We live in a period of history where part of the profits and opportunities lie in what we know as the platform economy. Social media is one example of this. Several companies have emerged and grown exponentially in the last decade around this market, and it is hard to think of our routines, whether personal or at work, without some influence from them.
In this market, there is a specific currency of exchange: engagement. And around it, new questions arise. In search of real engagement, influencers, companies, celebrities and even politicians, hire people to watch, like and comment on their social media posts. The reason is simple: in the advertising segment, engagement from real people is worth more than robots doing the same.
Around this activity, so-called ‚click farms‘ are emerging, whose premise is to offer services for boosting likes. These farms hire people to engage for long hours with different social media content, paying very little for each engagement. In countries where unemployment rates are high, there is a large supply of unskilled labor, a full plate for click farms.
The Coronavirus pandemic has severely worsened the scenario, as many people have been affected by corporate spending cuts. Due to Covid, and thus the economic crisis, many workers found themselves without a job and needing to resort to exploitative work situations.
According to professor Rafael Gohmann, „Click farm platforms are the deep web of platform labor.”, meaning that these services practice unfair activities towards their employees. “Many of these workers decide to enter the platforms attracted by a relatively easy job and often find themselves frustrated both by low pay and by deadlocks and lack of tasks”, argues professor Rafael.
The ramifications of click farms
While for some, click farms offer their only chance to have an income, these seemingly easy jobs come with many obstacles and hindrances. The employees work long hours in an attempt to make enough to live, just to have their activities blocked due social network regulations. The click farms take no responsibility for this, regularly leaving the workers without work and payment.
To keep up with demand, the employees often outsource tasks to robots. Not only does this go against the main idea of a click farm, it also increases the number of bots. Additionally, a parallel market of buying and selling bots and fake accounts for prices as little as R$ 1,50 (0,18 euro) competes with the click farm workers. These extremely low prices take tasks away from the click farms leaving already desperate workers without a job. Some platforms even create their own bots to profit and re-appropriate the parallel market.
These issues highlight the potential risks for the disadvantaged click farm workers as well as the problems other internet users face in these circumstances. These ideas question the legality and ethicality of these click farms.
Regulations and ethics
Despite growing exponentially for the last 15 years, social media is still relatively unregulated. Between 2010 and 2012 teams of internet security researchers and law enforcers dismantled several spambots across the world. This data highlights the extent of the problem, which has only grown since then. In the U.S laws forbid some activities such as fake reviews but no explicit laws against unauthentic likes, follows or shares. However, practices like these tend to take place in less developed countries, where these activities are not illegal.
Despite the lack of regulation, experts question the ethics of click farms. Not only must employees work long hours for an unfair wage, paying social media users get an unfair advantage over organic engagement and usually profit from these practices. What do you think, would click farms be ethical if they were well paid?
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