“Click Like if you think Avengers: Endgame was THE most amazing movie ever”
“Comment below if you think Iron Man made the right choice”
“Hit the Share button with your thoughts about Captain America’s actions at the end of the movie to discuss their repercussions”
Sound familiar? When was the last time you saw a social media post with text similar to this call to action?
We bet it wasn’t too long ago.
Or maybe you saw a post about a mainstream topic sharing an opinion just polarizing enough that you couldn’t let it slip by without expressing your reaction with a comment.
While some of these posts might have come from your friends, many of them were likely suggested by the social media platform or were ads from pages with which you have no association.
These simple, albeit annoying, posts designed to gather likes and comments are used in a process known as like-farming, a seemingly harmless process with a hidden agenda.
What Exactly Is Like-Farming?
Like-farming started as a marketing effort to drive traffic to a particular site, domain or social media post. While this was initially effective, the internet matured and users began to see through the thinly-veiled attempts to collect likes.
To revitalize the strategy, marketers tried to replicate results by making posts that evoke emotional responses from the average social media user.
These posts have a single purpose: to generate as many likes and shares as possible. The content of the posts may or may not be factual, but this is not important when like-farming. They just need to be controversial or relatable enough for users to like, comment or share without thinking twice.
Like-farming posts can feature one or several links traditionally seen on social media, including a link to a website, a call-to-action to subscribe to a newsletter or a promotion that requires the user to input their information to be entered into a drawing for a prize.
As the number of interactions grows, the posts become more and more popular, thereby becoming visible to more users. This process can help the page that created the post to get a larger following, increasing the reach of future posts from the same page.
This Sounds Harmless, Why Worry?
When used by pages or users with good intentions, this method of increasing popularity is innocuous enough. However, when used by scammers, spammers or phishers, this run-of-the-mill marketing strategy becomes dangerous.
The posts start out exactly like any other like-farming post, but once they generate enough likes, like-farmers alter them to attempt to gain access to users’ information. Generally, like-farmers use one of the following methods:
- Edit the post and link to a website that has nothing to do with the post.
- Edit the post and link to a website that contains malicious code.
- Change the nature of the post so that it takes a user’s personal data before revealing the content.
- Link to a website which asks users to subscribe using their personal information.
Methods similar to these may also be used for more complex schemes than taking users to a website or gathering their data.
For example, some posts take advantage of human optimism by asking users to do one of the following:
- Spin a wheel to get a prize.
- Like and share to win a prize.
- Fill out the form and be entered into a prize drawing.
- Pay only shipping to get an item for free.
The victims follow the instructions and are then told that they’ve won the prize. Following, they’re prompted to enter their information to receive it. In these schemes, the prize never existed and the user gave away their information for free. In other situations, the user pays a few dollars for shipping in order to get an item for free, but the item never arrives or it is of much lower quality than what was promised.
Additionally, the user’s credit card number is now in possession of the scammers.
How to Protect Yourself from Like-Farming Scammers
Ambitious social media users post with at least some hope that their post will go viral. This a common trait among regular people and scammers, so it is important to be able to identify who is simply using social media for its intended purpose and who is out to steal information or money from other users.
These posts are designed with human nature in mind and thus trigger a hard-to-ignore human response. Understanding this can help identify such posts.
These can generally be divided into one of the following categories:
These posts are the simplest ones. Usually, they have a picture of a cute animal or a baby or something beautiful with a caption that will generate a positive response.
Example: *Scenic image of a picturesque landscape* “Press like if you are one of the few people who would spend a year here.”
These posts try to trigger a sympathetic response from users.
Example: “Like and share this post to tell *person’s name* that he/she is still beautiful even after the *injury/disease*.”
Or, “*Person’s name* is fighting for his/her life, a like equals a prayer. Like and share to save a life.”
In these posts, a challenge is presented which is simple enough to be solved by almost anyone, but includes text that indicates only the most gifted people can solve it. Example: “Only a genius can spot all the triangles in this picture. Share if you’re one of the geniuses who can see all 20!”
These posts share a general topic relevant to the majority of users and then ask a simple opinion-based question. Example: “Do you agree with what Thanos did in Avengers: Infinity War?”
5. Risk and Reward (and Sometimes Curiosity)
These posts feature a chance-based game to be played for a reward. The risk is small or nonexistent while the reward is handsome enough to entice almost anyone.
Example: “Like and share with to win a Lenovo laptop!”
Or, “Click here to spin the wheel for a chance to win awesome prizes!”
These posts are designed to generate a sense of urgency or fear that if immediate action is not taken, the user will miss out on a deal.
Example: “Only 2 laptops left, act now before they’re gone forever!” Or, “This offer is only available for 30 minutes! Act fast!”
Some of these posts indicate that an everyday activity may have dire consequences.
Example: “Look what happened to this kid who used his AirPods in the rain!” These posts and others like them are designed to engage you momentarily, making you give them a like or share without feeling as though any harm has been done. Now that you understand the appearance of like-farming posts, you will be able to see patterns in similar posts across social media.
The next step to protect yourself is to change your behavior when interacting with content online.
Cultivating Like-Farming-Proof Behavior
As we mentioned before, it is important to understand that not all content coming your way is part of a scheme. It could be from entertainment sites or other pages that grow by sharing catchy or edgy content.
Take the following approach before interacting with social media posts to keep yourself safe and avoid spreading posts that could potentially be linked to a scam:
- Try to identify the motivation of the post before liking or sharing it. If it appears similar to one of the examples above, don’t interact with it.
- If the post seems to be sharing newsworthy information, research the news first before pressing the like or share button. Failing to do so may result in you unknowingly spreading false information.
- Even if the post is from one of your friends, try to analyze the legitimacy of the contest/reward post. Ask questions to see if the reward that was promised was actually delivered.
- Categorize your online friends into those who share with little discretion and those who are more conscious about what they post.Continue to be wary of posts coming even your more trustworthy friends.
- Is the contest in the post too good to be true? Is the reward too big for the company claiming to give it away? If yes then don’t share or like it.
- Ignore posts from a company claiming to need likes to give money to someone in need.
- Ignore posts telling you that you need to subscribe to watch a video.
- Read the disclaimer available for any of the contests. Also, see if it is from a credible business. If it is, confirm with them before following the steps in the post.
- When all else fails, search for the content/company/webpage on hoax-slayer.net. Snopes.com is also a good fact-checking resource that lists the latest viral hoaxes and misinformation campaigns.
Using these tips, you may find yourself staying away from the most-shared posts on social media. You may feel left out, however, the benefit of ignoring like-farming posts outweighs the cost of spreading or falling for a scam.
What If I Have Been Affected by Like-Farming Already?
If you think you may have interacted with suspicious content in the past, then it is best to employ an online security plan.
Have an up-to-date antivirus software running all the time on your computer or device and use a VPN to maximize your protection.Taking these steps will help you to find any viruses currently infecting your computer and protect you from any that may attempt to infiltrate it in the future.