No doubt, when there’s money to be made at something, there will be people who will find a means to exploit it. The Internet is no exception.
In the earliest days of the Wild Web West, we had platforms like AllAdvantage, which shared advertising revenue by paying people “to surf the Web.” So one individual could register multiple accounts, randomly visit sites without any real interest in them, and get paid multiple times for basically the same surfing behavior. Good for them; not good for advertisers.
Then came GoTo.com, the precursor to Google AdWords and the whole “pay-per-click” (or PPC) model. The early days of PPC were tarnished by tales of gross click-fraud misconduct–companies would pay drones or build bots or malware to just click on an ad over and over, to deplete their competitors’ funds. Google’s introduction of “PageRank,” a factor weighed in its search algorithm, also encouraged cheating: Businesses again paid people to build useless links to their sites, or to click repeatedly on a website’s link in order to game its popularity and achieve a higher search engine ranking.
In most of these “good guys vs. bad guys” scenarios, the market ultimately gets corrected as platforms make adjustments to squash the corrupt behavior. But then the black market just moves on to other vulnerable places–and now it’s found a home in social media.
Before I go any further, let me say this: I’m going to avoid naming names or pointing fingers–and I’m definitely not endorsing any of these tactics.