Fake traffic going beyond harmless likes by 'fans'
A decade ago when I was in high school, I expressed support for my preferred music star by going to a store and buying his posters and CDs.
But now the Internet has moved fans into a data-driven environment where pushing their idols to the top of various social media charts has become the norm to show their love.
Data, in today’s highly digital era, means popularity and influence. On China’s Twitter-like Weibo, stars’ popularity can be measured by checking the number of their followers, counting the times their posts have been forwarded and liked, as well as looking at their place on different ranking lists.
These social media numbers are significant for celebrities because they partly depend on them for their endorsements, shows, and commercial value.
But the significance of social media traffic has also resulted in the emergence of fake data or fake traffic.
Fake traffic is created either by bots or by click farmers. They use fake cookies and fake accounts to fake clicks online, in order to gain popularity.
Earlier this year, the Beijing News reported that an APP called Xingyuan was shut down for selling thousands of likes and shares on Weibo to help forward the posts of Cai Xukun, a young pop singer. Four people behind this APP were arrested.
This is not uncommon in the music industry. And fake traffic is ongoing in other industries.
This July, three men in a click-farming company were charged for generating a huge number of fake views of two videos hosted on iQiyi, a Chinese video platform.
As the number of views largely determines the earnings, advertisers had to pay higher fees for their commercials and iQiyi likewise had to pay higher broadcasting fees to the videos’ IP owners.
Unacceptable in business
The practice of falsifying traffic is a concern for all.
A researcher has found that in China there are about 1,000 click-farming companies, while allegedly millions of people have engaged in fraudulent activities to boost web traffic.
On an influential online shopping platform, there is a service marketed especially for creating web traffic.
The price of 100 reposts and comments on Weibo ranges from 10 yuan (US$1.4) to 50 yuan, depending on how the comments are phrased, while liking the posts is cheaper, with 4 yuan for 100 “likes.” This is a breach of both integrity and the law.
If we follow social media that have been artificially promoted we risk making false conclusions.
The situation is more unacceptable in business. Attributes that are valued most for a product, such as good quality, service and pricing, are giving way to clicks. Competition among companies will become stifled should fake online traffic becomes the norm.
There are ways to combat increasingly prevalent falsified online traffic.
A real name system might help to a degree.
To eliminate fake traffic at the source, it may be necessary to regulate the registration of different accounts, and to make sure that one user can register with only one ID number.
The author is a freelancer in Shanghai.