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Social media platforms—especially Facebook—are lifelines for many companies' success. Facebook itself is full of dozens of such stories, with many businesses increasing customer engagement and sales by dozens or even hundreds of percent.

Not all businesses are so lucky, though. A few have found that their Facebook experience hasn't been as successful.

For example, dozens of American and European firms have been ripped off by a chain of Chinese online vendors that sell knockoffs of the original design and use the original designers' photos and other content, according to a recent investigative BuzzFeed article. Kore Wear has seen its content ripped off by Zaful, a China-based knockoff site that uses Kore's photos to sell $12 versions of a designer swimsuit that the company sells for $249.

Welcome to the dark side of Facebook, where the tools that businesses use to win friends and make sales also open the door to imposters, thieves, and charlatans.

Stolen content 

Criminals can all too easily use Facebook to rip off the design, ideas, and content of legitimate sites. Stealing a Web image is as easy as right-clicking. Even measures to prevent right-click image downloading aren't foolproof; all an image thief needs to do is take a screenshot to capture an image.

Several years ago, the Web was full of stories about fake Facebook merchant and business pages. For example, pages with permutations of the term "Coca-Cola" (misspelled, without a dash, etc.) were being used for purposes other than promoting the soft drink by people who had nothing to do with the brand.

For the past year or so, Facebook has been cracking down on the phenomenon. Although many fake pages still exist, several others have been rooted out. So have the fake profiles often recruited to "like" fake pages.

The problem that businesses face today is not a wholesale theft of their identity but theft of parts of it—just enough to cause reputation issues. Clothing sites that have had their photos ripped off by the Chinese sites are now linked to those sites, if not electronically then at least by association. Customers who order knockoffs from fraudulent pages and end up with inferior merchandise now may create an unfavorable opinion of the genuine brand.


Another danger, known as freebooting, has gotten a lot of attention in recent months.

In a freebooting scam, Facebook users take YouTube videos that don't belong to them and post them on their Facebook page as their own to fill it up with content.

Because of the way Facebook handles video, users have an incentive to download a YouTube video and upload it directly to Facebook. That hurts the income stream of owners of the video on YouTube, which pays them per view, unlike Facebook. (Facebook users who have seen the video are less likely to click on it again when they come across it on YouTube.)

A company that uses YouTube to spread its message could find its videos hijacked, spreading someone else's message on someone else's Facebook page. Facebook recently released a tool to allow content owners to keep track of their property, but freebooting is still a major problem.

There are hundreds of stories online about stolen logos, website designs, images, sketches, blog posts, and anything else that moves online being purloined by someone else.

Protecting yourself

Many advice pages cover the importance of copyrighting content, registering logos, watermarking photos, and other protective measures. All those are important steps, but they are unlikely to prevent theft.

Most content thieves figure the Internet is big enough that their victim won't be able to track them down.

Even when a victim discovers his or her cyber-tormenter, the wheels of cyber-justice turn slowly. Getting platforms, ISPs, or law enforcement to take action against offenders is often like pulling teeth. Moreover, cases are often difficult to prove, as pirates often change things just enough to get by plagiarism laws.

But there are still things a business can do to protect itself.

The first step is realizing that content is likely to be stolen.

Content on Facebook and other social media platforms needs to be as dense as possible and tied up with the name of the brand as much as possible.

For example, videos should prominently feature the name of the company and its website in as many scenes as possible. (The name doesn't have to be at the center of each video frame but should be noticeable.) Images, too, should include identifying information likely to be annoying to scammers, reducing the likelihood that they will bother stealing it.

Another tactic is to involve putting together elaborate presentations, consisting of images, videos, infographics, and more, that are part of a single "unit." The combination of elements and media make it difficult to pull something out for pirating purposes.

For example, if a cyber-crook has to resort to image, graphic, and video editing to extract the image of a model wearing a dress to sell his or her "discounted" version (which doesn't even look like the one in the stolen image!), the cyber-crook is more likely to search for lower-hanging fruit.

Protecting your content is like protecting a car from being stolen (with the assumption that car thieves are going to target nice vehicles). What can owners of such vehicles do?

Make stealing your content as difficult as possible. The more alarms, codes, wheel locks, etc. that a car thief has to go through, the more likely the thief is to turn his or her attention to another vehicle.

The same is true for Web content. The harder cyber thieves have to work for content, the less likely they are to steal it.

Make them work for it.

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image of Motti Nisani

Motti Nisani is CEO of emaze, a leading online presentation software for businesses.

LinkedIn: Motti Nisani