Do you bend over backwards to seek out additional Twitter followers, but find yourself getting nowhere?
Have you ever lain awake at night wondering how your competitor manages to get so many more likes and followers on social media, despite having a useless product, and lousy customer support?
You aren’t doing anything wrong — but the other guy may be using a secret weapon. Allow me to introduce you to what are commonly called “click farms.” As the name suggests, “click farms” are places where clicks are grown — much like a vegetable farm is a place where vegetables are grown.
While vegetables are known to be good for you, however, clicks have a slightly different reputation. Just like vegetables can help you grow strong and healthy, click farms can increase the number of likes on your Facebook posts (and pages) and raise your number of Twitter followers. A post that gathers a mere 23 likes in a week can quickly reach 2,300 overnight with the services of a click farm.
How do click farms work?
Click farming isn’t a skilled job — it typically involves a large number of low-paid workers hired to click on advertising links and/or Facebook likes. Click farms have typically been sweat-shops, with individuals toiling long hours, in terrible conditions, for low pay. They are usually located in developing countries like India, Bangladesh and the Philippines, with individuals paid per 1,000 clicks or likes.
The clicking activity generates a phantom following for various products and personalities. The size of the following is important, because a large percentage of people check ratings and reviews on products before buying or following.
Click farming may also be done in the name of apps installed on hundreds of iPhones or Androids, all neatly arranged to boost the app installs for a particular mobile app customer. Such activity can cause an app to appear viral and may go a long way toward influencing a potential venture capitalist needed to supply funding.
A click farm customer doesn’t have to worry about quality — a click is a click, whether it comes from India, Bangladesh, or China. Thus, the buyers typically go for the cheapest quote, which in turn comes from the countries offering the cheapest unskilled labor.
There are ongoing efforts by such social media giants as Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others to limit or prevent click farming. They regularly update site algorithms to identify fake clicks and ban such users. Facebook even has an entire team of employees whose job is to expose schemes for creating fraudulent “likes” and works to remove them.
In 2013, the U.S. State Department, under then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was exposed for spending $630,000 U.S. to purchase Facebook likes — apparently many people in Bangladesh like her.
Still, the dubious business of selling clicks persists, and even seems to be flourishing. Click farms have evolved with the times, and regularly develop sophisticated techniques to evade the social media algorithms of wary tech behemoths.
This includes the likes of automated IP switching from a pool of thousands of IP Addresses; time delays between likes; using automated programs to actually open up a browser and make a click (a step up from using automated bots to emulate clicks); and the use of multi-location proxies, which makes it difficult for algorithms to determine a click’s geographical origin.
The war between the criminal, and the watch keepers is as old as the human existence as they say, and never ending!
The basic ingredient for a click farm is young, inexpensive labor. And for a long time, India was the world’s foremost click farming destination.
India is fast becoming a player on the world IT stage, however, producing highly skilled and technical resources that drive complex projects like Google, Facebook or even NASA. Our progress has made it so that India no longer offers the cheapest labor.
Our highly skilled IT workforce is no longer interested in doing something as mundane as click farming, especially after the honest toil of getting a first-rate education. Yet limited job opportunities do force some to take the path of the ever famous business process outsourcing (BPO) industry. And sometimes, even though prospective employees may not realize it immediately, that leads to click farming.
What prompts our youth to such low-paying and onerous jobs? Contrary to popular belief, click farming offers improved working conditions. The benefits include free cab rides to and from work, free food, regular employer-sponsored parties, and a compatible crowd. There’s just enough money to meet monthly expenses (including fun and frolic), and that’s all some young people are looking for.
There are even career growth prospects. An individual who works hard and shows initiative can be promoted to a team leader position. If that works out, then they can become a floor manager and maybe even rise to operations control, or regional manager. Employers in the industry prefer to promote from within, since existing employees tend to know the industry best.
Because of a lower cost of living, India’s IT pros are willing to work for smaller salaries than their U.S. counterparts. Yet Indian IT pros are like other IT pros — we want something that lets us learn and grow, something that stimulates our creative powers and brings a challenge to our jobs. We might go for a job at a click farm, if only to prevent ourselves from falling into a state of poverty and despair, but we usually won’t stick around longer than necessary.
Countries like Bangladesh, China, the Philippines, and Thailand are now vying for the crown for the lowest-cost unskilled labor, and India is fast losing the click farming battle.
Are click farms ethical?
This is a grey area. Defenders say that click farming is just like advertising, in that it offers nothing more than a subtle nudge towards traction. After all, if more people buy a product based on advertisements, so too might you be inclined to install an app that has more downloads.
Critics claim click farming is a fraud, and that it creates a problem of genuineness. The social media metrics immediately go for a toss wherein, we, as users, are depending on the number of clicks or the number of app installs to decide which apps, or services to go for. They liken the false clicks to fake reviews on popular rating websites.
In India, the debate hasn’t been as heated. India’s BPO industry is huge and it deals with all kinds of mundane and technically challenging back-office tasks that don’t directly interact with customers. Thus, for the general populace, somebody working in a click farm is just as good as any other individual doing a myriad of tasks that Indian BPOs do.
Nobody knows what all is being done, and nobody seems to care. Somebody working in a BPO has all the respect of earning a living by hard work and labor, not by crookedness. At present, it seems that click farming in India is in its sunset. With the rising number of clients on popular freelancing websites seeking clicks, however, the industry may just be launching in other parts of the world.
With a hot economy, India is seeing an increase in the number of innovative startups and strong growth in industries driven by rising domestic demand. As India marches towards more technically challenging jobs, we wish all the best to the ones starting off in click farming — it has given an impetus to India, and knowingly or unknowingly, helped strengthen our populace financially at a time when it most mattered.