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<nettime> The Bot Bubble: How Click Farms Have Inflated Social Media Cur
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<nettime> The Bot Bubble: How Click Farms Have Inflated Social Media Currency


Every morning, Kim Casipong strolls past barbed wire, six dogs, and a
watchman in order to get to her job in a pink apartment building
decorated with ornate stonework in Lapu-Lapu City. The building towers
above the slums surrounding itâhouses made of scrap wood with muddy goat
pens in place of yards. She is a pretty, milk-skinned, 17-year-old girl
who loves the movie Frozen and whose favorite pastime is singing
karaoke. She is on her way to do her part in bringing down Facebook.

Casipong huffs to the third floor of the apartment building, opens a
door decorated with a crucifix, and greets her co-workers. The curtains
are drawn, and the artificial moonlight of computer screens illuminates
the room. Eight workers sit in two rows, their tools arranged on their
desks: a computer, a minaret of cell phone SIM cards, and an old cell
phone. Tens of thousands of additional SIM cards are taped into bricks
and stored under chairs, on top of computers, and in old instant noodle
boxes around the room.

Richard Braggs, Casipongâs boss, sits at a desk positioned behind his
employees, occasionally glancing up from his double monitor to survey
their screens. Even in the gloom, he wears Ray-Ban sunglasses to shield
his eyes from the glare of his computer. (âRichard Braggsâ is the alias
he uses for business purposes; he uses a number of pseudonyms for
various online activities.)

Casipong inserts earbuds, queues up dance musicâParamore and Aviciiâand
checks her clientâs instructions. Their specifications are often quite
pointed. A SÃo Paulo gym might request 75 female Brazilian fitness
fanatics, or a Castro-district bar might want 1,000 gay men living in
San Francisco. Her current order is the most common: Facebook profiles
of beautiful American women between the ages of 20 and 30. Once theyâve
received the accounts, the client will probably use them to sell
Facebook likes to customers looking for an illicit social media boost.

Most of the accounts Casipong creates are sold to these digital
middlemenââclick farmsâ as they have come to be known. Just as fast as
Silicon Valley conjures something valuable from digital ephemera, click
farms seek ways to create counterfeits. Google âbuy Facebook likesâ and
youâll see how easy it is to purchase black-market influence on the
Internet: 1,000 Facebook likes for $29.99; 1,000 Twitter followers for
$12; or any other type of fake social media credential, from YouTube
views to Pinterest followers to SoundCloud plays. Social media is now
the engine of the Internet, but that engine is running on some pretty
suspect fuel.

Casipong plays her role in hijacking the currencies of social
mediaâFacebook likes, Twitter followersâby performing the same routine
over and over again. She starts by entering the clientâs specifications
into the website Fake Name Generator, which returns a sociologically
realistic identity: Ashley Nivens, 21, from Nashville, Tennessee, now a
student at New York University who works part time at American Apparel.
(âAshley Nivensâ is a composite based on Casipongâs standard procedures,
not the name of an actual person or account.) She then creates an email
account. The email address forms the foundation of Ashley Nivensâs
Facebook account, which is fleshed out with a profile picture from a
photo library that Braggsâs workers have compiled by scraping dating
sites. The whole time, a proxy server makes it seem as though she is
accessing the Internet from Manhattan, and software disables the cookies
that Facebook uses to track suspicious activity.

Next, she inserts a SIM card into a Nokia cell phone, a pre-touch-screen
antique thatâs been used so much the digits on its keypad have worn
away. Once the phone is live, she types its number into Nivensâs
Facebook profile and waits for a verification code to arrive via text
message. She enters the code into Facebook andâvoilÃ!âAshley Nivens is,
according to Facebookâs security algorithms, a real person. The whole
process takes about three minutes.

Casipong sometimes wonders what happens to profiles like these once she
turns them over to the clients. In fact, her whole job seems strange to
her and the purpose of all these accounts somewhat mysterious. Still,
she forgets this for long stretches of time: Sheâs young, she can do an
almost perfect karaoke rendition of Mariah Careyâs âWe Belong Together,â
and she dreams of finishing college at the University of Cebu City after
sheâs saved enough money from working for Braggs. Once she earns a
degree in Web design, sheâll join the Philippine diaspora and find a job
in Australia, New Zealand, or the United States. And during weekends,
maybe she can lead a life similar to Nivensâs.

When Casipong stands up a little after 6 p.m., a nightshift worker is
waiting to take her chair.

Once, if you wanted to make money scamming people on the Internet, you
used email. For two years, Braggs made his living spamming half a
billion email addresses, hawking blueprints for a mythical perpetual
energy machine or e-books that explained the secret to winning the
lottery. Filipinos even invented a term for this kind of work,
âonlining,â and, for about a decade, email spamming was a semi-honorable
career path in Cebu City, the metropolitan area that encompasses
Lapu-Lapu City and is one of the foremost business-outsource processing
centers in the world. (Ring JPMorgan Chase or Microsoft customer
support, and thereâs a good chance youâll be connected to a Filipino in
Cebu City whose excellent English is part of the legacy of the American
colonization of the Philippines.) Successful âonlinersâ became the
nouveau riche of Cebu City. A notorious set of six brothers formed a
spamming cooperative and built a row of mansions amid the slums. They
threw all-night parties with roving guitarists serenading scores of
guests, while they drank beer and devoured lechÃn, Philippine
whole-roasted pig.

But between 2010 and 2012, teams of Internet security researchers and
law enforcement officials dismantled several spambot networks across the
world. These efforts, combined with the improved defenses of email
hosts, effectively disabled many onliners in Cebu City. They had to look
for new ways to make money.

Social mediaâs takeover of the Internet has been swift and dramatic.
>From 2005 to 2012, the percentage of Internet-using, American adults on
a social media platform mushroomed from 8 to 70 percent. In 2005,
Facebook had 5.5 million users; at the end of 2014, Facebook claimed
1.39 billion active monthly usersâabout one for every five people in the
world and a little less than half of all people with Internet access.

In 2009, Facebook introduced the âlikeâ button, which quickly became a
way for people to celebrate an engagement or the birth of a baby, but
also for brands to get people to endorse their products. Companies loved
social media for the ostensible humanity it lent them; and sales leads
that came through social media, studies showed, had a much higher chance
of converting into actual purchases. Google and Bingâs algorithms take
social media into account, so large followings could also improve a
companyâs position in search-engine rankings, where appearing even one
slot higher can mean significant additional revenue. Researchers have
also found that having lots of followers attracts even more followers,
continually amplifying a companyâs or individualâs reach. And while the
impact of traditional advertising is difficult to quantify, social media
counters are much more transparent.

Celebritiesâand more minor personalities, like bloggers trying to get
endorsement dealsâhave increasingly found their value measured in
Facebook fans and Twitter followers, the payments they receive
proportionate to their social media clout. Khloà Kardashian reportedly
earns around $13,000 every time she tweets things like, âWant to know
how Old Navy makes your butt look scary good?â to her 13.6 million
followers. Politicians desire large followings for obvious reasons. Even
ordinary people have discovered perks to having an extensive social
media presence. Some employers, for instance, now require social media
savvy for jobs in marketing, PR, or tech. All these logical incentives
aside, the imperatives are not always rational. A growing body of
research has begun to unpack the envy and insecurity that social media
can generateâthe pernicious sense that your friends are gaining Twitter
followers much faster than you.

To help companies, celebrities, and everyday people boost their social
media standing, onliners set up Internet storesââclick farmsââwhere
customers can buy social media influence. Click farms can be found
across the globe, but are most commonly based in the developing world.
They exist in India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and the Philippines, and may
also exist in Eastern Europe, Mexico, and Iraq. A small number of click
farms employ manual labor, a dozen or so people who manipulate Facebook
accounts individually to create the likes that they sell. But most click
farms are run by smaller teams that manage software to give digital life
to accounts like Ashley Nivens. What Braggs runs is actually referred to
as an âaccount farmââhe makes the accounts and software that click farms

In terms of their professionalism, click farms range widely. Some
maintain promotional newsletters, subscription packages, and 24/7
customer service. One of the more polished, We Sell Likes, was founded
by a former Silicon Valley SEO professional. Others are much less
formal: a freelancer sitting in front of his computer all day and
selling the services of hundreds of social media accounts through
websites like SEO Clerks. Last November, The New York Times reported
that teenagers were licensing Twitter click-farm software to supplement
their allowances.

But the stakes are much larger than pocket money. Researchers estimate
that the market for fake Twitter followers was worth between $40 million
and $360 million in 2013, and that the market for Facebook spam was
worth $87 million to $390 million. Italian Internet security researcher
Andrea Stroppa has suggested that the market for fake Facebook likes
could exceed even that. International corporations like Pepsi,
Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz, and Louis Vuitton have all been accused of
employing click farms, and celebrities such as 50 Cent, Paris Hilton,
and LeAnn Rimes, have been implicated in buying fake followers. During
his 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney gained more than 100,000
Twitter followers in a single weekend, despite averaging only 4,000 new
followers a day previously. (His campaign denied having bought any
fakes.) One Indonesian click farmer told me that he had funneled two
million Facebook likes to a candidate in his nationâs hotly contested
July 2014 presidential election.

Two of the most crucial rules of Facebookâs terms of service are: âYou
will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create
an account for anyone other than yourself without permission,â and âYou
will not create more than one personal account.â The law of one person,
one account is meant to guarantee that Facebook is the most real place
on the Internet: The roughly six billion likes the company processes
every day are supposed to be a quantification of homo sapien emotion.
Other social media platforms, like Twitter, allow for more than one
account per user, but, ultimately, the medium is predicated on the idea
that its digital world is an accurate extension of the physical world.

Click farms jeopardize the existential foundation of social media: the
idea that the interactions on it are between real people. Just as
importantly, they undermine the assumption that advertisers can use the
medium to efficiently reach real people who will shell out real money.
More than $16 billion was spent worldwide on social media advertising in
2014; this money is the primary revenue for social media companies. If
social media is no longer made up of people, what is it?

It was never Braggsâs intention to make a career of âonlining.â He
dreamed of becoming a pilot and even went to flight school. (He still
recalls the Leonardo da Vinci quote: âOnce you have tasted flight, you
will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you
have been, and there you will always long to return.â) Financial
problems forced him to give up on his plan when he was in his early
thirties, and, for nearly a decade, he survived on menial jobs: running
a coffee stall at the bazaar, working construction, and chauffeuring
tourists. One day, when he was driving a group of Koreans to a
brothelâthe destination for most of his customersâthey offered him a
turn with the high-class prostitute they were planning to employ. Braggs
began searching for a way out.

Braggs got into onlining in 2011 after a friend who had struck it rich
spamming gave him the software to start his own operation. When Braggsâs
email spam business failed in 2012, he opened his own click farm,
manually forging thousands of Facebook accounts and selling likes from
them, incrementally hiring workers as his business grew. When he
realized that he could make more money by supplying click farms with the
products they neededâi.e., profiles and software to animate those
profilesâhe reorganized his business.

By July 2013, he was making phone verified accountsâor PVAsâfull time.
He hired 17 employees, including Casipong, and established
round-the-clock shifts so his farm never went dark. Casipong guesses
that she makes over 100 Facebook PVAs a day. Other employees average
more than 150. Braggs sells PVAs for 70 cents; âpremiumâ PVAsâaccounts
that are fleshed out with more than bare-bones biographical detailsâcan
be bought for $1.50.

Since his business began, Braggs has expanded into Yahoo, Gmail, and
Twitter PVAs, and his customers have used the fake accounts in all sorts
of scams: On the dating site Tinder, for example, Braggs said he
believes seductive women solicited male users for pay-to-access porn
sites. His biggest order, he told me, was for Chinese hackers trying to
fleece the digital payment exchange Stellar; he hired every freelance
worker he could find, but he was still only able to fulfill a small
portion of it.

In many ways, Braggsâs account farm operates similarly to the
outsourcing and industrial businesses that Cebu City is famous for. He
relies on the infrastructure that carries the call center and technical
support data to Cebu City from around the globe in order to pipe his
forged profiles to his clients. He even benefits from cheap local
resourcesâthough instead of exploiting the Philippinesâ old-growth
rainforest timber, he processes SIM cards dropped off by men on
motorcycles, paying a few cents for a card that would sell for $5 to $10
in the United States. Workers willing to do repetitive manual labor are
not in short supply, either.

But Braggsâs account farm feels more like a startup than a
developing-world sweatshop. Most of his employees are young IT
university graduates infused with the excitement of beating the system.
There is an office puppy named Hacker, and Braggs pays for a cook to
prepare lunch for the employees every day. Casipong earns about $215 a
month, significantly more than the minimum wage for a domestic helper,
which is as low as $34 a month. Braggs pays his nightshift workers
extra, and some of his employees reportedly choose to become nocturnal
for the additional wages.

The Philippines has the highest rate of unemployment in the Association
of Southeast Asian Nations. Casipong is aware of the alternative
employment options: Cebu City is the âcybersex capital of the
Philippines,â and illegal firework factories in the slums announce their
presence every few weeks with a bang. Braggsâs employees seem genuinely
happy; their main complaint was laggy Internet that disrupted the music
they streamed while working. Many spoke of Braggs as a Horatio
Algerâstyle role model.âIn the fictionalized biography Braggs maintains
on the website of his account farm, he calls himself the Robin Hood of
Facebook marketing, and this contrarian idealism extends to his general
attitude about life. His hero is the tribal chieftain Lapu-Lapuâthe
namesake of his cityâfamous for slaying the Portuguese explorer
Ferdinand Magellan, who, in the name of capitalism and colonialism, was
the first man to circumnavigate the globe. He has no desire to stay up
all night answering questions about credit cards and Windows glitches
for people on the other side of the world. Why shouldnât he feel proud
of providing decent salaries to 17 workers, or paying for the school
fees of his girlfriendâs younger sister or the local kidsâ basketball
jerseys? Heâs a self-made man, trained on YouTube tutorials and in chat
rooms; to this day, he types hunt-and-peck style, never having learned

What he and click-farm managers are doing is not illegal in the
Philippines. Facebookâs terms of service are not international law. In
the United States, the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general
from several states have legislated against fake reviewsâfalse
endorsements on Amazon, for example. But no formal ruling has been
passed down on inauthentic likes. âClick farming raises serious consumer
protection questions,â said Ian Ayres, a specialist in contract law and
a professor at Yaleâs law and business schools. âTo participate as a
buyer or a seller in the traditional click-farming market seems a clear
wrong.â But the actual law is less explicit. And Braggs has his own
business ethics: Heâs not hacking anyoneâs bank account, only offering a
service that people are clamoring to pay for and providing for himself,
his family, and his countrymen.

For years, Facebook encouraged brands to use social media as a free way
to connect with fans. Companies would post content, and Facebook would
show it to a large percentage of the people who had liked those
companies, free of charge: This was the so-called organic reach of a
post. But, over the last few years, with a noticeably precipitous drop
in late 2013, Facebook has steadily decreased the organic reach of
posts; now, when a company posts something, it only reaches about 6
percent of the profiles that have already liked that company, and
Facebook plans to decrease that reach further. This has meant that
companies struggle to access most of the fans they have accumulated
unless they pay Facebook to advertise. But as Facebook becomes more of a
paid billboard, click-farm bots can disrupt the efforts of companies
that advertise with Facebookâand, sometimes, even render them pointless.

Hereâs how this can happen. Second Floor Music, an independent,
Manhattan-based jazz publishing company that represents critically
acclaimed but lesser-known composers, was the kind of small business
built on its history and reputation: Five Grammy certificates hung on
the walls, and jazz legends and up-and-comers dropped by the studio to
rehearse. It was not, however, exactly forward-leaning when it came to
social media marketing. But it was also ideally positioned to take
advantage of Facebookâs advertising services: Its products targeted a
niche audience that was often hard to reach, but which Facebook, with
its vast trove of personal data, could easily access.

So in September 2013, Second Floor Music launched a Facebook advertising
campaign for the Facebook page of Jazz Lead Sheets, a Second Floor Music
website that allowed customers to download sheet music and song
recordings. Because more than one-third of Jazz Lead Sheetsâ business
came from international clients, Second Floor Music asked Facebook to
put ads in front of people from around the world, and paid Facebook a
few cents each time one of them âlikedâ the page for Jazz Lead Sheets.

A young jazz singer employed by Second Floor Music named Rachel Nash
Bronstein ended up overseeing the Facebook campaign. At first, Bronstein
was exhilarated by how fast the Facebook page gained fans, hundreds
within weeks. But then she began to notice that the fan activityâliking
posts, commenting, etc.âon the page had plummeted. When Bronstein
examined the profiles, her heart sank. Many of them hailed from Iraq. A
lot of the profiles didnât display any English. None of them evidenced
any interest in jazz.

Itâs impossible to pinpoint how these profiles ended up fans of Jazz
Lead Sheets. (Facebook is fiercely secretive about how its internal
algorithms work.) But when Bronstein paid Facebook to place her
advertisement, Facebook may have put the ads in front of accounts that
had already liked thousands of pages, figuring that those accounts were
more likely to click on the ad. And those accounts were likely run by
click farms. (The average American user only likes 70 pages.) Because
many fake accounts are programmed to disguise their mercenary activities
by liking lots of pages (not just their clientâs), these bots were
primed to like the Jazz Lead Sheets page. And because click-farm
accounts often are programmed to move in coordination, so that they are
easier to control, having one bot like a page could have caused others
to follow, setting off a cascade of fake likes.

These fake likes werenât just an empty number. Whenever Second Floor
Music posted content, Facebookâs algorithms placed it on the newsfeeds
of a small, random sample of fansâthe people who had liked Second Floor
Musicâand measured how many âengagedâ with the content. High levels of
engagement meant that the content was deemed interesting and
redistributed to more fans for freeâthe main goal of most businesses
that use social media is to reach this tipping point where content
spreads virally. But the fake fans never engaged, depressing each postâs
score and leaving it dead on arrival. The social media boost Bronstein
had paid for never happened. Even worse, she now had thousands of fake
fans who made it nearly impossible to reach her real fans. Bronstein
struggled to get help from Facebook, reaching out repeatedly through
help forums, but, in the end, she scrapped the original page and started
again from scratch. Second Floor Music had effectively paid to ruin one
of its flagship Facebook pages.

Across Facebook, well-intentioned companies and organizations have found
themselves in this predicament. Small businesses ranging from Bay Area
startups to Toronto magazine publishers have reported similar problems,
and Internet forums and blogs are rife with related tales. Corporations
with professional teams managing their Facebook pages and large
advertising budgets seem to treat this kind of artificial appreciation
as the price of doing business. But the side effects of click farms are
a real threat to small businesses with slimmer margins for error and
without the know-how to effectively target their ads. (Itâs worth noting
that small businesses are the focus of a Facebook marketing push that
has involved nationwide outreach and efforts to streamline the companyâs
advertising platform. Since Second Floor Musicâs first campaign,
Facebook has made more tools available for advertisers to direct and
monitor their ads. A year later, Bronstein ran another campaign that
worked much better than the first.)

>From January 2013 to February 2014, a global team of researchers from
the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems, Microsoftâs and AT&Tâs
research labs, as well as Boston and Northeastern Universities,
conducted an experiment designed to determine just how often advertising
campaigns resulted in likes from fake profiles. The researchers ran ten
Facebook advertising campaigns, and when they analyzed the likes
resulting from those campaigns, they found that 1,867 of the 2,767
likesâor about 67 percentâappeared to be illegitimate. After being
informed of these suspicions, Facebook corroborated much of the teamâs
work by erasing 1,730 of the likes. Sympathetic researchers from a study
run by the online marketing website Search Engine Journal have suggested
that targeted Facebook advertisements can yield suspicious likes at a
rate above 50 percent. In the fall of 2014, Professor Emiliano De
Cristofaro of the University College of London presented research which
found that even a page explicitly labeled as fake gained followersâthe
vast majority presumably bots.

The bot buildup can even affect companies that arenât advertising with
Facebook, but are just passively hoping their pages gain real fans. In
2014, Harvard Universityâs Facebook fans were most engaged in Dhaka,
Bangladesh. (They stated that they did not pay for likes.) A 2012
article in The New York Times suggested that as much as 70 percent of
President Obamaâs 19 million Twitter followers were fake. (His campaign
denied buying followers.) Less prominent pages from across the
worldâfrom those belonging to the English metal band Red Seas Fire to
international bloggersâhave been spontaneously overwhelmed by bots that
are attempting to mask their illicit activity by glomming on to real
social media profiles.

Almost since their inception, social media companies have tried to limit
this kind of digital-influence inflation. YouTube periodically examines
videos with suspicious numbers of views. In December 2014, in what was
called the âInstagram Rapture,â the platform cleaned up a number of
accounts; Justin Bieber lost 15 percent of his followers. Facebook is
constantly refining its defenses; the verification processes that take
up so much of Casipongâs time are part of that effort. In some
countries, Facebook has even requested pictures of government IDs from
suspicious accounts. (Theyâve mostly avoided this tactic in the United
States, where it has triggered a backlash.) As a Facebook spokesperson
said in a statement last August: âWe have a real incentive to
aggressively go after this activity because people want authentic
connections on Facebook, and businesses use our platform to deliver real
business results. Inauthentic interactions run counter to these goals,
so we are constantly working to detect fraudulent activity and shut it
down.â In April, the spokesperson continued: âFraudulent activity has
always been a tiny fraction of overall activity on our service, but
recently we have developed new pattern recognition technologies that
have mostly halted the major exchanges of fake like activity.â

This February, Facebook stated that about 7 percent of its then 1.39
billion accounts were fake or duplicate, and that up to 28 million were
âundesirableââused for activities like spamming. In August 2014, Twitter
disclosed in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that 23
millionâor 8.5 percentâof its 270 million accounts were automated.

At the same time, however, it is in the interest of Facebook and other
platforms to downplay the severity of the problem. Twitter has
recognized that more than 8 percent of its accounts are automated, but
it says not all of these are maliciousâi.e, run by click farms or used
for spamâsuggesting that many are used for legitimate purposes, like
tweeting the scores of sports games. The company has reported that 5
percent of its accounts are malicious, but researchers have suggested
the actual figure is at least double that.

These estimates are contentious because in 2014, more than 90 percent of
Facebookâs $12.5 billion in revenue and about 90 percent of Twitterâs
$1.4 billion in revenue came from advertising. If researchers are
correct that advertising on social media leads to a high percentage of
fake likes and fans and followers, the entire business model could be
called into question by advertisers. What incentive do companies have to
buy ads that target digital ghosts? As Internet security researcher
Stroppa said, âThe worth of Twitter is based on their active and total
numbers of accounts. If they ban fake profiles, then they will lose an
important percentage of their user base.â Brands have begun to report
dissatisfaction with Facebook marketing, wrote Nate Elliott, a vice
president for the technology and market research company Forrester
Research, in an email. âIf fake profiles are a widespread problem, then
it may turn out Facebookâs value to marketers is even lower than we

Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms claim to successfully police
their populations, but evidence suggests otherwise. The Max Planck team
found that more than 90 percent of accounts they flagged as âblack
marketâ were not eliminated after four months, even though Facebook had
erased many of the fake likes that these accounts had created. De
Cristofaro found that Facebook caught less than 1 percent of the fake
profiles he investigated. The number was even lower for high-quality
accounts: For the month that he monitored 621 active profiles from a
high-end click farm, only one was canceled. When I looked through the
accounts managed by Braggsâs account farm and several other click farms,
time-stamps revealed that the majority had been lurking on the network
for several years. Many had even attracted real friends, either through
automation or because their profile pictures had intrigued actual
people; attractive women created by Braggsâs account farm often get
approached with explicit overtures. (Unless clients specify other
identities for PVAs, Braggs instructs his workers to make sexy women.)

And just as onliners quickly shifted when email spam was no longer
viable, click farms have wiggled away from efforts to rein them in. To
my eye, Braggsâs âpremiumâ PVAs are almost impossible to differentiate
from the real deal. (Casipong fills the photo albums of her premium PVAs
with pictures that remind her of one of her favorite blogs, Humans of
New York, and adds quotes like âhakuna matata,â which she has no idea
comes from The Lion King.) Experts believe that without computer-aided
analysis, this extra camouflage makes it almost impossible to finger any
click farmerâs couture bot.

If Facebook comes to suspect that Ashley Nivens is not, in fact, a real
person, and suspends her account, Braggs will have Casipong unearth the
appropriate SIM card from the tens of thousands of cards organized and
stacked around Braggsâs shop, insert it into a phone, and answer
Facebookâs text message: Yes, she is a human. âBasically,â Braggs said
when we met last September, âthereâs nothing Facebook can do to stop
me.â Facebook has shut down his personal account, but Braggs laughs it
off: âWhy would I need one Facebook account when Iâve got thousands?â
The main limiting factor for his business is a somewhat unpredictable
supply of SIM cards.

Last September, Braggs drove out of Lapu-Lapu City to one of the new
luxury subdivisions springing up amid the wetlands and mangrove forests.
He had purchased a house there and construction was underway. The
streets were lined with boxy, concrete, two-story houses fronted by
grass lawnsâa Philippine version of the American dream, but with half
the square footage of their Western counterparts and with roving goats
nibbling their shrubbery. It is here that the ex-pats who run the nearby
factories live.

The house was Braggsâs reward for working weekends and never taking a
vacation. He had been so busy that two months had passed since he had
visited, and he had to argue with the guards to be let into the gated
community. The lawn outside Braggsâs house was chest-high, with saplings
rising above the brush. His girlfriendâthe first worker at his click
farmâfollowed behind as Braggs pushed through the young jungle. This was
the woman he would marry. This was where his children would be raised.
This was where he would move his account farm once the electricity was
turned on. The exterior of the house was finished, but the interior was
bare. He stopped at the front door of his new home and he patted his
pocket, worried that he had forgotten the key.

It seems impossible that Facebook, with its army of elite coders and
multibillion-dollar war chest, wonât eventually crush Braggs. The
company knows his real name. It barrages his inboxes with
cease-and-desist orders. But heâs hopeful. âEvery system is made by
humans,â Braggs told me, âso there is always a way to beat it.â

(Itâs easy!)

(1) PICK A NAME: Fake Name Generator is great for this. One click will
get you a full identity: From name, to age, to jobâit can even provide a
blood type.
(2) CREATE AN EMAIL ACCOUNT: If you want a bulletproof bot, make a
phone-verified Gmail account using the same SIM cards you are using to
verify your fake Facebook account.
(3) MAKE SURE YOUR STEALTH SOFTWARE IS ON: Your proxy server should show
that youâre working from someplace innocuous. Donât forget to disable
the cookies that might snag you.
(4) CREATE A PROFILE: Using the details from Fake Name Generator, flesh
out your Facebook account. Dating websites are a great place to steal
(5) PHONE VERIFY THE ACCOUNT: Install a SIM card into a cell phone and
type the phone number into Facebookâs phone-verification feature. Wait
for Facebook to text you a verification code. Enter the code.
(6) ADD SOME FRILLS TO THE PROFILE: Everything from favorite movies to
photo albums, which you can just copy from other profiles. A bot looks a
lot more authentic if it has friends, so make sure to send a few
requests. If youâre working for a big account farm, you can probably
friend some real people who are in on the scam.
(7) CONTROL YOUR BOT WITH THE SOFTWARE: Once youâve made thousands of
bots, youâre not going to want to manually manipulate them. Purchase a
program to automate your bots to act real.
(8) WATCH OUT FOR THE SOCIAL MEDIA POLICE: Facebook is hunting you, so
be careful. Newly made bots are subject to extra scrutiny, so let your
bot marinate for a few weeks. Donât go overboard on liking too many
things. Youâll probably want to maintain a lot of accounts, so they can
work in shifts. Whenever youâre paid to like one thing, like a few other
random things to create a smokescreen of activity.
(9) AND IF YOU ARE CAUGHT: Donât sweat it! Facebook is more likely to
temporarily disable the like function of the account than delete it. But
if the heatâs getting to be too much, just delete the account and reuse
the phone number to make a new one. Your business wonât miss a beat.

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