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How Pirates Hijack Movie Studios’ Ad Campaigns on Facebook (Guest Column)

Movie studios are increasingly turning to social-media campaigns to showcase upcoming films like  “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which has drawn over 4.4 million to like the movie page on Facebook, where another 350,000 are talking about it as well.

But while DC Comics’ most powerful heroes battle it out with Lex Luthor in our news feeds, a real-life villain lurks in plain view — you just have to scroll down a bit.

The pirates are posting links to copyright-infringing streams and downloads in the comments section on Facebook pages, which are also filled with spam including chain letters, pornography, phishing, malware and hate speech.

By analyzing 120,000 comments on eight select films, BrandBastion found that one in 25 in the sample included harmful comments, exposing some 32 million fans. “Ride Along 2,” which was released this January, exhibited 1,139 harmful comments out of a 15,000 sample.

Some 31% of all the comments analyzed included links to what claimed to be a free version online of the release, as well as free streaming of “Batman v Superman” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” with the friendly invitation “Hey Guys…. TOOK ME HOURS TO FIND, FINALLY GOT THE LINK” and the assurance that it will “100% work.”

Some 3% of the comments that promised free streaming actually led to sites where this content was available. However small the audience may be, it is actually the pre-release piracy that does the greatest harm. A study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University found that on average pre-release piracy causes a 19.1 percent decrease in box-office revenue.

Some 62% of the piracy comments impersonated free streaming channels to acquire non-authorized credit card payments. On top of this, 19% also claimed free streaming, but really led to malware, adware and spyware, and a further 16% of free movie promises linked out to clickbait scams.

Spammers direct users to these illegal sites in order to profit from personal data, illegal subscription payments, referral links and malware. These money scams have become a growing phenomenon in online forums and are spreading quickly. These scams, while familiar to the seasoned torrent user, had previously never broken through to free media sites of this type.

As the pirates make themselves at home within the Facebook domain, the next-gen version of this scam targets the hundreds of thousands of publications that use embedded Facebook comments.

Buzzfeed, ESPN, and Huffington Post have all fallen victim to the scammers spreading malicious links. If Facebook’s enormous reach of 1.55 billion users wasn’t enough, some of the biggest publications are also in danger of facilitating the scam.

Facebook Help Center confirms that the experts are on the case, fighting this cybercrime. Facebook claims that various tools prevent a lot of this spam from ever surfacing, however the issue is still extensive, and as the pirates show no sign of surrender we can only expect this to increase.

According to Buzzfeed, Facebook says, “We use automated systems and dedicated teams to classify and catch malicious actors, and when we identify spam we enforce against it by banning fake accounts and pages, blacklisting bad links, and down-ranking spammy content.” The social-media giant also relies on help from the community to alert these teams to offensive or harmful content.

Of course, users can help themselves and avoid the links, but try telling a fifth of the global population that. There is lucrative profit to be made in movie piracy; one estimate says online streaming sites collectively make $227 million a year from advertising alone, and as long as people keep clicking they will keep finding new and creative ways to share this content.

So what about the movie studios — the hosts of their own worst enemies. How can they protect themselves? Unfortunately, to a large extent, their hands are bound. Keeping on top of this means moderating all content, and as the hackers find new channels, using developing technologies this becomes a mammoth task to manage.

As “Batman v Superman” hits theaters and social media activity feeds across the globe, keep in mind this spoiler alert: neither caped crusader can save us from this online crime wave.

Jenny Wolfram is the CEO and founder of BrandBastion, which protects brand reputation, ad performance and copyright on social media.

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