A crowd of Brazilians spend their days following, commenting and liking profiles of strangers for thousandths of a real. They are the workforce of click farms.
Attracted by promises of extra income, they manage 500 fake accounts, which practically turns them into “human bots”.
It happens like this: on the one hand, specialized companies, known as click platforms, sell “engagement” packages to customers, who can instantly acquire thousands of followers on social networks, in addition to combos with likes, comments and even video views. .
Prices for these services vary, but are generally very affordable. You can find packages of a thousand likes on Instagram for R$ 0.60. More likes or followers can mean more relevance to a company’s customers, or draw more attention from brands interested in advertising on their profiles, in addition to making them privileged by network algorithms.
The companies guarantee to those who hire them that the boosts are made through real people and authentic accounts, and that this would be the differential of the services.
At the other end, sites pay workers from R$0.001 to R$0.05 to perform each of the interactions, designated as tasks.
A minimum balance of around R$20 is usually required for amounts to be withdrawn. However, to reach that amount, it is necessary to complete about 20 thousand tasks.
To circumvent low incomes, they are encouraged to create multiple accounts, and thus increase the number of activities performed. Many start to carry out the actions in an automated way through software, which can be offered by the platforms themselves.
The gains allowed with automation, however, are limited. By all indications, micro-jobs only seem to offer some sort of advantage to employees who automate the business.
A man who talked to Sheet, and did not want to be identified, says that he programmed bots to do the work on various platforms for him. With three computers on all day, each with multiple windows and tabs at the same time, he says he earned more than R$2,000 a month.
A similar example is that of Paulo Henrique, 29, who claims to earn BRL 1,000 a month through work with clicks on Dizu. The strategy: 100 accounts on various social networks, all fake. It was not difficult to find the arrangement: he says he opted for a bot program sold by the platform itself.
“I follow so many people on my personal Instagram, and now getting paid to do this, it ends up being more pleasurable to use the social network (rs)”, he justifies.
The paulista also says that he used to earn twice as much, when he managed to manage 500 profiles, but ended up losing them all at once and didn’t get paid.
Dizu, where Paulo works, claims there are no limits to the number of accounts that can link to the site, “as long as all profiles appear to be from real people.”
In addition to avoiding blocks, more realistic accounts receive a few fractions of a cent more for each interaction.
Therefore, there is an intense “parallel market” for the sale of ready-made profiles and even for authentication by mobile number — values vary between R$ 1.50 and R$ 5, depending on the whim in the creation.
“It looks like a fairground”, says Rafael Grohmann, who coordinates the DigiLabour Research Laboratory, with support from the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), and the Fairwork project, linked to the University of Oxford.
According to the researcher, they are sold from “BBB fan profiles”, to “nail profiles” and even “photo packs” to illustrate the feeds.
“There is only an ‘influencer economy’ today because there are click farms; they play a central role and that’s what marketing and influence agencies need to think about”, points out Grohmann.
A multitude of tricks and tips circulate in Whatsapp groups, Telegram and Youtube channels to escape punishment for the artificial use of social networks. The most important thing is that the accounts look organic, with photos, likes and followers.
The youtuber Sávio Augusto, for example, gives tips for those who want to create their accounts in a “manual” way, without buying them ready-made. It has 119k subscribers and millions of views.
For starters, a valued aspect is that the profile picture is of a person — but it shouldn’t be of anyone real, so as not to commit a crime. The output is unusual: the youtuber indicates the use of images of faces created by artificial intelligence. Sávio argues that, therefore, the profiles created are not “fakes”, since “a fake profile is when you copy a person’s image. In this case, you will use images of people that do not exist.”
As for the feed, the youtuber’s tip to get likes quickly is to post photos of cute animals and use hashtags. After having a complete profile, users are still advised to rotate accounts and change the device’s IP address regularly, to draw less attention from network moderation.
There is no law in the country that prohibits the sale of boosts along the lines of click farms. The lawyer specialized in digital law José Antonio Milagre explains that there is only a crime if information and images of other real people are used in the accounts, which would be understood as a crime of false identity.
The scenario may change if the Fake News Law is approved by the National Congress. The legislation seeks, among other things, to inhibit the operation of inauthentic accounts on the networks.
There is no survey on the number of people working on click farms in Brazil.
A study published in 2021, in the Scielo repository, gives clues by showing the size of the public that accesses these sites.
In June 2021, Dizu had 1.3 million individual visits — followed by GanNoInsta (1.2 million), SigaSocial (276,000), Kzom (190,000) and Everve (67,000).
According to the survey, these platforms concentrate the largest number of workers in the so-called microservices in Brazil.
Although they originated in Southeast Asian countries, click platforms have flourished in Latin America in recent years.
According to Grohmann, Brazil stands out for the expansion of a market with companies headquartered in the country, with sites in Portuguese and that serve a local market of influence in the networks.
The workers who spoke to the Sheet report that, among buyers, the profiles that are most repeated are artists, influencers and athletes.
Grohmann’s survey, in turn, points out that the most common customers are small entrepreneurs: “like the restaurant in the interior of Goiás that has no money to give to iFood and needs to ‘bomb’ on Instagram to make sales”, says the researcher. .
The report sent questions on Monday (16) to three of the main social networks, as well as to follower selling sites and click farm platforms.
TikTok only states that spamming and false engagement practices are prohibited as per the community guidelines on the network. According to the note, more than 400 million fake followers and 150 million inauthentic accounts were removed in 2021.
Meta, the company responsible for Facebook and Instagram, has stated that it wants the content on its networks to be authentic and made by real people, not bots or other accounts that try to trick users. Since 2020, the company has included additional identity check steps when it identifies suspicious patterns of inauthentic behavior.
The advisory also says that the company dedicates “significant resources” to combat this type of abuse and that, in some cases, it takes “legal action against those responsible”, without specifying the actions.
The websites selling followers (Turbine Social, Turbine digital, Impulsogram, Agência SegBrasil, Bombenaweb) and the platforms of click workers (Kzom, Dizu and GanarNoInsta) did not return the contact by email.
Activity is a form of precariousness, say experts
When fake profiles are suspended by social networks, workers are unable to receive the accumulated earnings.
Despite encouraging the creation of bots, click platforms are not responsible for the punishments resulting from the practice, and claim that it is not possible to verify the fulfillment of tasks in cases of blocking.
When punishments over fake accounts lead to a sudden loss of followers, customers are often compensated by companies, who deduct from employee earnings.
So even if they’ve worked a full month, they’re partially paid—or not paid at all.
The activity is seen by specialists as another form of precarious work by platform, which grows in an unregulated way.
“Click farm platforms are the deep web of platform work”, says Rafael Grohmann, in an article published in Nexo Jornal. “Instead of thinking that everything comes from artificial intelligence, automation and bots, we need to make the work of these ‘human bots’ visible on parasitic platforms”.
It is very interesting how click farms end up updating and radicalizing the informality of work, and with Brazilian characteristics
Unemployed works 12 hours a day and earns BRL 230 per month
Unemployed for four years, administrative assistant Larissa Câmara, 30, found a source of income in the click sites. She chose not to use automations or robots and, therefore, has to dedicate 12 hours a day to interacting with 115 fake accounts on Instagram and TikTok. For work, she earns around R$230 per month.
Larissa says that she has invested more in interactions through TikTok, which, according to her, is a “more liberal” network than Instagram and takes down accounts less often.
Even lower values reach the pocket of Natália Oliveira, 26, who is also unemployed and started working with clicks at the beginning of the pandemic. The carioca says that, in a “good month”, she earns R$50 for her work on two sites, Dizu and GanarNoInsta.
She has used bots, but gave up on the strategy after she had several profiles blocked and went without payment. Today, working 6-7 hours a day, with 24 profiles, she says she would like to look for a formal job if she had more time.
The work of Matheus Viana Braz, PhD in Psychology from UEMG (University of the State of Minas Gerais) and sociology researcher characterizes microservices, or crowdwork as low-complexity digital works —such as typing, dragging and clicking—that require little qualification and are broken down into small tasks.
According to the survey, workers usually do not know who requested their services and often do not know the purpose of the task they were asked to do. They also “do not have margins for negotiations, do not benefit from commissions or any type of social or labor protection”.
In addition to interactions on social networks, other types of microservices available on the internet involve watching videos, interacting with advertisements and even solving captchas — the puzzles used to test whether the user is human or robot. Sometimes, if some robot can’t solve the captcha, it sends it through a platform to a person, who solves it for an average of one-hundredth of a cent.
In 2021, employees from at least four farms articulated an attempt to stop for fairer payments.
Sending mass messages to the sites’ support, they threatened to stop performing tasks and stop following all customer pages. According to reports on the internet, the mobilization caused the sites to update rules, banning users who sent messages in a coordinated manner.
The Fairwork project, from the University of Oxford, establishes some principles for decent work on digital platforms.
Among them are timely payment taking into account “all tasks completed” and “total hours worked”, the ban on contracts that “unjustifiably remove the responsibility of platforms” and the “right to appeal blockings and deactivations and to be informed of the reasons behind these decisions”.