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December 11, 2012 8:19 PM   Subscribe

The Mystery of the Phantom Likes. Bernard Meisler at Read Write Web is trying to find out why his dead friends are liking stuff on Facebook.

The strange phenomena of phantom likes first recived some media attention immediately prior to the election, when The Boston Globe wrote a piece on fervent Democrats horrified to discover they had "liked" Mitt Romney. Facebook had announced in August that it was changing its systems to cut down on phantom "likes," but since then the phenomenon appears to have only grown more widespread. Some are speculating that it may be connected to click bots.
posted by Diablevert (63 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Facebook is the new television.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:45 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a friend who mentioned this recently. A friend of hers, who had died shortly before, managed to like Dairy Queen just days after his funeral.
People were devastated.

I think the first I heard of this (not being a Facebooker) was during the epic Election thread (or about that time) and I was horrified.
This sort of thing reminds me why I hate things like Facebook, digital profiling and all of that.
The clickbot idea is interesting.

I read an article somewhere (Slashdot) about a person who created a fake business, and discovered some curious things about 'Likes', including how numbers jumped when he offered his non-existent goods to India, but I am damned if I can find it now. I feel it would have been interesting here.
posted by Mezentian at 8:48 PM on December 11, 2012


I read that piece this morning and was interested to see Facebook's insistence that the "like" he asked about had happened.

I suspect a lot of these could be attributed to people liking a page when they think they are liking a picture, a post etc. People liking things on webpages where it's not clear they are liking COMPANY X, and people liking things for competitions and stuff, and then forgetting about it later.

Nonetheless, there are a lot of em. Enough to raise an eyebrow that it's all accidental imho.
posted by smoke at 8:49 PM on December 11, 2012


Clearly, Facebook is haunted.
posted by axiom at 8:50 PM on December 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


But Google+ is a real ghost town!
posted by axiom at 8:50 PM on December 11, 2012 [14 favorites]


An anarchist "friend" on Facebook. What part am I missing here?
posted by Splunge at 8:52 PM on December 11, 2012


Clearly, Facebook is haunted trying to raise cash by injecting advertising into random conversations/feeds/walls, and it really doesn't matter if the person is living or dead, or clicked the like years ago: Dairy Queen wants the eyeballs it paid for.
posted by Mezentian at 8:52 PM on December 11, 2012 [16 favorites]


Well, I don't like anything, so its not a problem for me.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:54 PM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't think any major advertisers take Facebook seriously at the moment.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:55 PM on December 11, 2012


This is only a mystery if you, for some unknown reason, believe Facebook to be above exactly what Mezentian just said.
posted by odinsdream at 8:57 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think any major advertisers take Facebook seriously at the moment.

I must say I have an involuntary shudder of joy when I see Shell-sponsored posts on my wall, and the incredibly vitriolic responses people across the world are writing. Someone should have got fired for iit; what an hilarious dumb mistep. On the bright side, they are spreading awareness of their evil virally.
posted by smoke at 8:59 PM on December 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sadly, many advertisers love Facebook and Twitter because they reach out and connect in a meaningful way to synergise their brand with an on-message target demographic with high believability in their extended social circles who are willing to evangelise on their behalf.

(And now here's the new Superman trailer...., he said sarcastically)
posted by Mezentian at 8:59 PM on December 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


Y'know...if we all just went back to myspace, PUNCHLINE!! :D
posted by sexyrobot at 9:00 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


What I find interesting is that Facebook is insisting the recent changes (including the Sponsored Posts BS) are primarily to cut down on spam. Interesting because before they pulled this shit, I didn't see any spam in my feed at all. I have an ad-blocker script set up on my router, for Christ's sake. Before this change my feed was stuff my friends did, now it is largely huge ads for things I don't care about and a bunch of "suggested posts" which I assume are things they are hoping I want to click on to spam my friends with? Ugh. The place is going downhill pretty fast. Here's hoping the stock price tanks and the investors bail.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:01 PM on December 11, 2012 [14 favorites]


many advertisers love Facebook and Twitter because they reach out and connect in a meaningful way to synergise their brand with an on-message target demographic with high believability in their extended social circles who are willing to evangelise on their behalf.

How does a human make that come out of their face?
posted by mhoye at 9:01 PM on December 11, 2012 [26 favorites]


They speechify.
posted by Mezentian at 9:03 PM on December 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


How does a human make that come out of their face?

By typing with their tongue.
posted by alms at 9:04 PM on December 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


Hell, I'm still trying to figure out why living people favorite my stuff on MetaFilter.
posted by hippybear at 9:04 PM on December 11, 2012 [21 favorites]


Facebook is the new television.

Maybe in 2008, but now it's like the cheesy ads you used to find in old comic books.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:04 PM on December 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


No phantom 'likes' here, but I never log into facebook unless someone messages me on there.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 9:09 PM on December 11, 2012


It's like the "so and so are using FriendFinder (lies), you should to, give us more of your information!"

I have a small handful of relatives who have Facebook but don't use it crop up with phantom likes on a daily basis. Things I KNOW they didn't like.

As much as I hated FB before, I hate it more now.
posted by Malice at 9:10 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's just that it has basically become, for many people, what television used to be - something you do on weeknights after dinner. Facebook is something you hate, and has something to hate for everyone. Like television, we complain about how evil it is, and how intrusive, but just like tv, all of the complainers never take what should be an obvious next step, which is to tune out, turn it off, log out. It's just like television.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:10 PM on December 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


Clearly, Facebook is haunted trying to raise cash by injecting advertising into random conversations/feeds/walls, and it really doesn't matter if the person is living or dead, or clicked the like years ago: Dairy Queen wants the eyeballs it paid for.

I completely agree that the underlying incentives for facebook to ignore the problem are obvious. What's more interesting to me are the potential mechanics of it --- is it real people clicking real things that they don't realise are ads? Is it some other tracking mechanism that third parties are claiming as a "like" equivalent? Are spammers somehow impersonating all these people? There's some comments at ReadWrite that say "click hijacking" could be one mechanism.

Whatever it is, it seems weird to me. I mean, Facebook itself would be perfectly positioned to conduct such fraud if it wanted to, but if it's not Facebook how are outsiders somehow inducing this behaviour in thousands or millions of accounts that they don't control? I'd love to know more about that.
posted by Diablevert at 9:12 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hell, I'm still trying to figure out why living people favorite my stuff on MetaFilter.

Have no fear. In 2014, after the format wars, Metafilter Networks Inc will be taken oven by Facebook Inc. You won't need to pay your five dollars any more, and you will be able to log-in directly from Facebook using a new social media plugin.

The image tag will also be restored, but all imaged will be front-end loaded with a 30 second video.
For 18 months all advertising on Metafilter will be carefully vetted so it complies with community standards. After that it'll be all bikini models, ill-considered rape culture ads and ironic racism.
There will also be a Boobies.metafilter. Certain key words will redirect you to partner sites, and while Metafilter search will finally work for specific phrases, Amazon shop will be firmly integrated.

In 2020, when the stars are right, Mathowie will return, and cats will be scanned.

But I have said too much.
posted by Mezentian at 9:12 PM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


So - who's creating the clickbots? Is it Facebook, to get more advertising revenue? And if so, how could this be proven?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:13 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hell, I'm still trying to figure out why living people favorite my stuff on MetaFilter.

I do it because it's awesome.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:14 PM on December 11, 2012


Facebook has become the retina of the mind's eye.
posted by deadbilly at 9:48 PM on December 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


I would imagine this is mainly confusion around the new ads. These give you, as well as the "suggested pages", a lead ad of something your friends like. It is presented as "Bob likes pancakes", which is substantially different from a newsfeed update "Bob liked pancakes".

This lead to me getting notified that some of my friends like IKEA on a day when IKEA was getting raked through the coals over the invisible women in the Saudi catalogue, which in turn gave the impression they had liked it right then, perhaps in support of them during the controversy. Of course they had liked it months ago, Facebook was just reminding me that they like it right now since it was a trending topic.
I spend a little too much time on facebook.
posted by Iteki at 9:49 PM on December 11, 2012 [14 favorites]


Maybe in 2008, but now it's like the cheesy ads you used to find in old comic books.

"GRIT" seemed like a more trustworthy enterprise.
posted by benzenedream at 9:49 PM on December 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


deadbilly: "Facebook has become the retina of the mind's eye."

Of course, "brundlefly" was not the name I was born with. That's my internet name. Soon, all of us will have special names — names designed to cause the intertubes to resonate.
posted by brundlefly at 9:52 PM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


In the back of my mind, I'd like to think that it's actually Google, identifying people on Facebook and the single thing they would hate the most, then using a series of shell-company ad agency to run a bunch of plausible artificial-like ads -- multinational oil companies for anarchists, cars for the carfree, even ice cream is offensive if it's the recently-deceased advertising it -- all in an effort to make Facebook as odious as possible.

It's not, of course, but it amuses me that what Facebook does naturally is almost indistinguishable from what it's biggest competitor would do to make it look bad.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:53 PM on December 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


Is the Phantom Like syndrome widespread enough to even affect the "reach" metric Facebook uses to tell you how effective your ad is? I know there are people on MetaFilter who manage large ad spends on Facebook who could comment better than me, but my assumption is that the Phantom Likes are just noise.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:56 PM on December 11, 2012


I am no good with computers - do these phantom "likes" show up on the user's profile page, or just on other people's newsfeeds?
posted by cmonkey at 10:07 PM on December 11, 2012


Immortal corporations paying for dead people to like them. A dystopian virtuous circle in a William Gibson universe.
posted by zippy at 10:44 PM on December 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


The thing that's most bizarre about this is that I'm not sure I see the advantage for either Facebook or the advertiser/page-owner. What brand wants to generate negative goodwill (or should we call it "badwill")? It's the opposite of social engagement, the sort of thing that can turn someone off a brand or company for life.

A friend complained tonight that he got a photo -- yes, a photo -- in his photo albums from Southwest. He hasn't ever flown Southwest and isn't in the market to do so anytime soon (struggling Walgreen's employee). Worse, he can't *delete* it.

cmonkey, from some of the examples, the person is able to go into their activity and find when they supposedly hit the "like" button.

I suppose some of these -- some -- could be attributed to various UI glitches, clicking the like next to something THERE when you should have clicked it HERE (like the people who accidentally -- we assume -- voted for Pat Buchanan in Florida on the infamous butterfly ballot). Or phone/tablet fuck-ups because of an enormous thumb -- that sort of thing. (My tablet -- an HP TouchPad -- drives me crazy because of the times that it assumes my finger movement is a click instead of a scroll.) But it seems to be happening an awful lot.
posted by dhartung at 10:53 PM on December 11, 2012


> I would imagine this is mainly confusion around the new ads. These give you, as well as the "suggested pages", a lead ad of something your friends like. It is presented as "Bob likes pancakes", which is substantially different from a newsfeed update "Bob liked pancakes".

This does not explain people "liking" things that it seems unlikely or impossible that they had ever liked, at any time.

My theory is that there's a loophole in Facebook's API, or there was at some time in the past, that lets advertisers (including shady resellers) make you "like" something just from visiting a web page, without clicking on anything.

EDIT: which speculation was apparently in the last link. OOPS!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:10 PM on December 11, 2012


This would explain a strange series of friends "liking" Wal-Mart one after the other recently.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:16 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have had two recently deceased friends show up in my Facebook feed as "liking" something. It's sort of a kick in the gut. And it definitely makes me not want anything to do with the products that are being "liked."
posted by louche mustachio at 11:27 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


This would explain a strange series of friends "liking" Wal-Mart one after the other recently.

I noticed that too!
posted by Malice at 11:35 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also: Facebook is not T.V.

It actually has uses. Not that it couldn't be replaced by a similar website but as we've discussed into the ground in other threads, that would require people to actually go to that website.
posted by Malice at 11:36 PM on December 11, 2012


How to harvest likes and resell them to businesses
posted by benzenedream at 11:40 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


negative goodwill (or should we call it "badwill")?

ill will
posted by ryanrs at 11:42 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just want everyone to take a moment to gaze in awe at Diablevert's title.
I missed it the first few times.
posted by Mezentian at 12:04 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


But I thought if something was 'ill' it was cool? Or was that only the nineties?

And am I alone in thinking that Facebook is going to be the AOL of this decade?
posted by From Bklyn at 12:32 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


So this is how Gogol's Dead Souls ends, fucking Facebook.
posted by Elmore at 12:34 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Interesting. A deceased Facebook friend of mine somehow managed to share one of my status updates earlier this year -- more than a year after her death. At first I suspected the profile had been hacked, but I couldn't see any other activity initiating from the account so mostly put it from my mind.

This is ghoulish.
posted by trunk muffins at 1:23 AM on December 12, 2012


Even if these were all simply the result of accidental clicks or something, that doesn't make it alright.

Recycling likes long afterwards - or at all - doesn't seem alright to me either. How many people knew? Can they turn it off?

It's like Facebook consider a satisfactory answer to anything is "Yeah, it's OK, that's a thing we do, actually."

Would Mefi liven up a discussion by re-inserting some comment I made years ago in an apparently related thread?
posted by Segundus at 1:24 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


A deceased Facebook friend of mine somehow managed to share one of my status updates earlier this year -- more than a year after her death.

How does that work? Was it something that might have been obviously adwordy that might trigger that? That's a bizarre, and worrying glitch regardless. What else might Facebook be doing?
posted by Mezentian at 2:28 AM on December 12, 2012


But I have said too much.

You are a monster, Sir, a monster!

On the other hand, it's not too hard imagining facebook trying to resurrect users via their Essential Salts for more product linking, yet, botching necromancy* as they botch everything else, raise up only "ye Liveliest Awfulness," to like in a savage an indiscriminate manner. Soon enough, I expect facebook will call up something "that can in Turne call up Somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use." Well, a boy can dream.

*Yes, I know it's not, technically, "criminal necromancy." What word would you use, smarty-pants?
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:42 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


There is - it seems - no end to this horror. I get awful unsuitable pages in my FB feed (or timeline, or whatever else they call it these days); I get 'promoted' tweets in my Twitter timeline from betting shops and Coca Cola; I get emails from LinkedIn and Amazon (now Amazon Local Deals as well) ALL THE TIME; I get spam with a zillion links to Karen Millen in the comments section of my blog - on and on it goes. And now, disgracefully, even the dead are being drafted in to try and (desperately) sell stuff that nobody wants.

As dhartung says, can any of this really be beneficial to the sellers?
posted by Myeral at 4:02 AM on December 12, 2012


There's definitely something fishy... I never "like" brands but somehow, FB has liked about 60 of them for me, 90% of which I've never heard of.

Maybe there's a cross-site scripting vulnerability or something; I know you can buy likes so maybe this is how they do the fulfillment.
posted by polyglot at 4:53 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Before this change my feed was stuff my friends did, now it is largely huge ads for things I don't care about and a bunch of "suggested posts" which I assume are things they are hoping I want to click on to spam my friends with?

The other day I got a survey from facebook about their new news feed. The questions were slightly oblivious, but I gave them a tip for free that they are a site where people go to communicate with people and that destroying their functionality so they can sell space to advertisers (as if anyone would pay $5 to make sure their friends know The Hobbit is okay or whatever) is a terrible idea. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
posted by ersatz at 5:04 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Facebook has become the retina of the mind's eye.
posted by deadbilly at 12:48 AM on December 12 [4 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


I see what you did there deadbilly, or should we call you Dr. Oblivion?
posted by Gungho at 6:37 AM on December 12, 2012


I just got an email from a friend asking me why I had unliked his business. I log into FB about 3-4 times a year, from a browser I don't normally use (and occasionally from a computer I don't normally use) and the only thing I remember doing was looking at a few friends' walls. I "liked" that page 3 years ago. The only thing that I can think that changed is the Sponsored Updates thingie, which the sites I have apparently unliked are not participating in.
posted by Electric Elf at 6:45 AM on December 12, 2012


Of course Facebook is evil, but it's a bemusing sort of evil. My relationship with it is much like that of a prisoner to his jailer -- the jailer is obviously in control of the situation, but nevertheless is being observed himself. This leads to minor gameplay on the part of the prisoner to subvert the jailer's authority and a testing the limits, which forces the next move in the chess match.

I find this sort of gameplay highly amusing, but I'm probably biased, having spent fourteen years in Catholic school.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:57 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


PS for all you Firefox users, if you haven't installed Facebook Disconnect yet, you might want to go ahead and do this already. It may help, but at the very least it can't hurt, because it stops drive-by websites from knowing you have a Facebook account. No more "gee your friend Joe likes this news article, why don't you click 'like' too?"
posted by caution live frogs at 8:05 AM on December 12, 2012


all of the complainers never take what should be an obvious next step, which is to tune out, turn it off, log out.

I dunno; I took that step recently. Deleted (not just deactivated) my Facebook account a couple weeks ago. I do not miss it at all. I never want to go back there for any reason. My friends email me and I see them in person. I promote my personal projects in places that I find to be less awful, and I feel better about life since getting off that crap dump.

A lot of people are reluctant to leave Facebook simply because "everyone uses it." This is an illusion. A lot of people are members, yes, but you only see stuff from people who post things; it doesn't remind you of all the people who don't use it or who rarely ever log in, never post updates and never look at yours, those who never respond to event invites.

But if more people start to delete their accounts, more people will leave, and then more and more will leave until it's just a bunch of robots liking things. I look forward to this day.
posted by wondermouse at 8:47 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


How does that work? Was it something that might have been obviously adwordy that might trigger that?

It was a link to a Wikipedia article about the species of bird known as the House Finch. I was excited because I had seen a pair of them in the yard that day.

I know that the deceased's son had been using her old laptop after her death, so I suppose it's outwardly possible that her account was still logged in to FB somehow or another and thee was some stray clickage happening, but it seems unlikely because
1) I know that son had been logged in to his own FB account on that machine,
2) son had confided to me several months prior that the computer was on its last legs and would need to be retired soon, and
3) sharing a status update is a several-step process, isn't it? One must decide whether to post the share to one's own FB wall/timeline/adstream/whatever or to a friend's, or to a group, et cetera, and then confirm.

Not impossible for a cat to do while curling up for a nap on the keyboard, I suppose, and that's what I'd prefer to believe.
posted by trunk muffins at 9:13 AM on December 12, 2012


caution live frogs: "PS for all you Firefox users, if you haven't installed Facebook Disconnect yet, you might want to go ahead and do this already. It may help, but at the very least it can't hurt, because it stops drive-by websites from knowing you have a Facebook account."

I use a combo of RequestPolicy and ShareMeNot.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:11 PM on December 12, 2012


I deleted my account over a year ago. I'm from the age window that is, maybe, most closely tied to facebook-- the fall I entered college was when they first opened the network to all college students, and let me tell you, facebook was everything for those four years. It was genuinely hard to delete my account ~6 years later-- there were a fuckload of memories on that thing-- but it's been a good move in the end.
posted by threeants at 1:18 PM on December 12, 2012


IE Flaw Lets Sites Track Your Mouse Cursor, Even When You Aren't Browsing
The vulnerability is already being exploited by at least two display ad analytics companies across billions of page impressions per month.' All supported versions of Microsoft's browser are reportedly affected: IE6, IE7, IE8, IE9, and IE10."

I'm not technical, but I'd suggest it's not wild speculation that something like this could be responsible for phantom likes.
posted by Mezentian at 2:55 PM on December 12, 2012


I just checked my Facebook profile for phantom likes, but nope, all the embarrassing things are stuff I actually like.
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 6:04 PM on December 12, 2012


Weird, I just saw this in action, from an acquaintance that passed just a couple of weeks ago. It's...disconcerting.
posted by malocchio at 11:32 AM on December 13, 2012


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