We, by which I mean humans, love a bit of social media. It’s in our nature. And those likes and followers are like a form of popularity comfirmation – which is a digital way of saying we’re really cool and popular.
But when it comes to online engagement, how much of it is really real?
The answer is complicated.
The world of likes
Having likes and engagement on a social media post or account does more than just show how popular it is. The more engagement a post gets also helps to let the platform understand which content is relevant. Basically, it tells the website what people are more likely to click or engage with – and by extension stay on the site.
So the most popular content is always going to be pushed to the top of the feed. It doesn’t matter what the platform is: Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin or Reddit… They all use the same processes and algorithms.
However they can keep you glued to their site is fair game.
For people who rely on their likes and engagement for their livelihood, there is value in boosting their likes. And there is an increasingly large cohort of people who rely on their online identity for a number of reasons.
From business owners, influencers in a number of spheres, models and more… The ‘like’ has a value far beyond just highlighting the popularity of a single post or account.
And when you consider that platforms such as YouTube or Twitch pay out higher revenue for higher views, you can also see why fake likes and views have value.
This is where fake engagement and fake likes are so important.
The fake likes industry
It’s incredibly easy to buy fake likes online. A simple search for ‘buy likes’ or ‘buy Instagram followers’ brings up billions of results on Google.
These fake likes and fake followers are also pretty cheap. You can pay under $10 to massively inflate your social media following and engagement. Some of these clicks are even sold as ‘genuine USA followers’ or ‘real UK traffic’.
But how much of that is true?
Well, actually, not so much.
Most of these paid clicks come from click farms. Which basically means they are entirely fake accounts operated by bots, probably in China.
If you’ve never seen an image of a click farm before, they’re pretty freaky. There are usually rows upon rows of phones or ipads operated by a computer generating massive amounts of clicks on – well – whatever they are asked to click on.
Click farms are an interesting phenomena to read up on – with some of them apparently also operated by real people. But the way they mask their identify and sell themselves as ‘genuine UK traffic’ is usually by using VPNS – or basically fake routers which make it look like the click is coming from wherever they want it to.
Why does this matter?
For the average social media user, these fake likes probably matter very little. But when you look at the damage to society as a whole, they become more of an issue.
The first problem with fake clicks and engagement is the spreading of fake news and misinformation. A lot of the fake information about covid and the hype that led to Brexit and Trump has been linked to click farms and fake clicks.
By inflating engagement and resharing this fake news or fake information, it has managed to be spread and viewed more than it would be normally.
Another problem with fake likes and engagement is that it distorts individuals views, both of themselves and of the things that matter. Ever been on a night out where someone has spent most of their time taking selfies and posting them to social media, and then checking their Insta/Snap all night? Basically ignoring their friends in favour of increasing their online engagement.
Or the fact that Facebook knows that it’s platforms including Instagram spread body dysmorphia and social anxiety. (source) Much of this is linked to the need for likes as well as the constant sharing of content online which ends up in a never-ending loop.
These likes, engagements and comments have been shown to give a ‘dopamine’ hit and make us feel good. And this in turn is an addictive loop that keeps us craving more likes and engagement, and wondering why we don’t get it when we post.
By buying clicks, the popularity of a person or a post is hugely distorted with multiple knock on effects down the chain.
What can you do about fake likes?
There isn’t much that we can do on an individual level about the fake likes industry. Not buying fake clicks or engagement is obviously the best solution.
But the other thing is to be aware that not everything you see on Instagram or TikTok is a reflection of reality. In fact, sometimes taking a step back from the digital world can be a healthy way to reset your relationship with social media. A digital detox is the best way to avoid digital burnout…