Facebook Moves to Wipe Out Fake 'Likes,' But Can't Do Anything About Fat Fingers

Says Bulk 'Like' Vendors Are Main Sources of Fakes

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Facebook is planning a major effort to clean house of fraudulent "likes" on fan pages created by malware, deceived users or fake accounts created for the sole purpose of liking pages.

According to a blog post by Facebook's security team, less than 1% of likes on pages will be affected on average, and Facebook's ramped-up automated efforts will focus on rooting out "likes gained by malware, compromised accounts, deceived users, or purchased bulk likes."

Facebook has built its ad business around the notion of "fans" as brand ambassadors and "likes" as currency. Its current pitch to marketers focuses on the potential of reaching friends of their fans with "sponsored stories." So giving brands confidence in the accuracy of their fan count is critical.

Expect the number of fans to start dropping next week when Facebook ramps up new technology to find and remove fraudulent ones. "While we have always had dedicated protections against each of these threats on Facebook, these improved systems have been specifically configured to identify and take action against suspicious likes," the company said.

Fake likes are often ginned up by vendors that create fake accounts to like clients' pages. (Bulk "like" vendors are the main source of fraudulent likes, according to a spokesman.) There are also setups whereby companies -- usually based outside of the U.S. -- pay real people small amounts of money to like certain pages. The onus is on Facebook's security team to deploy algorithms to detect unusual activity, such as accounts that like a large number of pages in a brief time frame or pages that seem to be liked too often within a short span.

An unconnected but related phenomenon is users reporting likes cropping up on their profiles for Facebook pages that they never clicked the like button for. Ad Age heard about several instances of this in the last month alone, including the experience of a PR executive who started noticing Walmart stories in her news feed and then saw on her timeline she had liked Walmart in July, though she can't recall doing so, and the surprise of this reporter's college roommate at seeing she had liked Budweiser.

But a Facebook spokesman said this is a matter of users' liking pages inadvertently, a more common occurrence as use of Facebook on mobile devices has grown -- but these accidental likes are not being targeted in the company's cleanup next week.

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