Discussion of media getting published Media and Technology

The Scourge of Vampire Like Farms

The heading does not have a grammar mistake: I am referring to the businesses – also called farms – that manufacture fake likes, users, or reviews, and I also refer to those businesses/farms that are like vampires who suck the blood of other people, to make more vampires. Be warned: this post is a rant.

This is the scourge of social media: a service offering, if you can call it that, which targets people who want to make money with their online platforms, blogs or websites. Because the hosts or operators of the platform or system base their monetization requirements on numbers, well, people get desperate and resort to buying what they cannot generate normally – which would be likes, shares, reviews, views, etc.

I am constantly getting these “offers”, and those that get through the spam filter of WordPress are very well disguised as human comments. These reviews or comments can be positive, or negative. They can be for a thumbs up or a thumbs down, though some platforms have disabled the dislike or thumbs down option. Going by the difference between the numbers of views and likes, people can deduce the number of neutral or negative interactions.

This is the latest one (verbatim):

“When I approached a publisher, Along with other stats the number of reviews on my book mattered. I used usbookreviews.com to get 100+ reviews. This immensely helped me get a traditional publisher. Now I am also looking to sell movie rights for my novel to a medium sized studio in Hollywood.”

(Notice that I have not added a live link to the text above, nor added tags about it to this post. That would be helping the sods who do this.) Obviously none of you reading this would be dumb enough to actually go to that website address and go buy yourself a couple of 100 reviews. I hope not. I really hope not.

How to identify a Likes Vampire

Once you know what to look for, recognizing and weeding out these types of messages is fairly straightforward.

1. Irrelevant

Firstly, the difference between a machine-generated message and a human one is that the machine message repeats some key words or tags from a post (it cannot just be published – it has to be attached so a page, post or item in a playlist), but usually this has the wrong context, or else is entirely unrelated. In the case of the aforementioned message, it was linked to a review of Josiah Bancroft’s novel, The Fall of Babel, therefore unrelated to the subject.

2. Click-bait key words

Secondly, the message will be stuffed with key words that are click-bait, but are still irrelevant or factually incorrect. Here you have; 100+, publisher, movie rights, and Hollywood. (Let me not go into the fallacy of that statement about “selling movie rights”.)

3. Grammar, spelling and style errors

The writing usually has grammar, spelling and style errors, since it was probably either generated by a program, or by someone working in an outsourced call centre type of place, likely not in a country where English is their first language. Machine language always sounds awkward, since programming has not yet, and may never, reach the level of human language sophistication and individualization. So the machine messages read like some rude, crude, dim, and badly educated person wrote it. It’s like all spam – you recognize it by the fact that it’s cruddy and gets the wrong end of the stick.

4. Suspect origin

Significantly, the message is almost invariably from a non-human source – though an avatar, email address or website may have been given in order to bypass the spam checks. A simple right-click and inspection of the element on the web page can reveal who is the actual sender. But you can also see that the name of the sender has been machine-generated by the fact that the combination of first name and surname is unlikely, or that the only a first name is used. The message above came from one “Chamu K.”, whose email address was shown to be (surprise!) chamupay – – -.

5. Implied threat

The message may imply that if you don’t respond, you may lose out, or miss an opportunity, fail to land a big deal, get deluged with negative responses, or get into some sort of trouble. It’s all hogwash, but it plays on people’s insecurities and uncertainties.

6. Follow the money

And lastly: this message proves that though it might seem to be about a relevant issue (and sometimes they are really convincing – you have to look at it carefully), the sender is probably hiding behind a proxy server and is after your money, nothing else. Ultimately, if only one person in a thousand falls for it, then the Like Vampires have achieved their goal.

I’m getting seriously annoyed

I’ve got hundreds of these kinds of messages. Most on WordPress get caught by the platform’s very effective Akismet spam filter, but some are such good fakes that they get through the net. (Up ’til now, Akismet has protected my site from 36,876 spam comments.) I clean out the spam on a regular basis as a matter of maintaining digital hygiene. Not pleasant, but must be done.

However, I never thought that this kind of vampirism is even possible with music publishing – but the first two comments I got on my new Soundcloud profile was “…we can generate x hundred of shares and likes for you”. I was very annoyed. I was as annoyed as the very annoyed Tourbunny – and that’s pretty fed up.

This is one place that fake reviews come from

The Tourbunny, created by Antonio Mitag and Ágnes Jávorszky of AVJAM Comics, was seriously annoyed by Icelandic tourists (and stupid, rude people in general) from 2016 to March 3, 2022. I felt very empathetic towards “the Bun”.

Annoyed Tourbunny from The Tourbunny cartoon strip “0307 – What about the Gram” – That is my actual face when I get one of these spam things.
The Tourbunny cartoon strip “0414 – Latte”

As a result, I switched off the comments, shares and likes options altogether. Inevitably, the comments, unless you block them, start with this, and end up with a barrage (literally hundreds) of page-long texts selling porn or illegal drugs.

This entry point, offering increased shares or likes, exists because you cannot sell your music directly from Soundcloud unless a particular music file has been shared more than 500 times. To be able to monetize (in other words get paid to run ads) on your Youtube channel, you have to be eligible for the Partner Program, which requires that your channel has had more than 4,000 valid public watch hours in the last 12 months and more than 1,000 subscribers.

So, this is what ordinary humans who are artists who create things are up against. Which is why those spam emails are so tempting.

I know there may be people who would listen to my songs and like them or hate them or want to say something real which would help me to improve my production skills or give me new inspiration, but so sorry, because I do not want to deal with those vampires out there, the real humans will not be able to communicate with me.

Do not buy reviews

The truth is that the spammers who generated the message on my WordPress site got one thing right: it is true that books, like any creative product, is a PRODUCT, and to sell it, you need to promote it, and the one sure way of promotion is through reviews.

However, the only reviews that will help you are positive reviews or praise, but from real readers and real users. Anyone who is a real writer or reader knows that any comment on a book is highly individualized. And those are the only comments that matter, because if someone has read or heard it, and felt enough to express their opinion, then you, the author or composer, has made a connection. And that’s the point of the whole thing.

Some sites are just rife with fakes

Look at any site that posts ratings and reviews (varying from comments to stars or thumbs-ups) and you will see the real ones, and also the fakes – the paid-for reviews, and the one-word, one-sentence, generic, nameless, meaningless, irrelevant fakes (despite some firms saying that they make an effort to weed them out). It is an online game by now to spot and expose the most absurd fake reviews on Amazon and Tripadvisor. This is quite a problem since people base their expenditure decisions partly on what they can deduce from the reviews. For instance:

“…paid and fraudulent reviews are an ongoing problem for Tripadvisor, which said it identified some 65 new paid review sites in 2020, penalized some 34,605 properties for fraudulent activity and banned 20,299 members for failing to follow community standards.”

Robert Hart, Tripadvisor Took Down Nearly 1 Million Fake Reviews Last Year, on Forbes.com, Oct. 27, 2021, retrieved March 7, 2022

Hasta la vista, Goodreads

As for the top site in the English-speaking world for book reviews, Goodreads, it has the same problem:

“Since Goodreads is also used by non-account holders, it is a desirable internet space for advertisers. What happens is that a company or individual will pay for hundreds of positive reviews of their product, so that when a potential buyer sees the reviews, all they see are positive reviews and 5-star ratings. In the case of Goodreads, the product is books. These reviews can be written by a bot or a person with multiple fake accounts.”

Courtney Rodgers, Top Reviewers or Bot Reviewers: The Goodreads Bot Problem, on bookriot.com, July 20, 2021, retrieved March 7, 2022

I have, this month, deleted my membership of Goodreads. I had two reasons: firstly, I was being messaged by what looked to be Goodreads staff fishing for reviews for books that I had never heard of. The messages were so off-topic that I can only assume they were not from real people. Secondly, the reviews on the site are increasing for books which I really believed did not merit positive reviews, or any reviews at all. That’s not magic, folks. That’s bot reviewers.

What’s with reviews?

The fact is that the value of what I produce is very much linked to who supports or buys what I do. I do not want my site dirtied by vampire-like spam comments. I do not want comments on or advertisements for icky, unmentionable stuff. I do not want illiterate, biased, swearing rants because that is not how I write, and I do not regard that kind of thing as civilized. When I comment on someone’s online materials, I write very carefully – I try to be concise, complimentary, personal, and grammatically correct. I do not want my comment to cast their writing in an unfavourable light.

Reviews are as personal as the books that are reviewed

What you (and me, etc.) create is part of your inner self – your world – your thoughts and feelings. It is YOU, and anything that makes your work look bad by association is damaging and drains your creativity. This constant barrage by spammers is like a bunch of vampires come to feast on your blood, hoping that you will fall for their garbage and in turn, become a vampire pushing for likes. Because once you’re caught up, you become part of the established precedent, which leads to more of the same.

So, I refuse to do this. Which means I may end up being a Starving Artist. At my age, being a Starving Artist means I should have had a different career since the art stuff ain’t going anywhere. But, c’est la vie.

Seriously folks, don’t fall for it. Don’t buy reviews or anything of that kind. Do not go that website mentioned by that vampire. Any organization that offers to get you increased popularity for nothing, is suspect.

I feel it is my duty to point out these abominations. Just call me Van Helsing. Abraham van Helsing, the Scourge of Vampire Like Farms.

Yours truly annoyed,

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