A new report by researchers from the NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence showed it is fairly easy to purchase likes and followers on social media for posts, which troubles some experts who say that companies aren’t doing enough to tamp down on this type of activity, especially with an election looming.
The New York Times is reporting that the researchers took a post by European Union antitrust enforcer Margrethe Vestager, which said “A very #MerryChristmas to all,” and decided to use it as an experiment.
The post, on Facebook, from last December, had 144 likes on it. The researchers paid a few dollars to garner more attention on the post, and in about half an hour, it had 100 more likes. They did similar things to her Instagram account, as well as on a Christmas tweet from Vera Jourova, an EU justice commissioner.
The report found that social media companies are not policing bots and other surreptitious methods of garnering likes and influence for posts. It’s relatively inexpensive to buy likes, the researchers found.
The researchers wanted to see how social media companies would react to fake engagement on their platforms, and whether they would do anything about it. They bought engagement from five companies in Europe and 11 from Russia. They bought 3,500 comments, 25,000 likes, 20,000 views and 5,000 followers, for $330.
After a month, around 80 percent of the likes were still there, and hadn’t been removed, the research showed.
“We spend so much time thinking about how to regulate the social media companies — but not so much about how to regulate the social media manipulation industry,” said Sebastian Bay, one of the researchers who worked on the report. “We need to consider if this is something which should be allowed but, perhaps more, to be very aware that this is so widely available.”