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Congressional Candidate Caught Buying 'Likes' on Facebook

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In the lead up to its -- shall we say, unsuccessful -- IPO, Facebook (FB) experimented with new ways to increase revenue. As of last month, the social media giant only made $1.21 per user per quarter, and was experiencing lower average revenue per user as they added members.

Among other issues effecting Facebook’s bottom line is the rapid, seemingly unstoppable user migration to mobile apps. Right now, Facebook apps for iPhone (AAPL), Android (GOOG), and BlackBerry (RIMM) are taking up an increasing number of users, but Zuckerberg’s company has yet to figure out how to monetize them on the same level as on traditional platforms.

Facebook’s attempts to increase revenue included the addition of its App Store, and an experiment in some markets with a feature that allowed users to pay to have more of their friends see their posts.

Meanwhile, it looks like at least one person has found a foolproof way to monetize Facebook’s “Like” feature. A few weeks ago, NPR reported on businessman Alex Melen, who sells 75 “Likes” for about $1,000.

Melen runs an Internet marketing company, and works with businesses whose Facebook pages can’t get enough people to like them. In general, he outsources the process to an intermediary, whose “Likes” could come from anywhere -- although Melen claims that they’re all from real people. One client, a country music singer, now has a bunch of fans in Egypt.

Facebook is working hard to combat the problem, which can skew advertising data. They have dedicated “bot hunters” who work to track down and eliminate fake accounts, but so far, the practice continues.

Interestingly, or depressingly, enough, Michigan political blog Eclecta last week wondered if a Congressional candidate might be using a similar service. According to the blog, candidate Steve Pestka’s Facebook page saw a sudden spike in “likes” near the middle of May. All of a sudden the page jumped from 1,000 to 7,500 fans.

Stranger still is the location and age of those fans. The “Most Popular Age” group was 13-17 years old, and the most popular locations ranged from the Philippines to Israel.

On their end, the campaign claims that the odd results stem from “non-targeted general Facebook ads” that are no longer in use. Eclecta points out the dubiousness of this claim.

Scary stuff if it’s true. Then again, “Likes” aren’t even speech.
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