Now that Facebook has expanded the popular “like” button to include other reactions, it’s a good time to ask, “Can ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ Facebook posts and pages be hazardous to your digital health?” Sadly, the answer is, “Yes”. Scammers and unethical advertisers use popular posts and pages to take advantage of unsuspecting users to gather personal information, steal identities, and spread malware. Check your Facebook activity history and you might find that you liked or shared some bizarre posts that you've never seen before. How could that happen?
Scammers have found a way to ruin even this seemingly innocent activity. It's called “like-farming”. Facebook's algorithms place a high value on popular pages and posts. Pages with many likes and shares are more likely to appear in your News Feed to be seen by other users. Like-farmers start pages and add posts and content calculated to draw as many likes or shares as possible as quickly as possible (see examples below). The farmers simply may be trying to generate advertising dollars, but there can be more sinister motives.
The old Bait and Switch for the 21st Century
The original stories or pages you liked or shared were harmless; however, once the farmed posts become popular enough, the page owner can change the original content, replacing it with scam advertising. Sometimes, the like-farmer will leave the original content but use the popular page to spread malware, collect personal information, or scam other people. The like-farmer can even sell the page to criminals in a black market web forum.
Liking Facebook pages can be dangerous as well. You might like the page of a seemingly worthy charity or organization (again, beware of overly emotional appeals). Once the page content gets enough likes, the scammer exchanges the innocent content for “spam and scams.” The new content then shows up in your News Feed and your friends’ News Feeds as well.
Think Before You Click
So, how can you avoid being “farmed”? Avoid responding to the kinds of posts that seem to try too hard to elicit a reaction or promise something that's too good to be true. If the original source of the post is not a trusted personal page or business, avoid it. Here are some categories of typical posts from like-farmers:
Tear Jerkers. These posts designed to get cheap emotional reactions. I know you've seen posts like these:
- A little girl is terminally ill and wants a million likes for her picture.
- Abused puppies need help – please share to find them homes.
- Someone, usually a young girl, is physically scarred but needs you to let her know she’s still beautiful.
That’s Outrageous! Other posts want you to support or protest something:
- The government is going to take your guns and your bibles. Like if you disagree!
- The president is going to be impeached for doing this!
- Terrorists are beheading women who speak in public!
Free Stuff! Other popular like-farming posts promise prizes or rewards:
- Like this post and you will receive $$$$ in the next 5 days.
- We're giving away 100 Macbook laptops: all you have to do is like and share the post and specify whether you want a white or black one.
Gee, You’re Smart! Brain teaser posts such as:
- Name a city that doesn't have the letter “T.”
- 96% of people can't solve this (not very difficult) math problem.
Not all posts like these are from scammers. Sometimes local businesses use them to bump up their Facebook exposure. But, others are more malicious and can harm you or your FB friends
Friends Don’t Let Friends Like Scams.
If you look through your activity history and discover you've liked or shared a page you don't recognize, you can send Facebook a scam report for that page. Then click the “unlike” button to remove your name from it. Don't add to the clutter and scams on Facebook. Control the urge to like that picture of the little girl holding her sick puppy that can’t go to the vet unless she gets 10,000 likes. You're being manipulated and possibly scammed.
Having said that, don’t forget to like and share this page so your friends won’t fall for like-farming either!