Harvard Denies Purchasing Facebook ‘Likes’

Graph of the total number of Facebook ‘likes’ for universities.
Graph of the total number of Facebook ‘likes’ for universities. –SCREENSHOT

Business Insider reported yesterday that the research of Lenny Teytelman, founder of Zappy Lab, showed that Harvard University has the most Facebook “likes’’ of any of higher education institution.

Teytelman claimed that about 3 million of these “likes,’’ most of which come from Dhaka, Bangladesh, are probably fake and were potentially purchased.

When companies or universities pay for “likes,’’ according to Teytelman, they click “promote this page’’ on Facebook. Facebook is then supposed to make the page more visible to people who might have interest in the page’s content.

In a statement, Harvard University wrote:

“Harvard is an internationally-recognized institution with students, faculty, alumni and other followers around the world. Global interest in Harvard is validated by engagement across all our platforms. Social media is among the many tools we use to connect with the Harvard community and with many others interested in the teaching, learning and research at Harvard. The University did not pay for any of the 3.3 million likes on its official Facebook page.’’

On his blog Teytelman wrote:

“Very easy to tell which ones fell victim to this by looking at the number and source of the “likes’’; they all match the location of the school for the universities with fewer than 300,000 “likes’’. But the schools that made it to the “most popular’’ list have “likes’’ from Dhaka, Bangladesh (Cambridge, Oxford, UofPeople, Harvard) and Addis Abeba, Ethiopia (Yale)’’


Other famous universities, like UC Berkeley, Princeton and Columbia have less than 300,000 likes.

In 2011, The Harvard Crimsonwrote an article celebrating Harvard’s Facebook page total of 1 million “likes.’’

The Crimson reported:

“If virtual thumbs-up are a good indication of popularity, Harvard is blowing its peer institutions out of the water. According to “All Facebook, The Unofficial Facebook Resource,’’ Louisiana State University has the second greatest number of likes: 534,637.’’

Though Harvard reported they did not purchase “likes,’’ other companies, such as Teytelman ‘s PubChase, have.

We fell for it a year ago,’’ Teytelman said. “This was us trying to grow because we are a new startup and we wanted scientists following. We clicked ‘promote your page’ and 60 dollars later, we had 1,000 likes by the end of the day.’’

But, when Teytelman looked at who was “liking’’ their page, they were all from India and they were not real accounts. He tried to get rid of the fake Facebook accounts from his page, but he said Facebook does not have a way to do this. You can only remove the last 20 people who liked.

Teytelman’s company is not the only one this has happened to.

“Companies don’t complain,’’ he said, “because who wants to acknowledge they paid for likes?’’

Companies are not paying for Facebook to make it appear like they have more likes, they are paying to promote their page for people with similar interests.

Teytelman said the more engaged people are on a post, the higher Facebook displays the post. This is where the real problem lies.


“Now you have to pay to promote content individually,’’ he said.

Because there are fake accounts liking posts, the most popular posts are not the ones that are showing up, thus they are less visible to the human followers. This makes people like Teytelman not only have to pay for the original page promotion, but also to pay for individual posts.

Business Insider reported that likes can still be fake even if they are not purchased.

“If you run ads on Facebook indiscriminately, targeting anyone in any country, then you’re likely to attract clicks from some pretty irrelevant accounts all over the globe,’’ according to Business Insider.

Insider also said high “likes’’ could be a result of “click farms.’’ See their video explanation here on Facebook fraud.

Teytelman has one major complaint.

“My problem is with Facebook brushing it off,’’ he said. “and saying the problem doesn’t exist.’’

In a statement to Business Insider, Facebook said, “Some Pages, including universities with an international reputation, often receive a large number of likes from people around the world and have fans that are dispersed geographically and demographically.’’

Though Harvard University states they did not pay for “likes,’’ some, like Teytelman, still beleive this is a problem Facebook needs to address.

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