Talking tech since 2003

A video posted on the YouTube account of science channel Veritasium has been picking up steam in the last few hours, as it seems to provide evidence that Facebook’s page promotion services are fraudulent, generating revenue for itself while actually limiting the exposure of content-providers’ posts to their legitimate fans.

Veritasium’s creator, Derek Muller, explains that he paid Facebook to help spread his content throughout the social network by clicking the “Promote Your Page” banner that’s offered to anyone who makes a Facebook page. Doing so would spread the content to more accounts outside a page’s already established fan-base and help generate more Likes and, consequently, more followers. Interestingly, Facebook forbids buying Likes through “click-farms”: third parties that sub-contract with people sitting at computers in developing countries who operate fake accounts and drive up Like-counts. But Muller’s video dives deep into the effect of paying for Facebook promotion, and determines that, essentially, the people who end up liking your page afterward are also fraudulent accounts.

Worse, because the fake likes account for such a huge chunk of the people following the page, the amount of content that’s distributed to actual human fans is diminished, leading to higher numbers, but far lower engagement. In short, it’s bad for content-makers, bad for fans, and good for Facebook, since it makes money when you pay them.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard that Facebook’s methods for distributing content has failed people who maintain pages on the social networking site. Back in December we heard about cookbook author Stephanie Stiavetti, who said that Facebook’s revised algorithms resulted in her fans never seeing her posts. Meanwhile, our own Jeff Weisbein wrote about his own similar experiences a few weeks before that. He told me today that he once spent $25 on Facebook ads to promote the page. The result was similar to what Mullen describes in his video: all the Likes we got seemed to come from countries we’d least expect, and the profiles themselves seemed sketchy. “I never did it again,” he told me.

It’ll be interesting to see what response Facebook offers to these accusations, if it gives any at all. The company has a history of responding to public outcry over perceptions of its wrong moves, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a statement from Mark Zuckerberg about how they’re changing the practice to deal with these fraudulent Likes. I also wouldn’t be surprised to learn that whatever they do doesn’t do much to actually change anything. But the perception that we’re being heard and that any remediation is in the offing is usually enough to make any negative backlash die down quickly enough–at least when it comes to Facebook, that is. After all, think of how many times you’ve been mad about a new layout or feature being added, and how quickly you’ve forgotten your anger after about a week.

Take a look at the video for the full explanation—and make sure you think twice before clicking the “promote” link. By the way, Like us on Facebook!


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