Much speculation has existed for months around the ‘issue’ of an exponential growth in likes on certain far-right pages.
This speculation has centred around the perceived illegitimacy of the page likes in which pages such as Shermon’s ‘The Great Aussie Patriot’, ‘United Patriots Front’ and ‘Reclaim Australia’ (and satellites) harbor.
There are 3 theories around how pages such as these have such high numbers, yet in some instances, pathetic engagement.
We set out to get to the bottom of this, and understand why this is so.
The first theory we investigated was that many of the pages have false profiles. By false profiles, we don’t necessarily mean a person who is using a different name to protect their true identity, no, we mean persons who use other profiles in order to harass pages they oppose, or to plump up the perceived base of ‘likes’ on the pages they support. Most persons who have fake profiles have more than one.
Facebook began rolling out authentication walls for people who register facebook profiles, making the simple ‘email and verification’ method of setting up a fake account more difficult. New (and mandatory) verification methods include forced mobile phone SMS verification, and in instances where an IP is logged as having multiple account setups over a short period of time, ID verification. There also are reports that people who previously had fake profiles are now being ‘walled’ out of their profiles until they provide ID – even without someone reporting them. In noting this, however, their ‘likes’ they have given pages and posts prior to being ID-locked still exist.
We realised that although these people may make up a certain portion of those pages likes (such as the infamous ‘Jimbo Waussie’), we aren’t able to find significant instances of this to claim it is the main cause.
The second theory involves opponents of the above pages ‘liking’ them in order to keep track of their activities. Although in many instances this is true, and we suspect this would make up a significant portion of their page ‘likes’, it doesn’t translate into the amount of likes fluctuating between particular posts. Opponents may ‘like’ the page to track it, but they wouldn’t do the same to the content.
At this point, it is probably a good time to elaborate on what we mean by engagement. Engagement is how ‘active’ your page followers are. Are they sharing, liking and commenting on your content, or simply commenting on the page and leaving?
In the beginning of the boom of facebook, many people liked pages that represented rather stupid pastimes, such as “I like drinking water’ or ‘I was born in the 80s’. These pages attracted likes in the hundreds of thousands, and initially posted somewhat relevant content.
Over time, these pages kept their likes, but the content either stopped, or changed into irrelevant spam-like crap. This is where ‘engagement’ drops. Engagement and likes do not necessarily go hand in hand. We particularly noticed this when comparing our page to ‘The Great Aussie Patriot’. The facebook insights tab on page administration allows us to compare ourselves against other pages. We noticed that both the UPF and The Great Aussie Patriot have considerably low engagement for the amount of likes they have.
The United Patriots Front has a following of 23,600 people, but an engagement level of roughly 21,000 too. This translates into 0.88 ‘actions’ per page follower.
Then there is our page. With a following of approximately 3100, we have an engagement level of 6,300. This translates into 2.03 ‘actions’ per page follower. It should also be noted that this week, we are down approximately 46% on last week’s engagement, we would normally be at about 4 ‘actions’ per follower.
This is clear evidence that UPF and GAP have ‘inactive’ followers, either due to relevancy dropping in their feeds, the aforementioned theories, or the following theory: bought likes.
Bought likes is a contentious topic, because it is extremely pathetic. Purchasing likes gives the impression that a page is popular, but a tell-tale sign of purchased likes is poor engagement, under 1:1 usually. Something GAP and UPF exhibits. Many may remember when Tony Abbott’s fan page purchased thousands of likes in November 2014, noted by a poor engagement level and a high level of international followers.
Purchasing likes is something that any marketing guru will tell you is a waste of time. It artificially inflates perceived popularity, but the page will suffer in engagement, which in turn drives the ‘relevancy’ of the page downward, pushing its posts even further down in someone’s newsfeed.
So, we set out to see if this was the case. Unfortunately, it is difficult to actually trawl someone’s page likes, facebook doesn’t make that easy. It is easy, however, to check the likes on content. For example, photos and posts.
We decided to take a look today after Shermon posted a status boasting about his ‘popularity’. Initially, this post had only about 200 likes, roughly 0.6% of his entire following, but we then noticed it sharply rose.
However, we scrolled down further, and began to saw photos of young adults and teenagers in heavily filtered selfies. The names generally seemed to have “Hispanic” surnames, and a lot were located in the US and Mexico. As we type this, these likes are flowing in – and they seem to have no relation to the page or the cause, either.
Upon further inspection of these almost always public profiles liking this post, we noticed these profiles are pushing ads. These profiles are bought likes. Hollow profiles that exist merely to like other pages in exchange for money or likes for their own pages. It was clear at this point – Shermon is buying likes – if not for his page, definitely for his content.
To give you an idea of how much Shermon may have spent on likes, we decided to bridge the gap between his engagement and page likes, about 11,000 people. With the assumed rate of $25 USD per thousand ‘likes’, it would cost $275 USD ($387 AUD), at the higher end of pricing, this would be $550 USD ($773 AUD). This doesn’t take into account through ‘attrition’ – an expected drop in likes as people come and go. The pricing could be even higher if likes are being purchased for content, shares and photo likes.
It certainly makes one wonder where the money raised by people is going.