Fake likes are destroying facebook from the inside out

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Facebook-based video contests were all the rage back in 2012.  Companies were running them left and right because it was an easy way to get a ton of likes and shares.  Contestants would shoot entries and then they had to beg their friends to vote for them.  But before their friend could vote, they first had to like the sponsor’s page.

The fad pretty much came to an end in 2013 for two reasons:

1.  Sponsors realized that most of the likes they were getting were worthless.  A lot of these contests were won by cheaters who would buy votes from “click farms” in third world countries.  So a sponsor would run a contest with a $5,000 grand prize and they would gain maybe 10,000 new likes.  But 9,000 of those likes were from fake profiles.  So the real likes costs the sponsor about $5 each.

2.  Facebook started selling “real” likes.  If you run a facebook page for a business, you can pay facebook to promote your page.  You set a budget and then facebook runs ads for your company until you reach a pre-determined number of new likes.  These likes were supposed to be much more valuable than the fake likes you can buy from click-farmers in India because Facebook swears they don’t buy fake likes.

So sponsors don’t need to spend ten grand on a video contest anymore because they can just buy 10,000 “real” likes from facebook.  But Facebook’s customers have realized that something’s rotten in Palo Alto.  Many companies are seeing their engagement numbers DROP after they pay Facebook to promote their page.  The mystery behind this phenomenon has been solved by Derek Muller of the science video blog, Veritasium.  His explanation is simple and brilliant.  This video is a must-watch for anyone who does any kind of business on Facebook.

Muller’s theory is that Click-Farmers are slowly taking over facebook.  In an effort to hide their fake likes, they are basically just liking EVERYTHING.  So if a click-farmer sees your ad, they’re going to like your page.  But Facebook now limits the number of people who see your posts because they want you to pay to “boost your exposure.”  So if only 200 people see your latest post in their news feeds, and if 180 of those people are really just fake profiles, your engagement numbers are going to go down.

This problem might sound small and technical but it sort of threatens Facebook’s entire business model.  Why should anyone pay facebook for more exposure if their ads and content are only being “seen” by zombie profiles created by click-farmers in Pakistan, Egypt and Vietnam?

Guest Post: Watch Out, It’s Dot TV

What is "Dot TV"? I actually have no idea

Beardy’s Note:  For the first time ever, VCN is presenting a guest post that was written by an author who would prefer to remain anonymous.  Here’s how this article came to be:  A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from a filmmaker and long-time reader of VCN that was having problem’s with .tv’s “Watch Dot TV” video contest.  The filmmaker had made the finals in the contest and he had a shot at winning the $10,000 grand prize.  The winner of of the contest was supposed to be determined  by facebook votes.  But right away, the voting seemed pretty fishy.  I’ll let our anonymous author tell the rest of the story but as you can probably guess, it doesn’t end well.  Initially I planned to do an article about this debacle myself but I knew the filmmaker could tell his own story better than I ever could.  This contest got pretty ugly and the filmmaker got screwed by the sponsors pretty badly so I suggested that we run this article without revealing the filmmaker’s name.

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In the wild west of online video contests, Watch Dot TV, a part of the large Verisign corporation, has set a new low in taking advantage of its contestants. In October they solicited entries and their judges chose the top 10 videos who competed for public votes.   First Prize was $10,000, Second Prize was a Canon 7Dand Third Prize was a Panasonic GH2.

The voting in this contest ended more than a month ago and Dot TV is now over a week late announcing the winners.  They have not issued a single statement despite the plethora of agitated comments on their Facebook wall. Watch Dot Tv’s continued silence is the loudest admission of guilt they could make. They even went so far as to delete people’s comments on their wall demanding accountability.

So what happened?

During the voting, each Facebook user was allowed one vote per day and after 4 days the top two entries had around 500 votes. Within hours the top two increased their lead on the third place by almost double what it took them days to accumulate. After this anomaly I discovered how the top two entries had gotten a huge lead: They exploited an error in the voting system that allowed for more than one vote a day.

Simply opening the voting page in a new tab, or even refreshing the page would allow for multiple votes. I immediately emailed the contest administrator to make them aware of the voting system error and that it has already been taken advantage of by the top two entries.

They responded and said they could not recreate this simple error on their own.

This was the major red flag. I was not trying to explain the error to an Amish craftsman, this was an internet company that could not open their own Facebook page in a new tab and recreate the error.

The two entries had already gained an insurmountable lead and the contest administrator was turning a blind eye. My fear was that they would find and fix the error I made them aware of and then deny it ever existed, meanwhile the two entries would continue to win, and Watch Dot TV would have averted a PR headache.

That’s when I decided to expose the error by voting repeatedly so it could not be ignored and brushed under the rug. As soon as I gained a lead on two winning entries, within minutes, they began exploiting the error to regain their lead. I called in reinforcements to gain such a lead that the two entries would give up, be exposed as exploiting the error, and Watch Dot TV would have to restart the competition. I did gain a 1,000 vote lead and the two entries did stop trying to keep up, so now it was just up to Watch Dot TV to fix the error and restart the competition.

Watch Dot TV’s solution was to reset the number of votes to a previous point in time that the two entries had already gained their lead by exploiting the error. When I commented on Watch Dot TV’s Facebook wall that they did not reset the votes to a point in time before the error occurred, they deleted my comment. Red flag number two.

Dot TV's facebook announcement

I continued to email them the timestamped screenshots I had taken when I exposed the voting error and asked them to address their mistake. There was only a few days left of voting for Watch Dot TV to fix this.

Watch Dot TV didn’t enjoy being called to account. After my pleas in emails and on their Facebook wall to restart the voting, they disqualified me and another entry from the contest. (Beardy’s Note:  For some mysterious reason, the sponsors did not disqualify the two original elleged cheaters.  It seems they only disqualified people who tried to beat those two contestants at their own game.)  The entry in first place remained in that position until the end of the voting period. He was even promising to donate 25% of the prize to the Invisible Children organization in an effort to gain more votes.

There were even people on his facebook wall claiming they were using multiple accounts to vote for his entry. His video also violated the contest’s Official Rules and should have never been chosen as a finalist. His entire video was created by using previously published work, a direct violation of the rules.

I have never seen such disrespectful behavior by a company towards people from which it solicited video entries.

To this day the winner has not been announced and Watch Dot Tv has not issued any statements. (Beardy’s Note:  The entire contest and all the entries have actually been removed from Dot TV’s facebook page)  My only hope is that if they did give the prize money to entry that remained in first, despite having exploited the voting error and violating the official rules, maybe 100% of his prize found its way to the Invisible Children organization.

Watch Dot TV should be ashamed of the unprofessional manner in which it operated the contest and its parent company Verisign should exercise it’s parental responsibilities and put its misbehaved child in permanent timeout.

 

—  Written by: Anonymous. To learn more about the Invisible Children fund, head here  —