In my last post I detailed the extreme cheating that was happening in Fiverr’s “Save the Date” contest. At least 10 desperate couples tried to win a $25,000 dream wedding by ordering or manufacturing tens of thousands of fake votes. The cheating reached obscene heights the night before the deadline as some entries were gaining dozens of votes every few minutes. And these last-minute votes weren’t just coming in at 9 or 10PM. They appeared all night long. In fact, the cheating seemed to peak around two o’clock in the morning. Maybe because 2AM Chicago time would work out to be about 1PM in Bangladesh. Here’s what Fiverr’s Top 9 looked like about 12 hours before the voting ended. – –
Those numbers are absolutely ridiculous. Obviously I don’t have access to Fiverr’s traffic and activity logs so I can’t say for sure that these folks were cheating. But the judges must have realized that the voting had been compromised because in the end, those giant scores didn’t mean a damn thing. The grand prize went to a couple who didn’t even have enough votes to make the top 10. Here’s the winning entry. – Fiverr’s Grand Prize Winner. Prize: A $25,000 dream wedding: –
I think it’s kind of funny that Fiverr let all these people waste so much time cheating. But I do feel a little bad for them. They didn’t just waste their time; they also wasted a ton of money. To vote in this contest, you needed to have a facebook account. Nobody outside of Southeast Asia has access to 8,000 facebook accounts so these people probably had to order votes from a Vote Farm. And those type of votes aren’t cheap. If they bought their votes from Fiverr, these people were spending about 20 cents a vote. So 7,900 votes would cost $1,580! But sellers on Fiver only do about 25 votes at a time. So most of these people probably ordered their votes in bulk from a site like buycontestvotes.com. Their prices are slightly less insane. (They’re listed at the top of this post). That website sells 1,000 votes for $100. So that works out to be ten cents per vote.
So let’s do the math: The videos in Fiverr’s Top 9 had a total of 35,800 votes when I took my last screenshot (the night before the voting ended.) I know that a few hundred more votes were added the next day but let’s just round up to 36,000 votes. If they were paying ten cents per vote, these 9 couples spent at least $3,600!!! Keep in mind that the rules of this contest said that votes would only count for a percentage of each video’s score. I’m as competitive as the next guy but spending $800 to slightly improve your chances of winning a $25,000 grand prize is freaking bonkers.
Fiverr.com is a “micro job” site where independent sellers post “gigs” that they’re willing to do for five bucks. You can find all kinds of weird and helpful gigs on Fiverr but a lot of their sellers offer shady gigs that violate the terms of service for sites like Twitter, Yelp, Google, Facebook and Youtube. Do you need more twitter followers? Well for just $5 you can gain a thousand of them over night. How about Facebook likes? For five bucks your page will look popular in no time. Wanna be a viral video star? Thanks to Fiverr your new video will have 10,000 views by the end of the week. Sure they’ll be fake but only you and some dude in Bangladesh will know that your view count isn’t legit.
Fiverr also happens to be a popular tool for cheaters. If you go search Fiverr right now you’ll find plenty of gigs just like this one: – –
Basically Fiverr is a one-stop shop for anyone who wants to LOOK popular on the Internet. So when I heard that Fiverr was running a video contest of their own, I knew it was gonna get ugly. Today is the last day for entries in Fiverr’s “Save the Date” contest. It was created to help promote Fiverr’s wedding-related services. To enter, couples had to share their personal stories and explain what they would do with the $25,000 grand prize. The rules for the contest state that the winners will be….
“the wedding couple that received the combination of the highest number of votes via the campaign landing page, as well as votes by a panel of internal Fiverr judges and campaign partners.”
Do you see the problem here? The rules don’t say how important the votes will be. Will votes count for 5% of an entry’s score? 50%? 75%??? Nobody knows. So I guess a lot of contestants decided to play it safe and try and get as many votes as possible. The huge prize, the vague rules and the fact that Fiverr literally sells fake votes guaranteed that the contest would turn into a massive cheat-fest. With just a few hours left to go before the vote deadline, here are the videos that are in the top nine.
The couple in first place has 7,900 votes!! That’s awesome. I’ve seen some really brazen acts of cheating before but I am genuinely impressed by these folks. It takes serious balls to say screw it, I’m just gonna order myself 6,000 votes. At this point, I don’t even blame these people for cheating. The judges are the ones who let this contest get out of control. No sane human being could believe that a non-famous couple could get thousands and thousands of people to vote for their entry. Fiverr should have shut down the voting or disqualified people weeks ago. But they just let the cheating go on and on and on. So can you really blame these folks for trying to keep up? To be totally honest with you, if I was in this contest I’d probably order a few hundred votes. It’s obvious that the judges don’t care so it’s almost like people have to cheat just to have a shot at winning.
Now obviously I don’t have any hard proof that these contestants are buying fake votes. But I have noticed some pretty hilarious clues. Most of the people in the top 10 have realized that 4,000 votes will look suspicious if their video only has 500 views. So when they ordered their votes, they also ordered a fat stack of youtube views. But if you know where to look, youtube will show you a video’s view history. So check out this entry that has 1,300 votes and over 7,000 views. – –
This video managed to get about 7,000 in one day. That’s amazing! And what’s even more amazing is that it’s been getting zero views a day ever since. What an incredibly mysterious phenomenon. I wonder what could have caused this weird, random spike in views?
I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m trying to bust anyone here because I’m really not. Like I said, I can’t exactly blame people for cheating in a contest that’s run by a website that sells fake votes. In fact, I actually feel sorry for most of these people. Fake votes are freaking expensive! If you’re paying $5 for 50 votes, you’d have to spend $600 to get 6,000 votes. And 6,000 votes won’t even get you in the top 3! It’s a real shame that Fiverr is letting so many people waste so much time and money on this contest. I have a feeling that when all is said and done, the judges are just going to ignore the vote counts and pick the video they like best. But I guess we’ll know how things shake out soon enough. The rules say that the winners will be announced on July 19th. So check back here next week to learn the final results.
Post Script: It looks like a ton of fake votes were added while I wrote this post. The top 3 videos gained a total of 1,000 votes since I took my original screen shot 2 hours ago. By the way, I’m writing this at 2AM. Yes, I’m a weirdo but I like to write late at night. And I guess a lot of “people” like to VOTE at 2AM so maybe I’m not so weird after all.
The worst kept secret on the web is that many “viral” videos juice their stats by purchasing fake views from sellers on sites like Fiverr.com. For just five bucks these guys can add thousands and thousands of views to the video of your choosing. Of course, those views are totally phony and buying them is a violation of Youtube’s policies. But as long as you don’t get too greedy, Youtube probably won’t take down your video or suspend your account.
For years I’ve wondered how these view-sellers actually generate their views. I assumed that they were using bots of some sort. But it turns out my guess was way off. This promo video from Buyral.com explains exactly how these fake views are created:
Wasn’t that informative!? For more info about the agency behind this video, head here.
I used to absolutely love youtube. It was such a fun, simple, efficient, user-friendly website. But Google just couldn’t leave well enough alone and bit by bit they’ve turned the site into a cluttered, spam-filled clusterf*ck. It seems like youtube only exists so that Google can force people sign up for Google + pages that no one will actually use. Have you looked at a youtube channel page lately? The new designs are ugly, boring and confusing. I just don’t understand what that company is doing to that site. It seems like they take one step forward and then they take two steps back. Case in Point: Last year Google “confiscated” billions of fake views that big name media companies had purchased so that their videos and channels would seem more popular. I thought this was a great move since fake views, likes and comments have really ruined Youtube’s social credibility. But for some reason, Google just made some changes that will make it harder for users to spot fake youtube views.
In 2009, Youtube added “insight data” options to every video on the site. Unless you turned off the “statistics” option, viewers could see lots of information about where your views came from. Here’s a screen shot of what that used to look like.
Those stats came from a video that was created by a spammer who was trying to get people to sign up for some get-rich-quick scheme. Most of the views on his video were almost certainly purchased. If you buy phony youtube views, you’re not actually getting real “views.” Instead your paying for hits on your video that have been disguised as views. After Youtube started the Insight program, view-sellers had to start covering their tracks by routing those hits through plausible referral sites like facebook and Twitter. It seems that the easiest way to cover the source of fake views is to make it seem like the views came from a “mobile device.” According to these stats, more than 1.5 million people watched this spammer’s video from a mobile device. A ridiculously high number of views from a mobile device was a huge red flag and it almost always meant that all of those “mobile device” views were fake. As I said, you could turn these public stats off but if you did, that would also be a red flag since it meant you had something to hide.
So as I explained in my post, How to Spot Fake Youtube Views, it was sort of easy to tell which members were buying phony views. But for reasons that defy explanation, Google has removed some of the Insight Data options. The public no longer gets to see where a video’s views came from. Scroll up and look at that screen shot I posted. All that stuff about Views from a Mobile Device and Views from Facebook are gone.
The loss of this data sucks but it’s not all bad news. Google did enhance one aspect of the Insight reports. Users can now see WHEN a video got its views. Check this out:
That’s the Statistics Data for a video that was recently entered into Arpin Van Line’s “Movin’ With Arpin” video contest. The winner of that contest was determined by youtube views and likes. They guy who submitted this particular entry has (allegedly) won a small fortune by cheating in other online video contests. If you look at the “Daily” data for that video you can plainly see that it got a huge avalanche of views out of no where. Then after a second bump, the video’s view count totally flat-lined. That (probably) means this guy bought a bunch of fake views and likes and the spike and the bump represent the days his orders were filled.
Oh but you wanna hear something funny? This guy still lost even though he (allegedly) cheated his ass off! Another contestant (seems to have) bought twice as many “likes” and wound up winning. So there’s a lesson to be learned here. NEVER ENTER A VIDEO CONTEST IF YOUTUBE LIKES OR VIEWS HELP DETERMINE THE WINNERS. You can buy thousands of fake views and likes on sites like Fiverr for just a few bucks and it is simply impossible for a sponsor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a contestant’s views or likes are fake. So just do yourself a favor and stay out of those contests.
If you poke around the microjob website Fiverr.com you’ll discover that you can have thousands and thousands of “views” delivered to the youtube video of your choosing for just a few bucks. But don’t get excited; you can’t just buy youtube super stardom. When you order one of these gigs you’re actually buying hits that are disguised to look like views. So 15,000 real people will NOT be watching your video. Your view count is simply going to get inflated by 15,000. Some of these bogus views are generated by bots but in many cases hackers will secretly embed a video on a popular web page. Every time someone accesses that page the video automatically plays….albeit silently and invisibly.
Fake views are really starting to have a big impact on the way youtube works. Google’s adsense program is getting scammed out of lots of money and lame, wannabe Internet stars are wrecking the site’s integrity by purchasing phoney viral success. It seems like the folks at youtube are finally fed up and they’re now cracking down on users who buy fake views. A few weeks ago youtube actually removed more than 2 billion fake views from lots of big name companies and they even shut down the channels of some of the more egregious offenders.
It’s easy for youtube’s engineers to spot fake views since they can see data that the general public doesn’t have access to. But what about the rest of us? A lot of video contests use youtube views as part of an entry’s score. How can you tell if a contestant is cheating by ordering fake views?
Unfortunately you can’t….at least not for sure. But these scammers leave a lot of clues so it’s easy to spot views that are probably fake. Let’s take a look at a youtube video from a channel that hosts close to 300 self-help/get rich quick videos. It’s is run by some dude who wants to teach you how to apply martial arts lessons to the world of real estate….or something like that. Yes I’m being serious.
WOWEE! 2.1 million youtube views! That guy is gonna be the next PSY! Or maybe not. Maybe he’s a con artist who bought millions of fake youtube views because he wants to make it look like he’s popular so that suckers buy his book or send him donations. I’m not saying that’s the case….I’m just saying MAYBE that’s what’s happening here. Why do I think that some of those 2.1 million views might be fake? Here’s a quick run down of all the red flags I see in this screenshot:
1. The view count is suspiciously high: You should always be suspicious when you come across a video that has an inexplicably high view count. Regular youtube users understand what types of videos get a lot of views and this particular video just doesn’t feel like it should be popular. Would 2.1 million people really watch a 9 minute long get-rich-quick video?
2. The channel has a relatively low number of subscribers: 10,994 subscribers might sound like a lot but that’s a ridiculously small number for anyone who is getting hundreds of thousands or even millions of views on most of their videos. Here, check out the stats for a GOOD youtube channel; The Final Cut King. The FCK (heh) gets about a million views for each of his videos. But unlike the real estate guy he has more than 220,000 subscribers. Those are numbers that actually make sense.
3. The video only has 2,254 likes: Guess what? You can buy likes and comments on fiverr too. But those are way more expensive than views. So people who buy fake views sometimes don’t even bother ordering fake likes and comments. Consequently the stats for those videos are totally lopsided. It’s just not realistic that only 1/10th of 1% of the people who watch a youtube video will click the thumbs up or thumbs down button.
4. The video only has 20 dislikes: Few scammers are going to be smart enough to order DISLIKES. Two million views and only 20 dislikes just scream fraud to me. If millions of people had actually watched this video a few thousand of them would have clicked the thumbs-down button. That’s just how things work on youtube.
4. The video only has 489 comments: This number also doesn’t jive with the view count. Once again, let’s use the Final Cut King as an example. Here’s one of his videos that has received 2.5 million views. It has close to 6,000 comments (and over 30,000 likes/dislikes.) Comments are REALLY hard to fake since each comment needs to come from a different account and the comments need to be spread out over days and weeks to look realistic.
So the basic stats here seem pretty fishy. Let’s drill down a little deeper into this video’s data to see what else we can discover. If you look under a video’s view count you’ll see some symbols. If you click that symbol that looks like a bar graph a bunch extra stats will pop up.
If you click on the stats button for the get-rich-quick real estate video, this is what you’ll see. The arrow indicates the one gigantic red flag I spotted.
Now we’re getting into the really good stuff. This data shows us where all of those 2.1 million views actually came from. It used to be that if someone ordered fake views you could tell right away because the referrer sites would all be pages like buycheapviews.com or whatever. But the view-sellers have gotten smarter and they’ve figured out ways to mask the origin of their bogus views. And the number one way they do that is by tricking youtube into thinking the views came from a “mobile device.” Does it really seem possible that 70% of the 2.1 million people who watched this video watched it on their their iPhone?? That’s just ridiculous. And the facebook and Twitter numbers are almost certainly fake too. View sellers like to embed their videos on those sites because it seems natural that a lot of views would come from popular social media sites. If this video does have fake views, the video was probably also secretly embedded on all the other sites listed. After all, how the hell can you get thousands of views from a youtube video that’s been posted on iTunes or LastFM!? The data that you don’t see here is also suspicious. If this video really had gone viral you’d see referrals from specific blog posts or news stories that featured the video. And if the channel has any real subscribers, you would also see lots of views listed under “referral from a subscriber module.”
Let’s take a look at the traffic stats for a different video. In 2011 I was in a video contest where the finalists were determined by youtube view counts. This contest turned into a total clusterf*ck and people cheated like crazy. I didn’t know what was going on but after doing some research I quickly discovered that anyone could simply order youtube likes, comments, subscribers and views. These are the stats from one of the cheaters who made the finals.
Check out the item that’s 2nd to last in that list. 2/3rds of this video’s views came from the website Viralzoo.com. What the heck is viralzoo.com?? If you ever see a weird website listed in the stats, check it out. In this case, Viralzoo.com is just a bogus page that’s used as a front for view-fakers.
There’s another piece of very important data in this image. Look closely at that blue graph….
This graph shows how quickly the video got its views. You can see that the view count suddenly skyrocketed after the video was posted to those referral sites. All those referral happened BEFORE the video became popular and zero new referrals happened after it got all those views. That means that nobody liked the video enough to share it ANYWHERE on the entire Internet. And that big plateau means that the view count has basically remained the same for a year and a half. So from this data we can tell that the video was posted to a few different websites all at once. Then the video gained almost all of it’s 49,000 views over a few days but then suddenly the video somehow went un-viral and pretty much nobody every watched it again.
So….you can find out some pretty amazing stuff if you check the public stats data of a youtube video. Unfortunately youtube lets userrs turn that option off and most people who buy fake views are smart enough to hide their referrals. But turning off the public stats is a pretty big red flag in and of itself. This is what you’ll see if a user wants to hide their referral data:
If you’re ever in a video contest where youtube views matter you should tell the judges that they should ask all the contestants to leave their Public Statistics data ON. There is no legitimate reason for a contestant to hide the source of their views.
Here are a few other tips for spotting fake youtube views:
1. Check the youtube channel of the person who posted the video. Many youtube users will post links to their facebook pages, blogs or twitter accounts on their youtube channel. You can check these sites to see if the person is genuinely popular. If a video’s stats say that 50,000 views came from twitter then the creator of that video should conceivably have a pretty massive twitter following.
2. Keep an eye on the number of likes and comments. If a video gains 30,000 views in one day but receives zero new comments or just a few likes you know something shady is going on. Popular videos always get a steady stream of likes and comments. If a “popular” video isn’t getting any comments it means that real humans aren’t actually watching it.
3. Read through the comments and look for anything hinky. A lot of the people who sell views, likes and comments live in foreign countries like India. So fake comments sometimes don’t make sense or are done in broken english.
4. Check out the channels of some of the people who have left comments. If you look at their activity feed you might notice that they have been doing tons and tons of really spammy stuff like commenting on dozens of get-rich-quick videos or liking every music video created by one random aspiring hip hop artist.
And finally, I’ve saved my best tip for last: Just stay away from video contests where youtube view counts or likes help determine who the winners are. Like I said, there is no way anyone outside of youtube can be 100% sure that a video has fake views so cheaters will always win view count races. Sure, you could try and contact the judges and tell them how easy it is to buy youtube views but they probably won’t give a damn. If they actually cared about running a fair video contest they wouldn’t have run the thing on youtube in the first place.