Like Farmers Profiting By Hosting Stolen Photos on Facebook


I’d love to say I coined the term “Like farm”, but it’s entirely possible I read it somewhere before, as a brief search on that term turned up other articles on the growing phenomenon of content farms on Facebook. For a while now, I’ve been watching my own news feed fill up with unattributed photos and artwork. And I think we’ve all seen the equally unattributed and ubiquitous quote art (either graphic design or simply pasted over photos). Although the amount of this content seems to rise and fall, it has seemed like it is growing of late. Or perhaps I’ve just become more sensitive to it?

Part of that recognition is the result of ongoing angst with how much of it is simply stolen content. I’m sure many of my friends have no idea that the pretty landscape they’re sharing or the cute kitten is an unapproved — never mind unattributed — use of someone else’s work.

I’ll be the first to admit that even decades on, the WWW is still the Wild Wild West, a place where what’s legal may not be ethical, and what’s ethical may not be legal. One person’s innocent sharing of an image they loved is another’s infringement. And the happy middle between the two seems to be nowhere in sight any time soon.


I think most creative people share their content online with the fervent hope it will be found, the consequence of being found and shared is sometimes wonderful. Getting new eyes on one’s work is rarely complained about. Yet other times it may morph into a battle to even be recognized as the creator in the first place.

Content online without a clear creator has become so commonplace that even some visual artists share and like it without a second thought.

My angst however tangible goes beyond a simple lapse in attribution. It’s the fact that so much of this material is coming not from a bored kid sitting at home but from a shadowy figure whose only motive is how to profit from it. And the more it appears Facebook is squelching the volume on Facebook pages, possibly in an effort to combat this issue, the more the people that are gaming the system gain strength as many of them have become the master manipulators of people’s emotions.

How many images do you see in your news feed on a given day with a note that most people won’t have the courage to share this? Or share this if you love your child, mother, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin, country, bedbug…

Well, you get the point.

They play on human emotions, love for another, our patriotism, the entire spectrum of what makes people tick. Share me, like me, love me. And it works! Every day I encounter another content farm with hundreds of thousands of likes and posts that have been shared and re-shared and liked out the wazoo.

A screenshot showing classic "like farm" growth

A screenshot showing classic “Like farm” growth

The above screen snippet comes from the latest one of these pages I ran across today. Founded less than a year ago and liked by over 800,000 people (I know the chart above only goes to 300k, but they hadn’t updated their own chart in awhile).

This page has experienced the kind of growth very few reputable Facebook pages will ever know. The insane thing is, without trying hard, I could easily come up with a dozen similar pages all sharing the same basic content and hardly ever original.

The people running these pages watch for engaging content and then re-use it ad infinitum. If you scroll through their Timeline, you’ll start seeing a pattern. They share the same content spaced evenly enough to not be too obvious, but still on infinite play.

Classic "like farm" content

Classic “Like farm” content

What motivates these people you may wonder? Surely they can’t be putting all this effort into a lark? There may be a rare few out there who do it just for attention or because they love to share, but most I encounter are following the same pattern: Grow a page to thousands and thousands of people and then quietly begin slipping in other content.

It might be affiliate links to Amazon or links to a site of their own. Never fear, those sites have advertising, too! It may still seem like a lot of work, but consider if you’re the page above with 800,000 followers and growing. You share one or two links to something commercial every day and you get a few hundred people making purchases. Just that, a few hundred sales and you get a cut, but every day, that adds up to making a living in your bathrobe off other people’s content.

And if you’re serving up links to Amazon or some other affiliate, you didn’t even have to pay for a web-host. You let Facebook host your (stolen) content and you let an affiliate handle the sale. It really is a winning formula that so far has no end in sight.

There’s no real way to report these pages. As far as the stolen content goes, only the copyright holder is allowed to register a complaint. And even if the page has more or less confessed in their description, there’s still no way to contact Facebook and explain the obvious.

A confession by one of the suspect pages?

A confession by one of the suspect pages?

Can you imagine a restaurant with a disclaimer at the door that all the photographs decorating their walls were “found” in the shop around the corner and removed without permission or payment? Or a note that I had found all the articles on my site on the Associated Press and copied them? This is the same commercial use!

I’ve had this subject brewing in the back of my mind for a while now, but what finally pushed me over the edge was searching for the answer to an SEO question I had and stumbling down a rabbit hole to the dark side of the net. I found a forum filled with discussions about methods for creating these types of content farm pages, growing them at astronomical speeds, how to monetize them, etc.

It’s not that I didn’t have an inkling what was going on before, but having it in black and white in front of me was different. I saw people exchanging ideas for manipulating Facebook and all at the detriment to content creators and users. The sad thing is these people are master marketers. That’s the knowledge I walked away with.

They could put their knowledge to good use. Perhaps they could even arrange a true symbiotic relationship with content creators instead of the quietly parasitic one they are employing. Instead they are preying on users who have the very human desire to discover and share beautiful content.

For content creators, to provide a real world analogy, it’s as if these shadowy page owners created a glossy magazine, filled it with the creators’ content and not only didn’t attribute it to them, they didn’t pay the creator for its use, a double-slap in the face.

It’s kind of discouraging, I have to admit, to see the orphaned photography of the web get thousands upon thousands of shares and likes while some wonderful artists and other content producers are sharing their own material and lucky to get just a tiny bit of attention and notice. This is the problem with formulas that assume a simple linear relationship between engagement and quality content.

And it’s the reason I find myself on Facebook less and less lately. And I hate to admit there’s a part of me that remains unconvinced that the people behind Facebook care. There are thousands of eyes on this content with Facebook’s own ads surrounding it. Why should they care whether that content has any meaning or legitimacy?


I’d love to be proved wrong and for Facebook to begin looking seriously at pages with explosive growth and massive following. They can’t be that hard to find. I can certainly find them and I lack the access to the data they have.

Absent that, I have some small hope that maybe the users themselves will catch on to what’s happening. If you’re on Facebook, or an social network, before you share that picture that tells you no one will have the courage to share it, take a look at where it originated. Does the shadowy page or person who shared it share the same type of material on a cycle?

Before you share that sunset that literally has text begging you to share and like it, do you see any information about who actually created it? Is it linking to the photographer’s website or Facebook page? Simply question the motives behind the content you’re liking. Otherwise, you’re simply another cow grazing on another Like farm…

About the author: Mark E Tisdale is a visual artist whose work is largely based on his travel photography. Whatever the location, the underlying goal behind all of his work is capturing and sharing the inherent beauty of our world. His work may be seen at Beautiful World Art. Visit his website here. This article originally appeared here.

Image credits: Photo illustration based on Ploughing by Klearchos Kapoutsis, photo illustration based on Wild West Falls by o b s k u r a, Facebook HQ, by eston by marcopako 

  • s0undmind

    Great post. I’ve been watching this trend as well, and on one occasion did in fact have one of my photographs reposted by someone else trying to gain likes.

    I find “image macros” or “quote art” extremely annoying and have a habit of unsubscribing from people who share this stuff incessantly. I wish FB offered a way to hide them all – they certainly have the technology to do it.

  • Dave Hodgkinson

    Wait, so Petapixel republished someone’s work. Isn’t that like-farming?

  • Duke Shin

    Sick of the cunts on Tumblr who copy/paste my stuff instead of reblogging it.

  • Philip Davis

    I love the irony of this article appearing on PetaPixel. How much ad revenue comes from articles lifted from other sources?

  • John B. Mueller

    Well Mark, I feel your pain. I’ve had several of my photos stolen and used on FB, one of which was made into a meme which the nice folks at PetaPixel showcased last year. In addition, places like TheChive exclusively use stolen photos for the base of their content. I contacted the Chive who told me “photos generally available on the internet are considered public domain and do not require attribution” I took offense and took the next step toward litigation and they said they were unable to pay for content but instead would make a donation of $100 to a charity (which they hosted).

  • Mark Tisdale

    Feels a little weird commenting on a comment on my own article, but here we go. I can only speak for my experience, but Petapixel did not simply copy this from my blog. If you read the original, you’ll find that he same idea is there but they are not verbatim the same. When they expressed interest in the original, I asked to re-write it before it was published here.

  • some guy with an opinion

    To those pointing out the irony of petapixel posting this article: the difference is that petapixel always (as far as I can remember anyway) includes detailed credits to the original authors and links to their work. In this way it is mutually beneficial to petapixel and to the creators.

  • Matthew Sumpter

    Some people just don’t like to read, and would rather just pop off with an uneducated opinion. PetaPixel gathers the articles after contacting the writers and photographers. This writer is speaking about simply finding a random image on the Internet and mass sharing it for profit with social media.

  • Michael Zhang

    That, and we ask permission before sharing photos and featuring republished guest articles :)

  • TheMan1772

    I have mixed feelings about the sharing thing. Most photographers/designers I know are not worried about work getting re-shared, since most the context is either in admiration (not for profit) and gets them more exposure. Any ad agency or design firm out there, specifically has protocols to license images they use in any campaign.

    The gray area is definitely the sites he talks about , where they are not selling something, just re-posting the memes, but FB is running ads down the side. Is this profiting from your image, or the dozens there, or is it just coincidence and they would get the same clicks if your image was not on their page?

    Now, on the flip side, I and my friends may “like” a meme on someone else’s page. But, I do not have many friends who re-post these memes, because the typography and design is so bad, it’s embarrassing. I would be more worried that my photo is paired with these random feel good statements with their horrible layout and color schemes.

  • Antonio Carrasco

    Ugh, not only is it image theft, it’s just annoying to see all those stupid inspirational quotes that people share on facebook

  • Dawn Danko

    Wow – great article – I have wondered in the back of my mind where all that facebook crap comes from – I had no idea its that manipulated…although after reading this article its pretty obvious. I have to give the content farmers credit though – it is no easy feat to grow a facebook audience like that – I have tried several times and I always top out pretty quickly.

  • Mark Tisdale

    You’re likely using only one person’s content. When you can “freely” pick and choose the content you share from all of the net, it becomes exponentially easier. Still, I give them credit, some are great marketers who could make a profession out of it if they chose rather than a shadowy cottage industry.

  • Carsten Schlipf

    Well, is it just a coincidence that Facebook is the site that – compared to other sites – removes most EXIF meta data including copyright information?

    Ditched my Facebook account over a year ago and I am very happy with G+, which threads photogs much nicer.

  • Nick

    The irony still stands though. As businesses they’re near identical otherwise, although I much prefer the more sophisticated and legal approach here. Many news sites are not much more than content aggregators, profiting from content created by others. I don’t know how much the 1% rule still applies, but there are very few people producing original content on the internet, and although people are smarter these days, I suspect most haven’t a clue how much value this content has.

  • Inspiration

    “You should leave your live like so and so.” – Someone Important

  • Inspiration

    *live *life .sorry :P

  • Dan

    “Can you imagine a restaurant with a disclaimer at the door that all the photographs decorating their walls was “found” in the shop around the corner and removed without permission or payment?”

    Notwithstanding the grammatical error, the analogy is way over the top. People don’t “remove” digital content, they copy it.
    No reason to go over the top, you made your point quite clearly and this just detracts from your argument.

  • Michael Zhang

    Thanks for pointing out the error :)

  • John

    You realise you just helped make this more prolific by posting this article. People who didn’t know will be like sweet money from using facebook while working from home!

  • Mark Tisdale

    The word was originally “art” not “photographs” – I suppose that was an editorial change to more closely match the subject matter of Petapixel.

    As for the “over the top” analogy, I stand by it. When I wrote this for my own blog, the aim was communicating with everyday people, not content creators and not copyright lawyers. Real world analogies, however imprecise, help in that communication. If you’re going to labor over the point of copying vs taking, then the title of the entire article should be rethought since it’s not theft but infringement. I feel that’s splitting hairs.

    At the end of the day, I think, however imperfect, this piece got some discussion going around the issue, for what that may be worth. We shall see.

  • Morgan Meric

    I love this. I really do. It really gets down to the nitty gritty on the way “likewhores” do their business. Subscribing scammers have been a nuscence of late, especially whenever they post graphic things (such as a woman getting decapitated with a chainsaw, or a beaten dog with the caption “1 like = 1 prayer”) and, when reported FOR graphic violence, facebook rejects it. I don’t want this on my newfeed.

  • meena

    Found my images on a community facebook like farm. Asked them politely to remove them, after receiving abuse when asking for credit for them. They didn’t and I had to ask FB to remove them. They then named me on the page for doing this gathering lots of sympathy from our local town, they portrayed me in a false light, making it look like I had just wanted my pics removed for no good reason, and people have no idea its a like farm, and that I had abuse from them for asking for credit for my photos. They have stolen thousands of photos from the web to build up the popular page, and have started advertising on it. Turns out it is an SEO company that is running the page. I had people baying for my blood because he made out that I wanted the page shut down. The page is for my local town, so people would know who I am. They think it is a local town lover who has set up the page. :(