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Is it really going up? Not all TikTok like count are real

The increasing creation of fake TikTok accounts underscores the growing value of the influencer industry, suggesting a rise in fake followers.

Image: — © AFP/File Olivier DOULIERY
Image: — © AFP/File Olivier DOULIERY

During the first quarter of 2023, TikTok removed around 1.25 billion fake followers stemming from fraudulent accounts. TikTok, one of the world’s most popular social media platforms.

When someone upload a video on TikTok, its algorithm decides who to show your content to initially. If those viewers like, comment, or share the video, it is shown to even more people. A high number of likes suggests that your content resonates with the target audience, amplifying its visibility.

Does this mean every like is a stamp of approval from a real viewer? Not necessarily. Though TikTok has stringent policies in place to combat artificial engagement, the system is not foolproof.

Josh Gordon, an expert from Geonode, tells Digital Journal: “The world of social media metrics is riddled with nuances. Bots and engagement farms can skew the figures.”

The proliferation of fake likes and followers on TikTok has spawned a grey market for artificial engagement metrics.

Gordon provides a breakdown of the data and observations regarding like-selling services and fake engagements on TikTok:

Extent of Fake Likes

From June 2021 to September 2022, over 1.8 billion fake likes were identified on TikTok, alongside 75.84 billion fake likes prevented from being registered on the platform.

Removal of Fake Followers

During the first quarter of 2023, TikTok removed around 1.25 billion fake followers due to fake accounts.

Prevention of Fake Engagement

In the same quarter, TikTok prevented almost 8.4 billion fake engagements, demonstrating the platform’s ongoing efforts to curb fraudulent activities.

Rise in Fake Profile Creation

The increasing creation of fake TikTok accounts underscores the growing value of the influencer industry, suggesting a likely rise in the market for fake followers on the app.

In a recent experiment aimed at understanding the ease of acquiring fake engagement on TikTok, a participant uploaded a Warzone clip to TikTok and purchased 250 followers from a website advertising such services. The process was straightforward: specifying the desired follower count, providing the account name, and completing the purchase for just over $12 via PayPal. The result was instantaneous, with 250 new followers appearing on the account seconds after payment.

The profiles of these bought followers varied widely. Some seemed genuine, depicting men and women, while others were evidently fabricated, showcasing random objects or having generated usernames like “user2299926539189.”

Zarine Kharazian, assistant editor at the Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), assessed the quality of these accounts after reviewing a sample. According to Kharazian, these accounts were of moderate quality, having profile pictures and some activity like video uploads, but not to the extent of high-quality fake accounts which mimic real user behavior more closely.

To assure the authenticity of engagement on its platform, TikTok is continually evolving its fraud detection capabilities. Examples include:

Automated Defences

TikTok invests in automated systems to detect and remove inauthentic accounts and engagement.

Additional Monitoring Systems

In Q4 2021, new monitoring systems were developed to identify fraudulent accounts at registration.

Process Improvements

TikTok improved its ticketing platforms and processes for a rapid response to evolving fraud threats.

Collaboration for Early Detection

TikTok collaborates with the global community for early fraud detection and safer online environment.

External Anti-Fraud Solutions

Tools like Opticks help advertisers on TikTok separate legitimate users from fraudulent traffic.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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