After Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg earlier this week confirmed allegations that the company had sold at least $100,000 of ads to a Russia-backed troll farm – igniting a firestorm of liberal sanctimony as pundits like Rachel Maddow proclaimed that they had finally found the "smoking gun" proving that Russians had swayed the election in President Trump's favor – researchers at the University of Iowa have pulled back the curtain on the seedy underbelly of Facebook's illicit influence-peddling economy.
In a study reported by USA Today, the researchers described a thriving ecosystem of websites that allow users to generate millions of fake "likes" and comments. Working with a computer scientist at Facebook and one in Lahore, Pakistan, the team discovered a thriving community of 50 sites offering free, fake "likes" for users' posts in exchange for access to their accounts, which were used to falsely "like" other sites in turn.
The results have been staggeringly effective:
"The scientists found that these "collusion networks" run by spammers have managed to harness the power of one million Facebook accounts, producing as many as 100 million fake "likes" on the systems between 2015 and 2016."