So this is how Facebook scammers earn their wings?
Yesterday, we reported on a curious new feature that suddenly became available to some Facebook users on Android phones. If they went to comment on a Facebook post, they were presented with a new reaction option in the shape of an airplane. The cute little plane emoji would appear along with Facebook’s traditional “haha,” “wow,” “sad,” and “angry” faces.
From the outset, the whole thing seemed suspicious. Why a plane? What emotion does that even convey? Reached for comment, a Facebook spokesperson told me the feature was never meant for prime-time. Rather, it was the product of an employee hackathon. We can only assume the blue-winged beauty will quickly disappear over the horizon, if it hasn’t already.
Still, a lot of people seem to really want this feature, and while their hopes may be pie in the sky, there are plenty of Facebook pages ready and willing to show them how to get it. All you have to do, these pages say, is like their page and comment with a hashtag, such as #addplanereact. And people are doing it—lots of people—despite the fact that, again, this is not a real feature.
The phenomenon offers an interesting window into the birth and life of Facebook like farms. As of this morning, one of these “plane react” Facebook pages had amassed over 3,000 followers. A single post from this page had over 720 comments within a few hours.
It’s anyone’s guess what the end game is, but in Facebook’s engagement economy, all these likes, shares, and comments have value. Pages that get big enough could be sold or converted into who knows what. And even as more insidious forms of Facebook malfeasance—like Russian-backed propaganda campaigns—have taken center stage recently, the “plane react” pages are proof that Facebook and its users are up against an insurmountable game of whack-a-mole.
A Facebook spokesperson said the pages in question violate the site’s terms of service and will be taken down (although they remained active at last check). He also referred me to the site’s guidelines on “reactions.” Apparently, modifying or changing the appearance of Facebook reactions violates Facebook’s rules. Now we know.