I use Facebook quite a lot, to share stories, opinions and pictures within my social circle, but all too often I see adverts ‘from my friends’ endorsing things like boots, sunglasses, diet pills and or holidays. Now I’m sure that my 18 stone, rugby playing, muscle bound friend is not wearing fluffy house shoes from Australia, so how is it he shows up on my timeline endorsing them and telling me that there is a sale on?

It starts with a ‘Like’ and a ‘Share’.

The most common way we are manipulated into doing this is through stories that stir up an emotion. The child in a hospital bed who needs a 1,000,000 likes for an operation or a share to receive a prayer. We have also seen pictures of girls who, for one reason or another are saying that they are not beautiful and ask for a comment, a like and a share and now more common are the ones that play on our sense of pride, ‘only a genius’ or ‘only 5% of the population can solve this.’

When we like and share posts like these or even inspirational quotes, this shows up in our time line and our friends time lines who in turn like and share and the daisy chain grows and grows. When the page has enough likes or followers, typically over 100,000 the owner of the page might begin placing ads, those ads show up on your news feed and of course your friend’s news feed – with your name linked to it!

This process is called ‘like farming’ and is a lucrative business. At best it is done to sell advertising space, at worst it is used to install malware on your device to steal information from you and your friends. If the ad has a link and you follow the link to a site where you then make a purchase, the owner of that link receives a commission on goods sold.

‘Like farming’ is against the terms and conditions of Facebook, however Facebook has to catch the culprits first and when a page with hundreds of thousands of followers can be sold for thousands or even tens of thousands of euros you can see that this is a business with little risk and high returns.

So before you click and share that story that has made you happy, upset or angry, google it first and see if it’s true.

If there is a picture and it asks you to leave a comment to see it ‘move’, don’t!

If there is a headline, “You won’t believe what she did when…” but you have to allow that site access to your profile before you get to the story, don’t do it!!

Happy clicking.

Oliver Tulett.