Facebook isn't doing too badly. Shares floating on the stock market and hitting the magic one billion user mark is pretty good for the company and its users. But a bug has been discovered, with Facebook's social plugins, that can add additional ‘likes’ to a story or webpage.
A US security researcher discovered that if a user sent a web address to a friend using Facebook’s private messenger, the like on the tally would go up by two. Even making a comment on a story within Facebook would add to the total likes.
Many websites that use Facebook's 'like' or 'recommend' buttons also carry a counter next to them. This counter reflects the number of times people have clicked those buttons and also the number of times people have shared that page's link on Facebook. When the count is increased via page shares, no user information is exchanged. We did recently find a bug with our social plug-ins where at times the count for the Share or Like goes up by two, and we are working on fix to solve the issue now.
The above statement from Facebook won’t stop people accusing the site of inflating the numbers for personal gain. While writing in the Wall Street Journal, Ashkan Soltani claimed that the situation is “like fraud.” He went on to say:
If [you're] visiting an online store and you see a lot of likes under the product then this might cloud your judgement.
The system allows Facebook and its users to track stories or webpages popularity, so if there are ‘phantom likes’ being added, it will lead people to believe that they are more popular than it actually might be. Professor Alan Woodward from the University of Surrey has called the discovery “disturbing”, adding:
Something intended for one purpose is being used for something completely different. What else is being done automatically that we don't know about?
Facebook’s documentation explain the function of the Like button. Four actions will add +1 to the like total. They are:
- The number of likes of the web page
- The number of shares of this page (this includes copy/pasting a link back to Facebook)
- The number of likes and comments on stories on Facebook about this page
- The number of inbox messages containing the web address as an attachment.
Facebook has said that the 1.13 trillion likes, publicised when announcing the one billion active users, was not affected.