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Like for Sale: Invasion of the Fugazi Facebook Friends

How about 250 Grade A fans for 50 smackers?

SocialJump declined to name its networks, but examples are not hard to find. Fiverr, an Israel-based company that recently raised $15 million in venture funding from Accel Partners and Bessemer Venture Partners, allows users to post gigs they’re willing to complete for $5. Numerous posts on the site offer Facebook likes, among them one by Eric11, a user in Canada, who promises to net your page 700 likes in less than a day, through a slew of fake accounts that he manages. “Fans are just to boost your page and are not real humans but look 100% real,” he wrote on Fiverr, promising, “They will stay forever.”

“Fiverr doesn’t actively support this type of a service or message,” said Fiverr spokesperson Alia Dudum. “Because it’s a global marketplace, we don’t like to inhibit behavior unless it’s something that’s completely outlandish, but it doesn’t go against our policy.”

She added, “In any marketplace you’re going to get the good and the bad.”

trans Like for Sale: Invasion of the Fugazi Facebook FriendsSo who’s buying these fans, aside from us? Reality TV shows do it. Authors, artists and restaurants do it. Julia Allison, the once-reigning Internet queen and Wired covergirl has been accused of the practice, though she vehemently denies it.

Mr. Prepis, SocialJump’s director of client management, demurred when we asked him who the company’s clients were. Mr. Melen, however, was forthright. He told us that most of the clients who use SocialJump are artists or musicians looking to build a following.

“We also have a major TV show,” he added.

He was asked which one.

“That J.Lo one, where she tries to find a Latin superstar.”

Mr. Melen was then cut off by Mr. Prepis, who scolded him for revealing the name of a client.

The show in question is called Q’Viva: The Chosen, a modest hit on Spanish-language channel Univision that had a more tepid reception on Fox, where it ran for just six episodes. The show stars singer Jennifer Lopez and her ex-husband Marc Anthony, who travel the globe looking for the next Latin American superstar. The show is produced by XIX Entertainment, a company founded by ex-American Idol creator Simon Fuller.

Aric Kurzman, a marketing representative at XIX Entertainment who runs the Q’Viva Facebook page, denied that the page had ever bought fans. “I didn’t spend any money,” he said. “It’s all organic. We only have about 135,000 likes, so clearly it’s organic, because if we were buying likes there would be more.” Furthermore, Mr. Kurzman denied having ever heard of SocialJump, though he did stress that his lack of knowledge about the company did not necessarily mean they’d never done work for the Q’Viva page.

What makes these scams work, of course, is social proof—our own belief, based on thousands of years of human history, that the affection of others is likely evidence of a person’s worth. In his highly-critiqued New York Times op-ed published last year, author Jonathan Franzen noted that “liking” has transformed “from a state of mind to an action that you perform with your computer mouse, from a feeling to an assertion of consumer choice. And liking, in general, is commercial culture’s substitute for loving.”

Interestingly, he didn’t mention blurbing.

UPDATE:

A source pointed us to Section IV 4 C of Facebook’s Developers Policy, which states, “You must not incentivize users to Like any Page other than your own site or application, and any incentive you provide must be available to new and existing users who Like your Page.” Therefore, the core business model of like stores inherently violates Facebook’s Terms of Service.

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