Earlier this year this insightful article delved into the business of click farming where people and businesses (and apparently even the US government) pay shady companies a modest fee for thousands of Facebook likes, or Twitter followers, or YouTube views. Only that these likes and clicks are generated by click farms, either malware robots and zombies, or zombie-like people clicking mindlessly, essentially producing inflated popularity through fraud.
I am not much a social media expert or even user, yet I knew about click farming. I just didn't know how extensive the practice was until recently.
At this point we must assume that the vast majority of likes, views and followers are fake. Certainly not everyone is involved, but faced with such overwhelming and obvious scam, one must conclude that digital popularity is now but fiction and holds no credibility. And it doesn't matter who they are, even governments, legitimate companies and celebrities can not be ruled out.
Online scamming is not new. When link farming became a popular method to attain high ranking in Google results pages, Google fought back by changing the rules because SEO scamming was becoming an existential threat to its business. Once users' trust is lost, it is difficult, if not impossible, to gain it back.
Popular social sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube are now faced with the same credibility issue and they are fully aware of the problem and have the means to correct it. But it's business as usual because most users haven't woken up to the reality of click farming, yet.
Just like now when everybody immediately dismisses an email purportedly sent by a Nigerian prince, an increasing number of users are glossing over the stats on social sites. When the majority of these stats are fake, the whole system becomes useless and irrelevant.