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Facebook’s new geographic data exposes tons of phony likes

Now that Facebook tracks likes by region, it's becoming obvious which companies and pages may be illegitimately juicing their "like" numbers.


Tim Sampson

Internet Culture

Posted on Jan 10, 2013   Updated on Jun 2, 2021, 3:53 am CDT

How does an airline become wildly popular in a country it doesn’t even fly to? Facebook.

That’s how German air carrier Lufthansa manages to have so many devoted followers in countries like Indonesia, Bali and Jakarta, despite never taking off or landing in these countries. And even though Lufthansa flies regularly to 78 countries around the world, the nation with the fourth highest number of Facebook likes for the airline, Pakistan, is not among them.

This counterintuitive little bit of info is available to the public now thanks to a change in the way Facebook reports information to analytics companies. The social network now allows information to be broken up by region, enabling the world to see where “likes” really come from.

It’s all part of Facebook’s continuing efforts to curtail the problem of “fake likes.” Segmenting likes by their regions of origin makes it pretty obvious to social media monitoring groups like Socialbakers whether companies have been buying bulk likes to up their social media cred.

“Facebook is the winner here and a lot of big brands are going to have to face reality,” Socialbakers spokesman Jakub Hrabovsky told the Daily Dot.

Because Facebook will now be providing regional breakdowns, Hrabovsky said companies will hopefully be dissuaded from trying to buy large blocks of hollow followers from around the world.
It’s a trend he says comes from a fundamental misunderstanding by companies of how to utilize social media. Rather than basing social marketing outcomes on genuine engagement, which is harder to measure, Hrabovsky said companies put pressure on their social marketing workers to chase after as many followers as possible. They aim for quantity over quality.

“I think it’s important for every social media platform to keep it genuine,” he said. “How else would they monetize their platform? Facebook has done a good job at this, but it’s more important for these brands to stop behaving has faceless giants.”

This behavior by brands gives fake accounts a reason to exist. Overall, Socialbakers found that nearly a fifth of all Lufthansa’s fans originated from countries not serviced by the airline. These new regional breakdowns make Lufthansa an easy target for analytics experts, since it’s obvious where their corporate presence exists. But if they’re buying fake likes, they’re not alone. Not by a longshot.

Last year, Facebook revealed in an SEC filing that roughly 83 million accounts – approximately 8.7 percent of all users – were fake. A combination of duplicates, misclassification or auto-programed bots is largely to blame, and the result is companies spending lots of money to avoid being social on social networks.

It’s not just Facebook, either. Technorati reports that, on average, half of all Twitter followers for major brands are bots. But as Facebook attempts to market itself as an effective advertising vehicle for major brands, the social network has gotten aggressive about eliminating fake followers to help preserve its reputation.

“It’s something we monitor vigilantly,” Facebook Vice President of Global Marketing Solutions Carolyn Everson recently told Business Insider. “We have user operations teams based in India, in Dublin, in California and Austin that are constantly monitoring. We want to ensure that one of the core tenets of Facebook is that you have your unique identity on Facebook.”

In addition, to segmenting likes by region, Facebook has also been vigorously going after and deleting fake accounts. A massive purge of fraudulent accounts in November caused some pages to lose as many as 100,000 fans in a single day.

Preserving the sanctity of likes is an ongoing goal for Facebook. But Everson said her company is at an advantage over other social networks in dealing with this issue because of the large amounts of personal data it possesses.

“It is something the industry at large deals with,” she said. “This isn’t a FB-specific issue. If anything, we have an advantage because we are a true identity platform, so we can quickly figure out if anyone is their true self on Facebook.”

Photo by Anokarina/Flickr

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*First Published: Jan 10, 2013, 7:02 pm CST