Old MacDonald had a like-farm?

Social media are unquestionably a big hit and one of the biggest out there is Facebook with over a billion users worldwide. And one of the most successful features of Facebook is the so-called ‘like-button’, which is so great a phenomenon by itself that it even has its own wikipedia page. Such is the impact of the like button that I’m almost certain that at some point in the near future the dictionary definition of the word ‘liking’ will also include the very act of  clicking on that classic blue ‘thumbs-up’ icon.

Now while most uses for the like-button are entirely innocuous, I have been noticing a trend of some individuals posting a photograph accompanied by a message in the caption and some request to ‘like and share’ the item in question. Usually such photographs will depict a tragic scene, or some self-proclaimed ‘miracle’, or perhaps simply a ‘beautiful message’ either by some random swami guru from Timbuktu or Albert Einstein—the latter sometimes entirely misquoted, by the way. Then the strategy appears to involve playing on the emotional response the message may evoke in people to elicit a ‘like’ action from the viewers.

Here’s how it seems to work as I see it. Someone just uploads a dramatic image, such as say that of an intubated child, wearing a sad expression, apparently bedridden in a hospital and surrounded by life support machines. The poster then adds a lengthy caption with a touching explanation, such as that it’s someone’s son lying there and that he has a rare heart condition, that he is still on the waiting list for a heart transplant and that he would love nothing more than to play baseball with his friends again. This is then followed by a dedication, like for everyone whose life has been affected by heart-transplant waiting lists or whatever.  It could be real, or just invented… who knows? The main thing is that in the end it concludes with what I would consider to be a form of emotional blackmail. Because not only does it end with a request to ‘like and share’ the post, but then also invariably includes the condition that you should only do so if you care.

If I care? What is this nonsense? And other varieties on this theme also exist. For example sometimes such concluding remarks are phrased in the form of a cynical premonition, such as ‘I know some of you won’t share this, but those who care will’. And on occasion the caption will even bluntly state outright that if you ignore the message and don’t click on the like button right away, then you really don’t care. But whatever the exact wording, the emotional blackmail always operates by exploiting the false assertion that not liking is equal to not caring. Of course I care! Who wouldn’t? But excuse me all over the place if that doesn’t mean I’m going to spam all my friends with pseudo-philosophical or quasi philanthropic mumbo jumbo just because I get some kind of guilt trip laid on me if I don’t.

So what is up with these kind of messages on facebook? What is really behind them? It would appear that in some cases the motivation to post such messages are actually driven less by raising awareness for a particular issue or a desire to impart some words of wisdom unto the world, and more by economic factors. In fact there seems to be a whole business revolving around liking stuff on facebook and it’s called ‘Like Farming‘. Like Farming is essentially a scam that works by first creating a facebook page and then trying to get posts on that page to go viral by any means. This in turn generates more ‘likes’ for that page, and as subsequent posts on pages that you’ve liked will also show up in your news feed things start to get interesting. Because having access to so many news feeds means that when a page has been liked a lot, it becomes very attractive for businesses to advertise on it, or for one company buy it and then use it for marketing purposes. So how do you discriminate between innocent posts and the ones with financial motives in mind? I suppose just by realizing that no message worth liking or sharing should require any encouragement to do so.

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