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Facebook's Like button can still easily be gamed

Jeremy Kirk | March 27, 2015
Facebook's Like button is a pervasive feature of the Web, a way to gauge the popularity of a website or piece of content. But researchers have found it's easy to inflate the numbers, undermining its value as an accurate measure of popularity.

Another demonstration video shows how a Like — which is essentially a soft endorsement — can appear out of context and may actually be contrary to a user's real opinion.

The researchers created a fake Web page for demonstration purposes that promoted disgraced investor Bernard Madoff. The website had an embedded Like button. If the site's URL was shared on Facebook, anyone who commented on it would increase the page's Like count, even though it's doubtful anyone would truly endorse it.

But people who visited the Web page would have seen an ever-rising Like count, giving the impression that the site is worthy. Other large online services, such as YouTube and Quora have worked around this contextual problem by adding "dislike" or "downvote" buttons.

The researchers also found if a Facebook user deletes a post, the Like count doesn't correspondingly drop.

Facebook wraps a lot of data into the little number next to the Like button. The company is straightforward about it in its documentation, saying that a Like includes not only the people who hit the button, but also the number of times the URL has been shared and the number of comments. But some people may not know that.

The paper was also co-authored by Xinye Lin and Mingyuan Xia of McGill's School of Computer Science.

 

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