We've all seen those random Facebook links appear in our news stream, which say things like 'click 'like' if you admire war veterans', 'hate cancer' or the old 'see what happens to the cat next'. Many of us will have clicked on them, been a little disappointed when nothing happened, and then moved on.
However, in the process we will have helped the spammers get rich at our expense.
The spam scamThere are hundreds of these doing the rounds online, some which say that if you post a particular comment in a box you can see something happen. Others simply ask you to show support for the sort of cause that everyone already supports.
Of course the comments never work, because by putting text in a particular field you cannot change a picture, but this doesn't stop tens of thousands of people falling for them. Graham Cluley, a technology expert from Sophos says that these pages are what is known as clickjacking or likejacking.
It begs the question of why anyone bothers producing and spreading these things. The answer has been revealed by Daylan Pearce, a search-engine expert at Next Digital in Melbourne in a blog post. They do it so that you can generate money for them.
Facebook's secretThe answer lies in the rules of the Facebook page. The idea is that Facebook itself can see whether content is popular and whether it is of value to other users - and it does this by looking at the number of 'likes' and 'comments' the post has. If it is very popular it will get more exposure on other people's news feeds. It also feeds into your profile's score - the better your score, the higher you will appear on other people's news feeds.
If someone somewhere wants to improve the score of their profile they will need to devote time and effort to do so, creating content that people genuinely like. Alternatively, however, they can cheat, and buy a page that already has a high score. This is where the spammers come in.
The scamThey create a page with a ridiculous premise or heart-wrenching story and ask people to comment or like it. They then share it. In order to work, they have to be a relatively large gang of people, who have spent a bit of time building up their profile score. This means that over time, the link will find its way onto the pages of real people. They like or comment on it, and it spreads until tens of thousands of people have liked and commented.
The user then changes a few details of the page and suddenly anyone can buy it, with a pre-prepared high profile score.
It means that not only are you filling the news feeds of your friends with rubbish, but you're doing so in order to earn money for spammers and the cause you think you're supporting gets nothing. The advice, therefore, is to avoid clicking on these things.
Your commenting on a piece will never make the picture do something, and your liking it will never cure disease or 'show your support' for anything other than a bunch of professionals who have set out to exploit you.