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Insights & Thoughts

Is Facebook Selling Us Fake ‘Likes?’

By Hanssie on February 13th 2014

I joined Facebook a little late in the game. I was anti MySpace for the longest time and when Facebook came along, I also dragged my feet. Then one day, out of sheer boredom, I accepted a friend’s invite and I was hooked. I was able to connect with old childhood friends, co-workers, random people that I’ve met along my journey…and of course, I found a great platform on which to build my new photography business!

Facebook Algorithm Change

In the recent months, Facebook has changed their traffic algorithms in a way that greatly affects any professional photographer who is trying to use social media to generate business.  To be precise, they seem to have drastically reduced the visibility of any post they deem to be “promotional,” in an effort to force small business owners to pay up in order for their posts to be seen. We, here at SLR Lounge, also have seen a decrease in the number of people that “see” our posts. So, like many other businesses, we experimented with Facebook’s handy little “boost post” option. And while we started getting more “Likes,” it seemed that even less people were actually interacting with us, let alone bothering to actually read an article.

“Facebook Fraud”

Popular Science YouTube channel, Veritasium, released a viral video a few days ago titled, “Facebook Fraud.” In the video, Derek Muller, the man behind Veritasium, alleges that Facebook has set up phony accounts, in essence a “click farm,” so that when businesses legitimately pay to advertise and boost their posts, they seemingly get a ton of likes, just as they paid for.

This is not a new phenomenon, as Muller points out. In the Virtual Bagel experiment, back in 2012, Rory Cellan-Jones created a useless Facebook page to see if you could generate fans using ads. The ad targeted users in the US, UK,  India, Indonesia, the Philippines and some other countries. His page got over 4,000 fans, virtually none in the US or UK. Which raises the question of quality vs. quantity.

[REWIND: Would Your Photography Business Survive if Facebook Died?]

Muller then goes into his experience with Veritasium and paying for Facebook ads. He saw the likes grow quickly, from 2,000 to over 100,000. And though his audience grew, the engagement seemingly did not. Muller shows a graph where 75% of his “Likes” are from developing countries, yet they are less than 1% of his page’s actual engagement (comments, shares, etc). Facebook ‘rewards’ posts that have strong engagement, so lack of engagement in the form of comments, likes and shares, are penalized by being hidden on people’s news feeds.


So, being a scientist, Muller drew up an experiment. He created Virtual Cat, a useless page, that “only an idiot would like.” (It’s written in the actual description). For $25, he got 262 likes. He posted a post on Virtual Cat. It reached 8 people and had zero engagement.


His conclusion? Facebook uses fake likes to make it seem like you are getting a bang for your buck, but Facebook’s business model actually works against us as professionals who are trying to grow our (photo) business. “It’s not beneficial to them for us to reach our audience. They want to restrict our organic reach to make us pay for it.” Basically, Facebook advertising is a waste of money and not only is it a waste of money, it hurts your business.

Though Muller’s experiment is not totally conclusive, he shows some pretty compelling evidence to back up his claims. His 9 minute video is below.

Watch “Facebook Fraud” by Veritasium

What Does This Mean For Pro Photographers?

If you are a photographer who pays to promote your page or boost your posts, you may be paying for something that is not only a waste of money, but also harming your visibility with the people who you actually want to reach. We have legitimately paid to advertise some of our posts in the past and as a result, have seen less and less engagement on our site. Fewer interactions means our posts remain hidden because they may be showing up on a fake news feed somewhere. So, the people who actually want to see our posts don’t get to see them, and in turn, we use more advertising money to boost posts that don’t get seen. Seems a little shady, Facebook!

Even if you don’t pay to boost your posts, this still affects you. You don’t get to see the posts that you may want to see because of the diluting of the quality of ‘likes.’ This is why SLR Lounge has been working on promoting in different social media avenues like Google +, Pinterest, and Twitter, while maintaining our quality video tutorials on YouTube.

[PRODUCT HIGHLIGHT: Newborn Photography Workshop Collection and Lightroom Presets]

We love producing great content in the form of tutorials, articles and news and we want people to read it! So, please find us on all of our different social media sites, and add us to your RSS feeders so you don’t miss our latest articles and tutorials.

What are your thoughts on Facebook advertising being a fraud? Comment below.

[Video courtesy of YouTube]

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Chuck Eggen

    The more Facebook morphs into a robot the more likely I am to can it. This article just adds to the list of why I’m not feeling the love for FB anymore.

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  2. daniel berger

    What I have found to work best with facebook, is to tag my clients when I post their pictures (Obviously with their permission). This is simple facebook practice, but it reaches the clients sphere of influence. Every person has a different sphere of influence, and the more clients you reach, the more broad your reach of advertisement. I believe a happy client is the best marketing you could ever pay for, so I invest in them. I do not pay for advertisement at all, since I truly believe that photos and the clients themselves sell your product. I have found that happy clients (not just with the photos but with the entire experience) end up promoting your business and getting your photos in front of others more than most advertisements can. THere are ways to beat the facebook machine if these claims are true. Use what they do allow and what their entire social premise is built on (staying connected). Just some thoughts.

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  3. Zac

    I’ve paid for boosted posts and likes on Facebook and I believe it works. Each time I’ve notice an increase in inquires and I always ask clients how they’ve found us. I do get a lot of word of mouth but I’ve also had clients who found us on Facebook. At the end of the day I’d rather have 10 interested views then 2000 general views.

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  4. Konrad

    I’ve noticed this as well. My post reach would average 2-300 people when I had just over 1000 likes. Now I have over 1500, but my posts somehow struggle to reach 200? There’s absolutely no correlation there at all.

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  5. Bill from NYC

    I did not know SLR Lounge had a FB page. I still visit here every other business day.

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  6. Blake

    Wow. Great video. I’m canceling my FB ads right now and never spending another dollar there. I’ve been disappointed by the results lately anyway, and not quite sure why. Thanks.

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  7. nico socha

    This is a great video i think the most of us knew that, but nice facts good explained. For everybody who wants to check where the fans come from, check out this little tool. Its from a very famous german magazine and you can see where the likes from your or any other facebook page comes from: (click analysieren, to analyze).

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  8. bayek

    Great post. I think it is possibly true as I have also experienced myself. I started my photography facebook page last year and couldn’t go above 100 likes. Then last December I decided to try and pay to advertise my page. Within 2 weeks I got almost 200 new Likes. I was cery happy and updated my page with new photos and welcomed new followers but had no feedback from any of the new “Likers”. The only feedback I got was from those who found my page organically.

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    • Hanssie

      Thanks for sharing your experience. Sadly, your story is not unfamiliar. Too bad we can’t delete all of these fake likes.

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  9. Gregg G

    I run a small specialized cycling house in Belgium. We have a pretty small demographic, but very passionate and engaged in all our posts back in the day before the big algorithm change. I would go to popular bike races, take photos of the race, tag people in the posts, get huge amounts of engagement, but then after about 7 races into the season I uploaded a fresh group of photos and my viewership went to less than %25 of our pages likes (before we would have 300% or more). Over the last year we have seen a steady increase in likes, but still flat engagement. We have even paid to promote our page a few times as an experiment, but just as this article, we saw likes from places and people who have no reason to like our page. Until this changes we have moved onto other more lucrative social media. One day, just like my hotmail account, AOL Instant Messenger, MSN messenger, ICQ account; Facebook will be relegated to the world of MySpace.

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    • Hanssie

      Well said. Thanks for sharing your experience. My hope is that Facebook will listen up and stop screwing us before we all make a mass exodus to greener pastures.

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  10. Philipp

    Today has become so confusing with all the selling of cheap likes/shares/twitter followers/etc. I’m having a hard time understanding where I need to invest money in at this point since it all seems like a waste instead of bringing people who do actually want to see my posts; not random ones.
    I would love to believe that the people who like my posts really want to see what I’m writing.

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  11. Cody

    I’ve noticed the downturn in engagement over the past 12 months, but attributed it to the new algorithms alone. Turns out, honestly paying to promote my page, hurt me in the long run. I also need to point out that I had long suspected this since the first time I paid to advertise. None of new likes ever engaged the page. Thanks for robbing my small business of a way to grow Facebook. Peace out. I’m done.

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    • Hanssie

      Agreed! I’m thinking in the long run, they are shooting themselves in the foot. Piss off the people that give you money. Never a good plan.

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  12. Wingman011

    Now is the time for a new social network. I wish I had the smarts to build one.

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    • Scott

      Time for a new social network? There’s not enough of them out there already? The new social network is the real world, where real people interact with each other and don’t judge their success on the number of “likes” they get from strangers. That’s the best skill to learn.

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    • Hanssie

      Scott, I think that’s the old social network :)

      But even so, as a business, it’s difficult to get in the amount of people that social media reach allows us. For my small photography business that may be okay, I grow my business more organically anyway, but for SLR Lounge, we physically can’t get around the world to interact with everyone. (As much as I’d love to…except I hate flying and airplanes).

      I don’t think a new social network is the answer. Maybe the old one (Facebook) should change some of the ways they’re screwing us who pay to legitimately advertise and play fair.

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  13. Karen Julia

    Really interesting. It’s frustrating that investing money to get in front of more potential customers actually back fires, but now I understand why!

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    • Hanssie

      I know! It kind of makes me mad because they are stifling our organic reach and the people that actually want to see the content we create! Boo Facebook!

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