Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) both provide a number of ways for users to make money, but one of those ways probably wasn’t intended by either social network. Faking Facebook likes and Twitter followers is big business, according to a new study by the Associated Press (via Huffington Post), which backs up other past studies on the subject.

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Click farms sell fake Facebook likes

Some so-called “click farms” sell fake Facebook Likes, YouTube viewers, Twitter followers and even connections on LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD)’s platform. Those connections claim to make someone appear more employable on the social network.

Last year security researchers estimated that fake Twitter followers may have brought in between $40 million and $360 million in all. Fake activities on Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB)’s platform alone could earn firms as much as $200 million every year.

Facebook, Twitter, others try to crack down

The problem of fake Likes and other activities on social networks is one they have been trying to tackle for some time. They need to protect the credibility of these activities so that advertisers feel like they are truly getting the reach they think they are. However, just as Facebook or one of the other social networks plugs one hole, another type of scheme appears.

One of the earliest ways to generate fake Likes and clicks on social networks and websites was through the use of software. However, new software was created to screen clicks which came from bots. Software was also created to sweep user accounts on a regular basis for the purpose of weeding out fake user accounts

Why Facebook, others struggle

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have all taken their own steps to crack down on fake users and fake activity. YouTube dumped billions of music videos after realizing that many had somehow exaggerated the number of views they had gotten. Meanwhile parent company Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) also takes steps to crack down on fake ad clicks.

Facebook Inc (NASDAQW:FB) said on its last quarterly earnings report that about 14.1 million of the 1.18 billion users active on its network appear to be fake accounts, and the company said it frequently purges these accounts. Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) and LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) both suspend accounts they deem to be fake.

One of the reasons social networks are having a difficult time tracking down fake accounts is because some of the clicks do come from real people. Unique IT World, which sells fake Facebook Likes, actually pays workers to click on the social media pages of their clients. Since those accounts are technically real, Facebook can’t really tell that those clicks have been paid for.

Even U.S. officials buy fake Facebook likes

According to the Associated Press, the U.S. State Department has even bought some fake Facebook Likes. The agency has over 400,000 Likes on Facebook and became especially popular in Cairo. The agency said it would stop buying Likes after its inspector general doled out criticism for it. The State Department actually spent $630,000 to increase the number of Likes it had.

One of the things that suggests there may be a lot of fake Facebook Likes is a sudden increase in Likes from one geographical location, particularly if that location is offshore. However, sometimes there is a real reason for this happening. For example, Burger King Worldwide Inc (NYSE:BKW) recently opened a new location in Karachi, Pakistan, which became the fast food chain’s most popular location for a few weeks.