Researchers at the University of Iowa found an army of websites spamming Facebook with millions of fake likes and comments.
Collectively these websites produced over 100 million fake likes on Facebook posts from 2015 to 2016.
The modus operandi of these sites is to act as an exchange site where you offer access to your Facebook account in exchange of likes and comments to your posts.
This is something that is in clear violation of Facebook’s terms of service.
“When you become part of this network, you can say ‘Give me likes on this post and as soon as you request it, you get thousands of likes on a specific post,” said Zubair Shafiq, the computer science professor who documented these automated websites.There are millions of #fake #likes and #comments on #FacebookClick To Tweet
In turn, these websites use the newly gained access to fake like posts of other people in the network. From the research, it was found that they control as many as 1 million accounts. These accounts were responsible for generating the over 100 million fake likes and comments we mentioned.
What made it possible to carry out such a large scale malicious activity on the biggest social media network on the planet?
Apparently, there was a flaw in Facebook’s code.
This made it possible to these networks to automate processes which otherwise would have to be done manually.
What Drives “The Fake Economy”
Firstly, let’s take the Fake News phenomenon.
Fake news has spread like wild fire generating millions of page views for the sites on which they are hosted in the process.
Ultimately, these page views translate into a lot of ad revenue. We recently covered how world youths are using social media to make money. Prominent among them was a Macedonian teen who made over $60,000 USD from ad revenue on his fake news site.
By the same token, this is the case for almost all other networks providing all forms of fake activities on social media platforms.
Additionally, the very companies which are trying to curb this pandemic are equally responsible for the boom.
Though not the original intent, the highly accurate targeting tools created by social media giants for effective ads delivery are being used in the same manner to deliver fake news with high precision to target audiences.
Facebook’s Response to Spam and Fake News
Over the past year, Facebook has been trying to solve how to “control” and even eliminate these malicious activities and the spread of fake news in general without appearing to be an outright censor.
Earlier this year, Facebook spent 6 months fighting to disrupt a coordinated campaign of illegitimate activity on their network.
The campaign was disguised as genuine friend requests which would later be used as a medium to spam the accounts who accept the requests.
Facebook’s response was to monitor accounts for suspicious behaviour such as repetitive posts. With this security measure, Facebook was able to identify and block spam accounts.
After fake news was believed to have influenced the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections, Facebook has taken a major stance against it.
The first of many efforts of the social media giant was releasing a tool to fact check and dispute news.
More recently, it has begun targeting pages which use Facebook ads to build a broader audience to spread fake news.
“We’ve found instances of Pages using Facebook ads to build their audiences in order to distribute false news more broadly. Now, if a Page repeatedly shares stories that have been marked as false by third-party fact-checkers, they will no longer be able to buy ads on Facebook. If Pages stop sharing false news, they may be eligible to start running ads again.”
This move, they believe will slow down the distribution of fake news on the network.