Interesting article from The New York Times about a report from the NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence. Researchers ran a series of experiments to buy likes, comments, and clicks on social media posts. They paid companies in Russia and Europe hundreds of dollars to buy thousands of likes and followers, writing up a report on the results:
But the report also brings renewed attention to an often overlooked vulnerability for internet platforms: companies that sell clicks, likes and comments on social media networks. Many of the companies are in Russia, according to the researchers. Because the social networks’ software ranks posts in part by the amount of engagement they generate, the paid activity can lead to more prominent positions.
The researchers then actively notified the social media companies about the fake likes and tracked what action the tech companies took, if any. Most fake likes and accounts used for the experiment remained online a month after they were reported.
It is very difficult for a massive platform like Facebook or Twitter to catch everything. Instead of trying to “fix” fake likes that are purchased, the solution is to remove the reason someone would purchase likes to begin with. If like counts weren’t featured so prominently and used for surfacing content, there would be no incentive to try to game the system.