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Cyberreal: Engagement or Engineering?

How the modern digital world can distort human connections and values
12:00 AM May 05, 2024 IST | Syeda Afshana
cyberreal  engagement or engineering
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In the digital age, engagement on social media platforms is more than just a way to gauge popularity—it’s a currency. Businesses, influencers and even everyday users seek to boost their online presence through various methods, one of which is Engagement Farming and quite in news nowadays. This tactic involves artificially inflating engagement metrics such as likes, shares, comments and followers to enhance visibility and attract engagement.

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Engagement farming is the practice of generating or soliciting interactions on social media platforms through non-organic means. The primary goal is to exploit the algorithms of these platforms, which often promote content with higher engagement, thus giving the facade of greater relevance and popularity than it actually has. This manipulation distorts the perceived value of the content.

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There are various types of engagement farming. The ‘Like and Share Farming’ involves creating posts that explicitly request users to like, share or comment. Often, these posts are emotionally charged or use compelling calls to action that prompt users to interact without genuine engagement with the content. In ‘Comment Pods’, groups of users agree to comment on each other’s posts to boost engagement. These pods can be found across various platforms and typically operate through mutual agreements or coordinated efforts in private groups.

The ‘Clickbait Content’ farming uses sensational headlines or misleading information to provoke user interaction. The content underperforms in quality or relevance compared to what the headline promises. The ‘Contest and Incentives’ involves hosting contests or giveaways that require users to engage with content (like, share, follow) to participate.

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While not inherently negative, but when overused, it serves as a form of engagement farming if the primary aim is to dishonestly boost metrics. The most menacing is the ‘Bot-Driven Engagement’ where automated accounts or bots, are used to create likes, shares, comments and followers. This method is highly despicable and violates the terms of service of most social media platforms.

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Engagement farming takes many forms across different platforms, employing a variety of strategies to boost interaction falsely. Tag-to-Enter Giveaways is a common tactic on platforms like Instagram where users are asked to tag one or more friends in the comments to enter a giveaway. This deceitfully increases the number of comments on a post, boosting its visibility due to the platform’s algorithm favoring highly engaged content.

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Another example of engagement farming is ‘Sequential Content Posting’ where some creators post parts of a story or a series of related images/videos that require viewers to like or comment to see the next part. This manipulates viewers into repeatedly engaging with multiple posts.

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Often seen on Instagram and X (formerly Twitter), follow loops involve a group of accounts that promote each other in a coordinated effort. Participants follow each other and encourage their followers to do the same, inflating follower counts and engagement metrics misleadingly.

There is also this ‘Automated Commenting Systems’ used by some businesses to post generic comments on posts by potential customers or influencers to increase their visibility and engagement. These comments are often vague like “Nice post!” or “Love this!”, which can apply universally without genuine interaction.

A classic example of engagement farming can be seen in posts that ask users to “like if you’re a neat freak!” or “share if you love pizza!” or “look between your keyboard letters” trend. These posts don’t essentially provide value but are designed to trigger high interaction rates due to their broad, relatable content, and sometimes no meaning at all.

A range of research studies about social media strategies highlight the short-term benefits and long-term risks associated with engagement farming. While initial spikes in engagement can improve visibility, findings indicate that such practices may undermine trust and authenticity in the long run.

A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2018 found that falsehood diffuses significantly farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, partly due to bots and engagement farming tactics.

The fact is that Engagement Farming not only distorts people’s perception of popularity and success on social media but also emerges as a troubling symptom of a deeper societal malaise. In a world increasingly dominated by quick judgments and superficial interactions, many people gravitate towards shallow thinking, rarely diving deep into the substance or authenticity of what they see online.

This trend is complicated by the pervasive reach of social media, where falsehoods and fabrications are engineered, and spread with alarming speed and ease. Engagement Farming exploits these vulnerabilities, manufacturing illusions of popularity and consensus that are often disconnected from reality. Cyberreal world is crudely capturing our real world!

As such, it stands as a downright example of how the modern digital world can distort human connections and values, feeding into a cycle of misinformation and superficial engagement that undermines the very essence of genuine social interaction.

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