Channel 4 news ran a big investigation into Facebook Likes last week:

As Facebook has grown to 1.15 billion users, gaining “likes” or fans, the social network has become a valuable marketing opportunity for companies. One social intelligence company put the value of a like at £114, and the number of Facebook fans – along with Twitter followers and YouTube hits – has become a marker of popularity in the digital age. But while legitimate marketing businesses have sprung up to help boost fans, there are just as many illegitimate companies that offer fans for sale.

’twas ever thus. The history of the last couple of decades of the web is the story of tension between people playing fair and people trying to buy their way to success. A significant chunk of the SEO business is built around getting sites higher search ranking than their content deserves – and birthing horrors like comment spam along the way – and now an industry springs up to fake social impact by any means necessary.

Whatever is powerful is ripe for abuse.

I’m far more sanguine about this than I used to be. As the signal-to-noise ratio rises ever higher on social media, the spammers, snake oil salesmen and carpetbaggers eventually move on to the next easy target. When things get hard, they don’t want to play any more – and that’s when those with real skills reap their rewards.