It's surprisingly easy to set up a convincing, highly regarded fake online business

Kashmir Hill invented a totally imaginary business — "Freakin' Awesome Karaoke Express" or FAKE — and paid people on Fiverr to follow it on Twitter with thousands of fake accounts, and to flood Yelp and Facebook with positive reviews. Before long, people were calling her and asking her to take their money in exchange for a nonexistent karaoke truck.

When queried by journalists, Fiverr's "SEO specialists" all insist that they only review products that they've tried and enjoyed. But when approached by customers, they cheerfully created positive reviews out of the whole cloth, with enough cunning and verisimilitude that Facebook didn't detect the deception (Yelp caught some of the fakesters).

Hill interviewed some of the people who'd taken her money and got some insight into the contradictory impulses and feelings held by the architects of these widespread deceptions.

I picked up 200 Facebook fans for $5 and glowing 5-star reviews on Yelp and Facebook; my only guidance when I paid up was that they note our "unbelievable selection of songs." The rest was their invention."This is a great place to get your groove on," wrote a woman on Yelp. They called the nonexistent song-slewing truck fantastic and amazing and praised our wonderful service. But they also added details that made the reviews look real: they had stories in them, about hiring the truck to sing with colleagues during a conference and for a kid's birthday party.

The people who reviewed F.A.K.E. on Facebook, I noted, had also given five stars to a chiropractor in Arizona, a hair salon in London, a limo company in North Carolina, a realtor in Texas, and a locksmith in Florida, among other far-flung businesses.

Facebook says it uses pattern recognition to find and eliminate click farms and accounts that exist solely to like pages. Since March, says Facebook, it's "notified 200,000 Pages that we've protected their accounts from fake likes." I love the way they put this: "Protected," as if the companies hadn't paid for them. Facebook didn't manage to protect me from fake likes.

I created a fake business and bought it an amazing online reputation
[Kashmir Hill/Fusion]

(via Dan Hon)