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What would drive someone to such madness?

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BY BRIAN PATRICK BYRNE

There is an enigma who roams the BBC News Facebook page, and his name is Fardad Farahzad. You’d be forgiven for thinking he is just another internet troll out to ruin your day, but Farahzad’s presence in almost every single post has another purpose entirely.

“WHOA Fardad Farahzad! Are you okay? you haven’t liked this story yet and it was posted a whole 60 seconds ago!?” one Facebook user commented under a post about the U.S. government’s fears that North Korea will never commit to denuclearization on Wednesday. “What is everyone’s issue with this guy?” another user asked. A few minutes passed, and someone else noted: “He is there now.” A fourth user was less enthused: “And who cares? *crickets*.”

One year ago, BBC Persian’s Fardad Farahzad, who has worked with the BBC for eight years, began “liking” almost every single post on the BBC Persian Facebook page. He hadn’t merely found an odd way of spending his free time; what he had discovered was a pretty ingenious means of exposure. Farahzad told Vocativ: “The idea was to A: Expose my own fans to BBC Persian posts (when your friend [or] a page that you follow [likes] something it’s more likely for you to see that post too) and B: Make it more likely for the BBC Persian fans who haven’t liked my page yet to see my page and like it.” The interview was conducted over Twitter direct messaging.

There’s more: Because Farahzad’s own Facebook page is verified, Facebook’s algorithm gives him preferential treatment over other users who “like” Facebook posts. In practical terms, that means whenever Farahzad “likes” a post, every other user sees something like “Fardad Farahzad and 1.2k others.”

BBC Persian has 3.5 million likes, and the page posts a new story a few times every hour. Farahzad’s almost incessant “liking” of every post meant a lot of people saw his name. At first, though, nobody really cared. Farahzad, who is British-Iranian and lives in London, said his initial “liking” sprees “didn’t cause any controversy as the fans knew who I am.” Things changed when Farahzad brought his hobby to the BBC News Facebook page. That page has almost 35 million likes, making it ten times bigger than BBC Persian. There, fewer people knew Farahzad’s name, or why he kept popping up under almost every post.

For some users, Farahzad is nothing more than the butt of a joke. Commenting on a recently-posted video about a baby who was “born twice,” one user wrote: “I finally beat Fardad Farahzad in liking this post. This can be the achievement of my lifetime. I can finally rest in peace now!!” That user might not have known that Farahzad, for a reason he declined to reveal, does not “like” video posts. Other commenters seemed to think there was a conspiracy afoot.

“Does anyone know who this Fardad Farahzad dude is?” someone asked Yahoo Answers back in March, filing the post under the “celebrities” category, perhaps proof that something strange was brewing. By May, intrigue — or outright bewilderment — was growing. It spread to Reddit, where one user asked r/NoStupidQuestions: “Who is Fardad Farahzad and why is he the first person to like every Facebook news post?” Another user clarified that Farahzad isn’t first, he’s just verified. That thread quickly became a groupthink on how to get rid of him, summed up by one disgruntled comment: “who the heck is this guy? I already blocked his page and still everything he likes keeps appearing in Facebook? WTH!?! I don’t give a rats ass on what he likes I just don’t want to his name appearing in my FB.”

But Farahzad wasn’t deterred. In fact, the negativity spurred him on. “Once I saw the reactions, then I continued to like even more aggressively because, well, there is [no such thing] as bad publicity, is there?” Today, Farahzad still “likes” almost every post on both the BBC News and BBC Persian Facebook pages. It’s remained a talking point among users, whose in-jokes and remarks are often among the most popular comments. A few users even created fan pages, like Fardad Farahzad Got There First. Farahzad’s obscure internet infamy looks set to continue, as veteran “likers” routinely explain his ubiquity to the uninitiated.

Farahzad insisted his employer has no problem with his activities, even if some fans say what he does amounts to spamming. “They’re cool with it,” Farahzad said, pointing out: “I mean even if they’re not, what could they do? Ask me not [to] like BBC posts?” The BBC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Vocativ.

In that Reddit post, one user theorized that perhaps Farahzad doesn’t really spend a worrying amount of his free time scrolling down the BBC News Facebook page for new posts to “like,” suggesting: “He’s probably written some kind of code.” Alas, the method to Farahzad’s digital madness is to remain a mystery, as the reporter told Vocativ: “I can’t possibly comment ;)”

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