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Fake ‘Likes’ Remain Just a Few Dollars Away, Researchers Say


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Fake ‘Likes’ Remain Just a Few Dollars Away, Researchers Say

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“A very #MerryChristmas⁠ ⁠to all,” Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s top antitrust enforcer, wrote on Facebook last December. Her post attracted 144 “likes.”

A few months later, as an experiment, researchers paid a company a few dollars to attract attention to her well wishes. In 30 minutes, the post had 100 more likes. The researchers had similar results on a holiday post on Ms. Vestager’s Instagram account and on a Christmas tweet from Vera Jourova, the European Union’s justice commissioner.

Companies like Facebook and Twitter are poorly policing automated bots and other methods for manipulating social media platforms, according to a report released on Friday by researchers from the NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence. With a small amount of money, the researchers found, virtually anyone can hire a company to get more likes, comments and clicks.

The group, an independent organization that advises the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, tested the tech companies’ ability to stop paid influence campaigns by turning to 11 Russian and five European companies that sell fake social media engagement. For 300 euros, or about $330, the researchers bought over 3,500 comments, 25,000 likes, 20,000 views and 5,000 followers, including on posts from prominent politicians like Ms. Vestager and Ms. Jourova.

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