It’s so easy to be liked… too easy, some would say.  When someone you know shares something, such as a link or a photo, you can of course make the effort to comment, but far easier just to click ‘like’, right?

A like can mean so many things… Your baby looks cute in this photo, I agree with your feelings about xxx, I find your humorous observation most enjoyable to read, I like that link too that you just shared, and that video of the kitten was too cute…

Social media for business purposes of course depends totally how much we enjoy sharing and connecting with things our friends have shared.  Perfectly legitimate businesses engage specialist social media marketers to create attractive and engaging content to disseminate… click click click goes the like button, and then a funny thing happens – that ‘liked’ piece of content gets more widely seen on Facebook.  Facebook’s algorithms, all automated, think – ‘hey, this is clearly a great piece of content, lots of people liking and commenting, we are going to make it visible in more newsfeeds, oh yeah!’  This then grows virally – if you click it, your friends see the photo in their newsfeed, they might like it too, and so on… it tips.  And if a photo has hundreds of thousands of likes, you are provably more likely to join them and click, than one without any.

Sadly, scammers and fraudsters have not failed to notice this, and a very unpleasant new business model has arisen.  And it is a business, because likes get bought and sold, Pages with high numbers of likes change hands for big money.  If you don’t believe me, try a Google search for something like ‘buy Facebook fan Page’ and see the sums involved.  There is a lot to be earned, by getting a single image which attracts thousands, even millions of likes – and the Page can then be sold and all the ‘about’ information altered, in order for the ‘new’ Page owner to appear instantly popular and well liked

I don’t have to tell you what kind of images, because you have seen them, all over Facebook.  What did your friend think was going to happen, when he (like countless others) commented ‘jump!’ when instructed to do so, on the picture of the bloke standing on the edge of a cliff..? A bit of harmless fun? Maybe, at least the only victim here is your friend, who will experience a raised volume of ads in his newsfeed once his preference is sold to the highest bidder (and doubtless moan that Facebook has ‘abused his privacy’ when this happens)

Some are a lot less harmless.  A photo of a child with Downs Syndrome or cancer  – are you heartless enough not to click like?  The Marine with the dreadful burn scars, ‘Is he a hero? Like if you agree, Ignore if you disagree!’  US Marine Merlin German did indeed receive 97% burns and horrendous disfigurement in a car bomb in Iraq in 2005, only he died in 2008 and his family have never given consent to the use of his image to farm Facebook likes in this way, they are fighting to get them taken down yet still the shocking before and after images continue to circulate – spread by users thinking they are showing him respect.

A blogger in Australia was astonished to find a picture of her daughter circulating in a like-farm scam on Facebook, with a false name and the words ‘This is my sister Mallory.  She has Down syndrome (sic), and doesn’t think she’s beautiful. Please like this photo so I can show her later that she truly is beautiful.”  Her daughter’s image had been scraped from the web and used to gain likes in a sickening way, that caused ongoing problems for an innocent family.  Like anything that spreads in a viral way, these things are all but impossible to contain and eradicate once they are out in the wild.  Of course a like is a click, it costs you nothing, and so many people think nothing of it.  But dead Marines and disabled children cannot give informed consent to their images being used in this way.

And what about the baby needing a heart transplant, propagated by the million under the absurd myth that if it gets enough likes and shares, Facebook will pay for a lifesaving operation?  Does anyone truly believe Facebook allocates its philanthropy in this way? “Oh well I wasn’t sure, but I liked it and shared it anyway, because it can’t hurt anyone!”  Really? Well that looks to me a lot like a photo of a real baby in an incubator, I wonder whether the family gave informed consent to have this image plastered all over the biggest website in the world for someone else’s financial gain?

There are a number of organisations that keep a responsible and responsive watch on this kind of activity, acting fast to flag up new scams and hoaxes – this makes it extremely easy to check, before you act.  It’s a horrible to have to think that when you see something new rapidly gaining traction in social media, you really should ask yourself who could be gaining by it at the same time – and if you think it could possibly be a hoax or a scam simply copy a chunk of text from the posting and slap the whole thing in to Google to check – this may take you about 8 seconds instead of the 1 it takes to click ‘Like’, but if you get a screenful of results from snopes.com, hoax-slayer.com, Sophos.com or thatsnonsense.com debunking the message, then you know you really should NOT like, share or comment (all of these sites are well worth Liking on Facebook, incidentally, to keep abreast of the latest scams)

Next time you see anything on Facebook exhorting or emotionally blackmailing you into interacting with it, why not show real ‘respect’ by checking it is legitimate before you pass it on.  Because otherwise it’s highly likely you will only be making a fast buck for a scammer, not helping cure cancer, respect veterans, find missing children or support good causes.

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