It’s an image that pulls at your heart strings: the pictures of a sick child in a hospital bed, or more frequently, the random photo of a person with a heart wrenching message written beneath it.
All of these posts have something in common: they all ask for the reader’s support and compassion, prayers and compassion. “Like” to show that you care, “share” to send a message that this person is in your thoughts, and reply with “amen” to show your support.
But then there’s the truth:
A recent article by Bankrate found that one of the most popular pictures circulating on Facebook was that of a cancer-ridden child in her cheer leading uniform, asking the world for prayers and compassion. All without the permission, or knowledge, of her family.
Enter the waves of sickeningly-sweet posts that fill your news feed with requests for prayers, shares- and most importantly, likes. At its best, these threads are used to help bolster a stranger’s ego. At its worst, they’re used to by professional scammers to steal user information for quick cash.
How does it work?
Asking for likes on a picture in Facebook is called Click Farming.
Scammers are able to use this method to change the content to something different from what was initially posted. They do this in order to send advertising, or to gather user information. The scammer gets paid based on the number of people receiving the advertising, or liking/sharing the post.
Encouraging Virtual Slavery
An independent investigation by The Guardian found a “Click Farm” workshop in Bangladesh. Workers would work three-shift systems for as little as $3/day to generate fake Facebook popularity for a variety of items and vegetables. This is miserable work for workers: sitting infront of screens in filthy rooms with windows covered by bars. At times, working throughout the night to generate 1,000 likes or 1,000 followers on Twitter to earn a single US dollar.
“There’s a real desire amongst many companies to boost their profile on social media, and find other customers as well as a result,” said Graham Cluley, an independent security consultant.
This belief isn’t unfounded. Research has found that at least 31% of consumers will check ratings and reviews, including likes and Twitter followers, before investing in a product or service.
Click Farms, such as these, play a significant role in potentially misleading consumers. Many companies rely heavily on the social media measurements to estimate the popularity of their products. Major search engines, like Google and Yahoo!, use tools like Facebook liking and social media to gauge the popularity of websites.
It Gets Worse
Sometimes, the threat to users can be more direct.
Edited Facebook threads circulating the internet could spread dangerous malware ( malicious software that can attack someone’s computer), or used for phishing. Phishing attempts to trick the reader into giving out valuable personal information like passwords, credit card numbers or bank account information.
While simple Facebook liking or sharing a post or liking a page won’t spread a virus or malware, malicious Facebook apps and external links can.
Your Personal Information isn’t so Personal
Page owners and other users can collect data on the people who like their post. The information that they can gather can include names, gender, location and places of employment, which they can use or sell to companies for profit.
There’s no end to the pictures: it’s an image of a premature baby, military troops to photos of un-vaccinated children falling ill.
It’s anything that will pull at the heart strings: scammers strike where people are vulnerable, and play on their emotions.
What To Do
Due to Facebook’s sheer size, it takes a lot of reports to have a misleading or offending post removed. Overall, the best approach is to think before sharing.
If it sounds too good to be true, and it looks like it’s something geared towards tugging on the heart strings, don’t click on it. Check it out first. Protect your privacy.
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