Facebook deleted 16 pages for violations of its internal rules. Some of the pages were followed by up to 320,000 people. Facebook was fast to assure that it was not about the content of what the pages were publishing. It was about the pages evolution. They had started as hobby pages (on cars, football, etc.) and attract like-minded followers. Facebook: “These websites gave the impression of reliability and attracted hundreds of thousands of observers“.
Then, they would evolve. Their names would change gradually, and effectively at the end they would not resemble the hobby-lovers site it was at the beginning. Then, they would merge with politically-oriented pages.
So technically, this is not about fake news. This is about extortion and manipulation.
Say, you are a runner. You follow a page “I love to run slow”, then it evolves into “I love to run”, then “Running lovers”, then “Running lovers in Poland”, then “Group of Polish runners” and after some time… it merges with a page “The Polish Group”.
At first the information published is linked to slow running, and it evolves around running, but gradually it becomes limited to Poland and to being “Polish”, eventually dropping running altogether.
Gazeta Wyborcza calls this process “fan farms”. Expert on social media abuse Monika Czaplicka wrote on her blog this process has been a professional activity already in 2014. Following Brexit referendum campaign, the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Facebook’s new rules, the control over the process became tighter.
Today Monika Czaplicka says that fan farms are a norm in the business marketing. “Buying fake fans is a practice typical for business. This is social manipulation illegal on Facebook, but not necessarily in the Polish law”. As for political use, she adds that the Polish market is not developed as, say, Russian. “‘Farms’ may exist in Russia, while in Poland activities like these are done by PR agencies”.
Last September the Polish news revealed that similar techniques were employed by then-candidate and MEP Andrzej Duda team in his Internet campaign back in 2015 presidential elections.
A quick check on Allegro shows today anyone can buy promotion on social media. Prices are moderate, 100 Facebook likes costs 2.50 Euro…