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Translated in Dutch by Joost Abrahams
Proofread by Elise Rijdes van Soest

1.4.1. Facebook Fake Accounts

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Author : David Bogert

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Time To Read :
9 minutes
There are hundreds of thousands of Facebook followers on aquarium forums and groups. A huge number of newcomers to the hobby come on social media and join these forums and groups in order to get information. This is a goldmine which aquarium supply manufacturers cannot resist. So they have done a number of, shall we say, somewhat shady practices to hype their products.
Puntius rhomboocellatus Orange Buffalo Rhombo Barb
Puntius rhomboocellatus – Orange Buffalo Rhombo Barb

Facebook Hype

The various aquarium forums and groups on such social media as Facebook have become an obviously very important source of information for hobbyists. Newbies to the hobby use these forums extensively for obtaining information.

Unfortunately there are some manufacturers of aquarium products which obviously maintain a large presence on Facebook with many “fake” accounts or “sock puppets”. Ask a question like “what is the best filter media?” or “what is the best cichlid food?” and the comments pour in from a host of accounts that aren’t normally seen on the forum or blog. They all support one manufacturer’s products. Often the syntax and verbiage used is similar in each comment.

Shading the Truth on Social Media
Shading the Truth on Social Media

When a test is posted which shows a certain product is ineffective, there will be another avalanche of comments degrading the test. A typical comment is “my second grader could design a better test“, “this test just proves how inaccurate the API test kits are“, or my personal favorite “This guy obviously is not a research scientist as he has too many misspellings and grammar errors“. Again, these comments will share verbiage and syntax.

Pethia nigrofasciata Black Ruby Barb
Pethia nigrofasciata – Black Ruby Barb

Fish Food Commentary

At one point we became curious about commercial cichlid pellets and which would be the best to use. So, we did an analysis of twelve common products. It showed little difference. At that time there were typically two or three posts a day on social media about “what food is the best“. And 80% of the answering comments supported one particular food manufacturer, namely Northfin, with the verbiage and the syntax of the comments being very similar.

When we then posted our data there were many negative comments on the comments, some quite nasty and personal and some more mild, but all using similar verbiage and syntax. After about four weeks we began blocking the negative commentators.

We blocked about one dozen people. We noted all the negative commentators shared some characteristics. They used the same words to describe what they thought. When you looked at their profile there was zero personal data. Not a location, not a school, not a job. This was true for ALL of them. One can be led to allege the accounts were all fake accounts originating from Northfin.

We continued to put our data (the data that said no particular food was any better than any other food) in the comments of anyone that asked about food.

Puntius titteya Cherry Barb
Puntius titteya – Cherry Barb

Then the president of Northfin then posted a nasty comment on one of our food comments. The verbiage and syntax were very similar to the other negative comments we had blocked. So, we blocked the president of Northfin.

Then a strange thing happened. Not only did the comments stop but ALL the posts about food just stopped cold. It was like a light switch had been turned off. They went from three to five a day to NEVER. A reasonable allegation would be that not only were the comments coming from Northfin but the posts themselves were coming from that firm via fake accounts. Interesting.

This same thing has been repeated for food, filter media, filters, anaerobic filtration media, medications, chemical filtration media and water conditioners. This was a watershed moment for this author. It appears a LOT of companies were using Facebook in a somewhat sneaky method.

Now an examination of Facebook on a friend’s computer showed that the fake accounts and product aggrandizing posts have not disappeared, rather they have just blocked the author from their accounts. So the “What do you think of Seachem Prime water conditioner?” followed by “Great product, can’t survive without it” and “Does a great job on ammonia” etc. have continued unabated. The author just cannot see them. Nothing the author can do about it.

Puntius semifasciolatus Green Tiger Barb
Puntius semifasciolatus – Green Tiger Barb

Seachem Commentary on Facebook

Seachem is the largest perpetrator by far of this faked hype. We’ve posted “exposés” several times about such Seachem products as Prime, Matrix and Purigen on several Facebook aquarium groups. There is always a huge amount of pushback and negativity, including a letter from Seachem lawyers threatening me with a libel suit. For this letter and my response see the article on Prime and Safe in this link: Prime and Safe

The negative comments were interesting. The comments shared syntax and had some common words. I think it is reasonable to allege these criticisms on Facebook originated in the the Seachem marketing department. LOL. Luckily I’m a very thick skinned old codger and I just let them roll off like water off a duck’s back.

Puntius laterstriga Spanner T-barb
Puntius laterstriga – Spanner T-barb

But after a time, just like with Northfin, the frequent FaceBook post like “What about Seachem Matrix?” or “What is the best filter media?” followed by a host of comments like “Matrix is absolutely the best you can buy“, have stopped COMPLETELY. Understand, we’re talking about twenty to fifty posts a day on a host of topics covered by various Seachem products. These posts and the even greater number of comments just stopped cold. This was a huge surprise and very revealing.

Seachem had blocked me from their fake accounts. Interesting. Nothing I can do about it.

Pethia conchonius Rosy Barb
Pethia conchonius – Rosy Barb

What hasn’t stopped is the rebuttals when something like the article exposing the false claims of Prime is posted by the author. This is guaranteed to produce an immediate avalanche of a dozen or so very similar comments supporting the use of Prime. The comments are all similar in verbiage and syntax (for instance, it appears the Marketing Department of Seachem absolutely loves the terms “grudge”, “peer review” and “pseudoscience” along with non-sequitur allegories). They would all appear to be from the marketing department at Seachem.

They avoid attacking the author personally. It did not used to be that way. The comments used to get quite personal and vociferous. People who made such personal attacks were immediately blocked by the author. When an article from this website is posted on Facebook by someone else (a common occurrence) I go over to a friends house and look at the negative posts that result.

Albino Koi Simpson Hi-Fin Swordtail
Albino Koi Simpson Hi-Fin Swordtail

There will always be a host of negative attacking comments about my website that I couldn’t see because the author had been blocked by myself. These negative attacking comments will invariably start out with “The writer of this website has blocked me ….”.

How does this person know I’ve blocked them? Facebook doesn’t notify one when they are blocked. The only way I know of is if someone is tracking my posts and comparing notes with others in the same company to see if they are seeing them. “Heh Joe, did you see this new comment by ….?” “No it’s not showing up on my account. So he has blocked me…” This has now been said by about fifteen different individuals. Ah, the fake accounts at Seachem never give up.

Pethia Padamya Odessa Barb
Pethia Padamya – Odessa Barb

Seachem Commentary on Reddit and Fish Forums

At the same time as these comments came up on Facebook several strings originated on Reddit Aquariums and Fish Forums net. A typical comment is “AquariumScience is really bizarre and I strongly get the suspicion that the author might be a disgruntled SeaChem employee, or rather, former employee.” Another comment is “This guy obviously got his degree from the web“.

These strings of comments on Reddit and Fish Forums net were only up for a few weeks and had many similar negative comments by three or four “commentators”. After all the negative comments the discussions were turned off so no one else could post, which is very unusual. They obviously did not want any comments that supported this website. One would be inclined to allege these comments are all from the Marketing Department in Seachem.

This sort of “social media optimization” is all part of the profit driven internet we all must now live with.

Puntigrus tetrazona Tiger barb
Puntigrus tetrazona – Tiger barb

Very Knowledgeable Comments

It is also interesting to note how many commentators seem to be incredibly knowledgeable about the products used in the hobby. The Top Fin water conditioner is 30 times more expensive than Seachem Prime conditioner (the author has done the math). ALL other conditioners are much more reasonably priced and many are cheaper per dose required than Prime. Very few people have done the math required to know this.

Yet when a post about conditioners came up on Facebook, a commentator said they used Seachem Prime rather than conditioners “like Top Fin” because of the “obvious cost difference”. The commentator didn’t say API conditioner, which is cheaper than Prime. HHHmmm. Was this commentator just a very well informed hobbyist or were they in the Seachem marketing department?

Sahyadria denisonii Red-line Torpedo Barb
Sahyadria denisonii – Red-line Torpedo Barb

Social Media “Sponsoring”

The largest aquarium Facebook aquarium forum has over one hundred thousand members. If you examine the posts on the forum they are heavily of the type “what is the best filter media for aquariums?“. And the vast majority of the answers are of the variety “Seachem Matrix is the best filter media by far!“.

Let’s say you post a comment telling about a test run which showed pot scrubbers to be three times better media than Matrix (and a WHOLE lot cheaper!). You will be instantly banned for life from this group. Seachem pays the creator of the Facebook group to “sponsor” the group, which means Seachem gets to say who is members of the group and who will be banned for life. Which means Seachem also gets to post continuous fake posts and fake comments which are nothing but blatant marketing hype.

The author has been banned from the two largest Facebook aquarium forums and several smaller ones for posting negative reviews of Northfin and Seachem.

Welcome to the world of profit driven social media.

Puntius johorensis Striped Barb,
Puntius johorensis – Striped Barb,