created the “like” button in 2009, social media driven leads had a much greater chance of translating into real sales (Clark, 2015, para. 12). Higher search engine ranking also results in better revenue, and when one has many followers on Facebook for example, this will attract even more followers, magnifying that company’s reach (Clark, 2015, para. 12).
Social media has an insidious way of manipulating the human tendency towards the desire for popularity and the insecurity of not having as much clout as one’s friends. Celebrities are often paid huge endorsement deals for big followings and according to Clark, “Khloe Kardashian-who has 13 million followers-receives $13,000 every time she tweets product endorsements” (Clark, 2015, para. 13). One can only imagine what politicians or wealthy corporations can do hiring click farms to boost their popularity. Clark also states that, “researchers estimate that the market for fake Twitter followers was maximally worth 360 million in 2013, while Facebook’s market maximized at 390 million (Clark, 2015, para. 16). Giant corporations such as Mercedes Benz, Coca-Cola and Louis Vuitton are rumoured to have hired click farms.
One such click farmer, Richard Braggs (pseudonym), started up his business in 2011 in the Philippines. Initially he created thousands of PVA’s-or phone verified accounts-with black market SIM cards, purchased for about 70 cents apiece. By 2013 he employed 17 “onliners” to create these fake bot accounts, each person averaging about 100 a day. Most of these accounts, created via Fake Name Generators, are then combined with profiles and photos from dating sites like Tinder. The real income generator for Braggs is supplying accounts and bot software that click farms use. (Clark, 2015, para 20) Most of these click farms operate out of developing countries like Mexico, Philippines, India, Iraq, Indonesia and Eastern Europe. One can do a Google search on “buy Facebook likes” for example, and come up with deals like 1000 FB likes for $29.99 or 1000 Twitter followers for $12, says Clark (Clark, 2015, para. 5). And there is no shortage of cheap labor in countries like the Philippines who consider onlining a legal profession, much preferred over undesirable cybersex businesses, illegal fireworks or low-wage jobs.
Click farm influence on social media is sabotaging the advertising efforts for many companies. The problem with fake bot “likes” is that they do not engage with the real account holders; the bot software accounts working in unison tricks us into believing all those likes are from real people. The fake bots clog up the space for the real people who would like to engage, but are now inundated with counterfeits. Clark revealed that, “A 2014 Max Plank Institute study determined that 67% of likes on FB appear to be illegitimate for major advertising campaigns” (Clark, 2015, para. 33). This is a big problem for honest advertisers as well as social media companies, since the majority of their revenue comes from advertising. It is believed that social media is marginalizing this problem, although they claim serious efforts are being made to police bot farm influence.
The entire business model could be now called into question by advertisers (Clark, 2015, para. 35) since the majority of likes on Facebook are known to be caused by fake bots. (Clark, 2015,para. 33) Depressive global economic conditions and the ease of bot counterfeiting encourages black market onliners. The predictability of human behaviour under these conditions suggests that this dilemma will probably not be going away any time soon.