Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot has been accused of buying Facebook likes on the social networking site to boost his image. Rival party BJP has alleged that the CM’s official Facebook page had 1,69,077 likes till June 1 and it shot up to to 2,14,639 by June 30.
“This is a ‘social media scam’ involving Gehlot. Some IT companies sell fake likes and it is apparent with its sudden rise that unfair practice to gain popularity on Facebook was involved,” party spokesperson Jyoti Kiran said in a statement. BJP states that the new followers were from Istanbul and asked why people in Istanbul would be interested in the Rajasthan CM.
The CM’s technical team has defended the charge and said that the likes were not bought. In fact, after the story broke, the number of likes fell on the page. According to Indian Express, Just after midnight, the page had 1,99,303 ‘Likes’, and 63,588 people were ‘Talking About This’. Earlier in the day, the latter number was 78,026.
The issue of buying likes/followers on social media such as Facebook and Twitter isn’t exactly new. It’s not something that only politicians do but also reputable brands like Mercedes and Pepsi.
In April 2013, Italian security researchers, Andrea Stroppa and Carlo De Micheli had called out many Twitter accounts that added or lost a large number of followers in one day over suspicions of buying fake followers. The list included brands like Pepsi, Mercedes-Benz and Louis Vuitton, rappers 50 Cent and P Diddy to name a few.
According to their report it is easier to buy fake followers on Twitter than it is on Facebook since Facebook has declared it will crack down on fake like and accounts. Twitter, while it has given out the number of monthly active users (over 200 million), has never revealed how many accounts are spam or fake. Facebook on the other hand had told the US SEC in 2012 that 8.7 percent of its 955 million user base — translating to 83 million — are not real accounts.
Facebook even has a help section on buying Facebook likes with the title ‘Can I buy likes for my Facebook Page?‘. The page reads:
Certain websites promise to provide large numbers of likes for your Page if you sign up and give them money. These websites typically use deceptive practices or are scams. People who like your Page this way will be less valuable to your Page because they won’t necessarily have a genuine interest in what your Page is about.
In fact the number of likes on Facebook don’t make as much of a difference as Facebook also keeps a track of how many people are engaging with your page. If you have a Facebook page, you would have noticed it also shows the number of people who are talking about your page. For Facebook, this reflects the real amount of engagement and not the number of people who like it.
If one were to Google buying Facebook likes, you’ll notice many links which offer packages. For instance BuyFacebookLikes.org offers 1000 likes for as low as $26.
And how exactly do fake likes work? According to this piece on ReadWriteWeb, companies use three basic techniques to generate fake likes which include setting up phony profiles or install malicious code on third-party sites that use Facebook’s like button or spread malware among Facebook participants or coding a like button to get people to like a product or brand other than the one they see.
The piece also states that eventually the bump in likes disappears. Facebook might spot and remove the fakes or the fraudulent accounts might be shut down.
In short it is never a good idea to buy Facebook likes. Since going public Facebook decided to crack down on spam and fake accounts with a vengeance as it affects the brand. Facebook relies on advertising to make money and if advertisers feel that likes and accounts are fake, it will affect Facebook’s earnings, something the social media website can’t afford.
Thanks to social media’s growing self-importance it has become a matter of life and death for everyone, from a small businesses to the big celebrity to show big numbers on sites like Facebook and Twitter, where even a 100,000 followers may be seen as not good enough. Not only is a high number seen as an ego boost but an indicator of the brand/person’s social power. But as the Gehlot controversy highlights very often Facebook likes are just a bunch of phonies.