Chewbacca Mom or Faux Furs: authenticity vs con artists.
You’d have to live under a rock to have not heard of Candace Payne, better known as “Chewbacca Mom,” whose Facebook live video because an instant viral sensation. In just days, her gleeful post earned millions of views and shares which translated into over 800,000 Facebook followers, and ultimately broke Facebook records for the most shared live video in Facebook history—at the time of this post, over 350 million views. Suddenly, Chewbacca Mom was everywhere—television shows, red carpet appearances, even Facebook headquarters. We just couldn’t get enough.
One of the things that made Chewbacca Mom so endearing was that she didn’t create a video with the intent of going viral.
Her mission was simply to stake her claim on the mask she had just purchased, telling her family and friends that it was all hers—not her son’s, no one else’s. Hers. But her infectious laugh and her explosive joy captured the hearts of the world. And it has been a true joy to watch.
This is a stark contrast to the hundreds of thousands who purposely create content with the intent of going viral. While some may enjoy temporary success, others fail miserably. One example that comes to mind is a recent video of a precocious little girl whose adorable antics captured the hearts of the world. Amazed by the viral success, her father proceeded to make countless more videos of his darling diva, and even created a web page celebrating the young girl with branded merchandise. And suddenly, the authenticity and the charm gave way to free enterprise. And the magic was gone.
The art of going viral has become big business.
The internet is packed with countless websites offering the promise of increased followings and shares to assist in that effort–for a modest fee, of course. Like flies to honey, businesses and individuals are lured to the temptations with dreams of instant fame and fortune that these paid likes can bring.
But it’s not that simple. Sometimes, the seemingly innocent practice of liking and sharing can have much deeper repercussions.
That being said, here are a few tips to help you spot the frauds and avoid becoming part of the con’s game.
How to spot a fake Facebook page promo:
Promises of winning a great prize for likes/shares or sweepstakes entries.
If it’s a local vendor you know and trust, chances are, it’s legit. If it’s a national company, no matter how reputable, before you like and share, and even more importantly, before you complete the online sweepstakes entry form with your personal information, click the organization’s Facebook page link to see if something is amiss. Not long ago, there was a page of an airline offering a free ticket giveaway. When clicking the page, it was evident that the photos shared were that of a passenger train with large picture windows, not those typical of airplanes. The featured logo was fake as well, and the name and some of the post content was misspelled. Another airline giveaway featured photos of luxurious seating bays not even offered on its flights. Pages such as these are often created just a few days prior to the offerings, with the giveaway being the first and only post. Scam flags aplenty. Hardly a day goes by without similar scam pages. Think about it: have you ever seen any of these pages announce the results of the promised giveaways? The genuine pages of major corporations will likely have millions of followers, the proper logo and correct spelling.
Posts which appeal to emotions and goodwill.
These include mass shared pictures of people you don’t know that encourage likes/shares/”Amen’s” promising donations for a child battling an illness, prompting well wishes for a senior citizen celebrating a milestone birthday, or the ole “My teacher/mom wanted to see how far we could share our post” bits. There have been cases of the photos of children battling terminal illness being stolen, with con artists setting up online charities set up to assist in medical expenses. Of course, none of that money reaches the child or his or her family. It’s an unconscionable scam that makes unethical people wealthy. And no matter what a post says, Facebook will not contribute to the family for every like, comment or share. The use of privacy settings can limit scammers’ access to such photos, and photo watermarks with the original Facebook page’s information can also reduce the risk of image theft and cons.
Egocentric-based posts created to showcase one’s intelligence or traits.
Examples are along the lines of “Name a fish without an A in its name,” stating that the challenge is not as easy as people think, “How fast can you spot the misplaced letter/misspelling/displaced item in the photo” or “Only 1 in 10 people will get all of these questions correct” that are designed to make you think you’re showing the world how smart you are actually have the opposite impact—they show how vulnerable you are to adding to the likes/shares of the con artists who profit from your interactions. Cyber experts say hackers can use these quiz type posts to hijack accounts, with the quizzes disguising links that will download malware or steal your information. Is it really worth the risk to find out what your most used words on Facebook are? According to this post by Comparitech.com, over 16 million people agreed to give up their privacy rights for that one.
How to spot fake Facebook likes/shares/endorsements:
People who are paid to click via likes and shares will do so repeatedly. The more they share, the more money they make. Some are subtle in their shares, spacing them out so as to not draw attention to themselves. Others are more blatant in their efforts, sharing, deleting from their page (so as to not be busted by Facebook for the fraudulent activity) then sharing again, sometimes commenting on their own shares to add yet more to the count and their compensation. Even after deleting from the page on which it was shared, the action remains in the post share count. Most of those who are paid to share spread the activity over a few days, decreasing the likelihood of being caught in the act and having their accounts suspended for the fraudulent activity.
Programmers have figured out a way to amass numerous unpaid followers, using a flaw in Facebook’s programming. Known as the McGill Method, the flaw lets users create 100 fake “likes” every five minutes essentially by adding three duplicate likes on every single post or shared article. Basically, it’s another post/delete/repost method, driving up the share count, which isn’t impacted by the deletions. See more about that here.
It’s important to note that the faux likes are not the same as Facebook’s relatively new sponsored advertising program. The former of the two is a violation of Facebook’s terms of service. The latter can provide authorized, targeted ads to the audiences of your choice, for a nominal fee.
Why it’s important to resist the urge to click and share:
Many of the pages/posts are part of the lucrative “Like Farming” business model.
Ruthless con artists set up faux business pages with the intent of amassing followings via the type of feel-good, like-baiting posts described above. Once they have successfully garnered a massive following, they sell the page with built-in followers to the highest bidders, businesses looking for built-in audiences. So while you think you’re showing support for little Johnny’s illness or Grandpa’s 100th birthday, in actuality you’re lining the pockets of the con artist via the scam. There’s no reason to feel good about that. Worse, still, is that when the page is sold, you’re automatically a follower of the newly-renamed page, whether or not it is reflective of your personal beliefs or ideals.
Especially if the page requires a “permission” to access your account in order to participate in the giveaway/promo—DON’T DO IT.
You’re basically giving access to all of your personal information and any info about your friends and colleagues stored in your account. Some even include links that will load a virus to your account. It’s not the kind of gift you want to receive.
For the paid-per-share cons, the quantity of shares does not equal unique followers.
What the companies who engage in such tactics don’t tell those who purchase post likes is that the promise of 1,000 or 10,000 shares does not mean you’ll draw vast audiences– it means a small army of people, each of whom will share over and over, often hundreds of times, artificially driving up post numbers. Again, the more they share, the more they are paid. But it does not mean your product or service is seen by more people. Just the same audiences, over and over.
For those who are tempted by the game, why it’s unadvisable to buy shares and post likes:
Many businesses erroneously believe that a show of a large following equals credibility.
In fact, the opposite can happen. Facebook monitors pages and posts for fraudulent activity. The faux accounts set up for the purpose of scamming are deleted, and visibility for the legitimate pages with paid shares is throttled back so fewer people see future posts. So the resulting effect of the paid likes/shares is a grand illusion. In the end, the loss of credibility for the paid “endorsements” is far more damaging for a business’ reputation.
Your personal information could be at risk.
When farming likes and shares, some of these organizations also capture personal information from those who unknowingly become part of the scam. It’s just not worth it.
The scams are not limited to Facebook.
The same types of opportunities to garner paid followers are common on other platforms, such as Twitter and SoundCloud. As one musician noted, it’s always amusing to see an artist with hundreds of thousands of “fans” receive only a handful of interactions when a new song is posted. It’s a fake-fan flag if ever there was one. While each of the platforms have put forth efforts to prohibit such actions, the cons always find a way around such. And Amazon also has come under fire for not prohibiting its users from posting paid product endorsements.
The bottom line is that the legitimate viral sensations, like the wildly popular Chewbacca Mom, bring us joy through shares and follows. But for every authentic sensation, there are countless fraudulent efforts, and they continue to grow daily. So think, and sneak a peek, before you click and share, or before large numbers of followers influence your purchases. The likelihood of putting the scammers out of business is minimal, but with a few precautions and awareness, you can help minimize the scams and protect yourself from their consequences.