Like-farming, aka like-harvesting, is a method used by commercial parties and scammers alike to raise the popularity of a site or domain. The ultimate dream of every like-farmer is for his post to go viral by accumulating as many likes and shares as possible from all over the world.
Like-farmers rely on near-instinctual reactions from users by exploiting hot-button topics such as child rearing or animal welfare in their posts. From commercial parties such as web stores, you can expect giveaways and lotteries.
The difference between legitimate like-farmers and scammers? Scammers will often transform those popular posts into completely different sites that trick users into giving away their personal information, forking over money or credit card details, or clearing out their crypto wallets.
Like-farming is performed mostly on Facebook, but it often expands to other social media platforms, such as Instagram and Twitter.
Share and like
Like-farmers don't care much how and why their post gets liked and shared, they only want the job done as quickly as possible.
In the case of scammers, you will often see posts with memes, short movies, or shocking pictures during the like-farming stage that are turned around into a pyramid scheme, illegal casino, or a cryptocurrency Initial Coin Offering (ICO) when the site or domain has acquired enough likes to get a decent amount of traffic.
When prizes are offered, the endgame usually goes in one of two ways. You end up being scammed into paying a fee to collect your prize—and nothing ever arrives. Or, if the giveaway is legitimate, you might still have to pay for the delivery costs, besides providing the harvester with personal information.
While larger prizes, such as iPhones or vacations, can sometimes be offered by legitimate sites, those looking to boost traffic in legitimate ways do not typically have the budget to afford such grand awards. Whereas smaller prizes are often given away by real web stores as an incentive to attract attention to their site. The latter are mostly legitimate and spread across a smaller audience. Next time you see a free car giveaway for completing a survey, it's probably best to avoid it.
Lotteries tend to attract people that like to gamble, and it makes sense that you will often find an, ahem, illegal casino on the receiving end after the site has ascertained a good SEO rating.
Small games can also be used in like-farming. Recognize this classic line?
Only a real genius can answer all of the questions correctly!
Interestingly, there must be a lot of geniuses out there because everyone gets a score of 10 out of 10. These games get shared a lot because participants feel proud of their excellent results and are eager to let their Facebook friends know. In reality, like-farmers are using their answers and any other personal information they may have given as valuable data to either sell to marketers or use for their own purposes.
Most of the posts created with the intention of like-farming have one or more of these characteristics:
- “I bet that [this subject] does not get a million likes,” where the subject is a mistreated animal, an unfortunate child, or anything else that deserves our sympathy.
- “90 percent fail this test,” where you can usually spot the answer in less than 10 seconds.
- “This is your chance to win an iPhone!” or any other desirable and expensive prize.
- “Combine the month you were born in and the last thing you bought to find your vixen name.” The combinations are endless, but the answers will reveal some of your personal data.
- “Respond to this statement if you are a true friend. I think I know who will answer.” If you have “friends” that will unfriend you when you don’t participate—good riddance.
- “Facebook will donate one dollar for every like to this good cause.” Trust me on this one: Facebook will not.
- “Send this to 10 of your Facebook groups to receive [a reward],” where the reward could be anything from eternal happiness to Disneyland tickets.
- “Share this and see what happens.” Nothing happens, except maybe a feeling of frustration.
- The posts often include a time limit. This is so you don’t take the time to think it through, and it gives you a sense of urgency.
What all of these posts have in common is the trigger to share and/or like the post. Maybe not all of the above examples are attempting to like-farm—some may be going straight for users' personal data—but if you see any version of them, consider the benefit of participating versus the possible consequences.
We have discussed hoaxes before, and they share some similarities with like-farming: They disseminate false information with the ultimate goal of attracting attention and tricking users into giving away their data and more. The only difference may be in how they do it.
Hoaxes attempt to spread fear and confusion in order to disrupt users' relative status quo—and maybe have an occasional laugh at the gullibility of their victims. But hoaxes should be treated exactly the same way as like-farming: ignored, with a haughty snort of derision.
Don’t be that friend
Be careful about what you share. Your friends may be too polite to complain about your online behavior, but it’s better not to give them a reason. By sharing hoaxes and like-farming posts, you are showing your lack of knowledge. And, after a few polite warnings and links to anti-hoax sites, it could ultimately get you unfriended.
To the more experienced users, these posts are an annoyance I'm sure you'd love to get rid of. So do some research before you share anything in order to save face from accidentally sharing a hoax, like-farming, or even fake news. Don’t be the like-farmers' free helper, and keep the respect of your friends in the process.
There is one sensible ground rule when it comes to sharing or liking posts: If you are unsure whether a post is trying to like farm, it is always safe to assume that it is and avoid interacting with it. But if you'd like to be sure, there are a few checks you can perform:
- Is the person sharing the post trustworthy? Do they share these kinds of posts a lot?
- Is the prize bigger than the possible gain for the benefactor? (A few dollars per 1,000 likes is the going rate for like-farmers.)
- Is the date of the original post recent? Even if there was a prize, it’ll certainly be gone after a few months.
- Reality check: Can we expect a company to give away millions just because we shared a picture of someone looking miserable?
- Is there a disclaimer? In a real giveaway, there should be a link or mention of the terms and conditions. If the website owners didn’t go through the trouble of setting up terms and conditions, their prize most certainly will not be real.
- Research the post on sites such as Hoax-Slayer. Wide-spread hoaxes and examples of like-farming can be found there.
If you are still in doubt after considering the above factors, trust your instincts and don’t share the post.
Stay safe, everyone!