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Fake FB Likes, TW Followers Turn Business

Celebrities, businesses and still the US State Department have purchased bogus Facebook likes, Twitter followers or YouTube audience from offshore "click farms," where workers tap, tap, tap the thumbs up button, view videos or retweet comments to drive up social media numbers. Since Facebook launched almost 10 years ago, users have wanted to make bigger their social networks for financial gain, winning friends, bragging rights and professional influence. And social media companies quote the levels of engagement to tout their value. But an Associated Press examination has established a growing global marketplace for fake clicks, which tech companies kick to police. Online records, industry studies and interviews show companies are capitalizing on the opportunity to make millions of dollars by duping social media. For as little as a half cent each click, websites hawk the whole thing from LinkedIn connections to make members come out more employable to Soundcloud plays to power record label interest. "Anytime there's a fiscal value added to clicks, there's going to be people going to the shady side," said Mitul Gandhi, CEO of seoClarity, a Des Plaines, Ill., social media marketing firm that weeds out phony online engagements. Italian security researchers and bloggers Andrea Stroppa and Carla De Micheli anticipated in 2013 that sales of fake Twitter followers have the possible to bring in $40 million to $360 million to date, and that fake Facebook activities bring in $200 million a year. As a result, many firms, whose values are based on reliability, have the whole teams tenaciously pursuing the buyers and brokers of fake clicks. But each time they crack down on one, another, more creative scheme emerges. In 2013, the State Department, which has more than 400,000 likes and was lately most popular in Cairo, said it would prevent buying Facebook fans after its inspector general condemned the agency for spending $630,000 to boost the numbers.

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