No doubt, when there's money to be made at something, there will be people who will find a means to exploit it. The Internet is no exception.
In the earliest days of the Wild Web West, we had platforms like AllAdvantage, which shared advertising revenue by paying people "to surf the Web." So one individual could register multiple accounts, randomly visit sites without any real interest in them, and get paid multiple times for basically the same surfing behavior. Good for them; not good for advertisers.
Then came GoTo.com, the precursor to Google AdWords and the whole "pay-per-click" (or PPC) model. The early days of PPC were tarnished by tales of gross click-fraud misconduct--companies would pay drones or build bots or malware to just click on an ad over and over, to deplete their competitors' funds. Google's introduction of "PageRank," a factor weighed in its search algorithm, also encouraged cheating: Businesses again paid people to build useless links to their sites, or to click repeatedly on a website's link in order to game its popularity and achieve a higher search engine ranking.
In most of these "good guys vs. bad guys" scenarios, the market ultimately gets corrected as platforms make adjustments to squash the corrupt behavior. But then the black market just moves on to other vulnerable places--and now it's found a home in social media.
Before I go any further, let me say this: I'm going to avoid naming names or pointing fingers--and I'm definitely not endorsing any of these tactics. But I do want to make you aware of these practices, in hopes that you'll be just a little more cautious about believing everything you see and read when you're on a social media platform.
Fake "likes" and followers: Companies looking to to inflate their popularity without the hard work of generating real Facebook likes or Twitter followers can now use one of dozens of software solutions that are happy to help you acquire thousands in an instant. Hmm, maybe that's why that Twitter user has 20,000 users with only 10 tweets on his profile.
Fake Facebook news feeds and conversations: Gee, just what we all want and need--more clutter in our news feed. These have the audacity to be completely concocted!
Inflating Facebook EdgeRank scores: Facebook has developed an algorithm it calls "EdgeRank" in order to help more influential content percolate to the top of a user's News Feed. The EdgeRank algorithm takes into account several factors, many of which you can influence with just a bit of concerted effort. Some advisors encourage the purchasing of Facebook ads to drive traffic to your Facebook Page primarily for the purpose of generating more interactions on your page and thus bolstering your EdgeRank. There are even influence peddling services that offer to help boost your EdgeRank, among other social media scores.
Turning likes and +1s into bonus currency: Back in the old days, your grandmother would open up a new bank account and the bank would give her a toaster as a thank you. Now, in modern version of that incentive model, malware companies offer bulk Facebook likes and Google +1s for buying their cheater software!
Using Pinterest spam to generate real currency: As I reported earlier this year, Pinterest used to make money off affiliate codes. And while the site has changed its ways, spammers are now using Pinterest to do the same thing. Some very clever spammers are doing a mighty fine job of it, as this fascinating interview in The Daily Dot reveals.
Artificially inflating Klout scores: Klout claims to be the standard for assessing someone's social media influence. Much ado has been made in the press about employers not hiring people because they have low Klout scores or brands paying big bucks to get high Klout scorers to use and endorse their products. But the fact is that it's not that difficult to artificially inflate a Klout score. I have a friend who experimented to prove this point. He claimed an expertise in avocados, then had all his friends "+K" his avocado Klout--before you knew it, his overall Klout score had risen substantially.
Can You Do Something About It?
For all the phoniness going on, few social media platforms seem to want to really do anything about it to discourage, let alone stop, the falsification. After all, a large part of social media's adoption has been the populace's need to feel included, "liked"--or, in other words, popular. Why fight what people want?
You can report spammers on Twitter, but it seems that only foursquare has demonstrated any real effort to crack down on user chicanery. As far back as 2010, foursquare announced it was implementing a "cheater code" to prevent fake check-ins. I would like to see other platforms take a stronger stance.
What's the moral of this story? "Don't judge a book by its cover" seems apropos to me.