You may already know that there is a whole industry based around generating fake engagement and traffic on the internet. Fake clicks can easily be bought wholesale, often advertised as ‘genuine traffic’ and usually designed to ‘maximize your likes and website engagement’.
Designed to generate industrial volumes of clicks and engagement, click farms have entered into the public consciousness. As an example the Russian troll farms, which have been flagged as responsible for wide scale spreading of disinformation and fake news, costing the global economy $78 billion per year, are a form of click farm.
The click farm even made an appearance on Silicon Valley as Pied Piper, not getting enough users, hired a “click farm” to use the app, creating a fake spike in user interest.
But despite being known to exist, images of real click farms are rare. However, there have been a number of exposés of click farms of different types, as well as one well-known police raid. Here is the complete roundup.
1. Thailand: WeChat click farm raided (2017)
Three Chinese nationals were arrested in Thailand in 2017 for running a click farm operation. Thai police seized hundreds of cellphones and nearly 350,000 SIM cards.
The click farm was used to inflate engagement on WeChat, a messaging app that is particularly popular in China. Despite the operation being shut down, it wasn’t because of the illegality of the click farm, but about the men’s immigration status, importing electronic goods without the proper permits, and using unregistered SIM cards.
2. India: social media farm in Delhi (2017)
An investigation by France24 led journalists to Delhi where an Indian salesman explained on film how they could falsify business ratings on Facebook. This is part of a wider fake reviews industry that has an economic cost of $152 billion a year.
The report featured images of the click farm workers, and explained how they could create fake profiles to make engagement seem more realistic.
3. China: A team of clickers run out from a small office (2017)
One of the most infamous images of a click farm is a video taken by a Russian man who visited a click farm in an unspecified Chinese city. The video shows a small office with several banks of mobile phones linked together performing similar actions.
This click farm is thought to be used for generating fake social media engagement and leaving fake reviews.
4. Chinese click farm advertises openly on YouTube & FB (2020)
While researching click farms, I stumbled across what appears to be an ad for a click farm service on YouTube offering: “Service Click Fraud” This ad highlights that they can carry out click fraud on Facebook, Bing, and Google Ads.
I also managed to find their account on Facebook, which shows a slightly outdated wall of phones linked to a computer.
I got in touch to discuss their service, mentioning that I had a website where I wanted to inflate the views and clicks on ads that my site hosts.
The friendly lady informed me that that would not be a problem and that Google would not ban my site or block the clicks. All this for a minimum investment of $100 per month…
5. Central Asia: Insta clicks (2020)
In September 2020, an operation was revealed to be working from Central Asia, most likely Kazakhstan or Armenia, to create fake profiles and engagement on Instagram.
The click farm was uncovered remotely, so there is no imagery, but it was thought to be running a network of phones from a central location. Using a complex system of proxy servers, IP addresses and VPNs to cover its tracks, the click farm was thought to be managing tens of thousands of fake profiles. The operation was reported to Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, to help them close down these fake profiles.
6. China: Huge click farm run by “uniformed” staff (2018)
If those previous examples left you stunned, the next example is dazzling in it’s scale. This post originally from TikTok shows a cavernous building, most likely in China, with what appears to be thousands of linked phones and even computers running the same images and videos.
It also looks like most of the workers in the footage are wearing a uniform, implying a very organized operation here. Many of the workers are also sat in an open plan office area working with tablets which appear to be networked on monitors, most likely to multiply each action by a real person.
7. China: The viral ‘click farm lady’ (2015)
Every industry needs its icon. One of the images of click farms that crops up the most is of an Asian lady sitting in front of a bank of phones on a custom made table. This image originates from a post in 2015, claiming that the image was going viral on Chinese social media site Weibo. The report details that the lady is being hired to manipulate the engagement and downloads on a Chinese app store. It’s even reported that it costs around $11,200 to get into the top ten downloads list using this fraudulent approach.
8. Cottage industry click farm advertised on Facebook (2020)
One of the things about click farms is that they’re relatively easy to set up. Yes, you do need an assortment of phones and devices, and some technical knowhow. But for someone with the knowledge and capacity, running a click farm can be a relatively profitable pursuit.
I interviewed several people related to the click farm industry in early 2020. But while searching for subjects, I found multiple people running small click farms everywhere from Kenya and Bangladesh to the USA.
This article highlights that the cottage click farm industry is alive and well, with a click farmer advertising their service on Facebook.
The reasons why click farms matter
The impact of click farms on the world of marketing can’t be understated. For one, clicks on ads from these non-genuine sources greatly inflates the ad payout for companies.
For a $100 investment, your average website owner can collect much more in artificially inflated revenue each month.
When it comes to social media engagement, many see followers and likes as proof of the validity of an influencer or brand. But what if the bulk of those likes are from click farms? Marketers putting stock in influencers with millions of followers might just be paying out to click farms.
And for customers, a brand or product might seem popular simply because the company has paid for reviews or additional followers.
The rise in fake clicks and click farms undermines many of the efforts we as honest marketers are trying to make. Blocking click farm traffic is a necessity for any business running paid search or social campaigns.
CHEQ for PPC is the only solution that works for all major search engines, social media platforms, and more to block click farms and other bot and automated fake users clicks hurting your customer acquisition campaigns. Get in touch today
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