Even when a click farm worker isn’t being roasted alive by their own machine, they’re living in a state of near-constant paranoia. “Managers would walk by and could see where you were on your list. You were required to shorten your internet window so a Word document on the side could be seen as you did each task. If you covered or removed it, you were fired.” Think Office Space, but with bosses who have an even lower regard for the value of human life than Bill Lumbergh.
“When I got home, I couldn’t use a computer. Not even TV some days. Watching a screen for that long, to look out and only see other screens, [I] felt trapped. I would stare out the window of my apartment or read. Working at my company ruined that for me.”
You Might Be Raided By The Government At Any Time
Click farms are borderline illegal in most countries, for any number of reasons: holding too many computers, holding too many SIM cards, participating in fraud — you know, the works. In the Philippines, lawyers said, “Potentially, a number of laws are being breached — the consumer protection and unfair trading regulations. Effectively it’s misleading the individual consumers.” So the potential for a government crackdown is always there. And Albert’s company had a plan for that.
“We had a fire escape plan, a flood plan, and we also had a government raid plan.” Those first two make sense, but the third is something you should only need in the kind of business that has a budget for rubber bands for money stacks.
“It’s not what you’re thinking, like destroying computers and shredding documents. The plan was, if the national police came, we needed to stay at our desks, not move, and comply with everything they said to do. What we were doing was legal, but laws were changing, and that could shift at any time.” Albert’s company skirted the line of outright illegality. They told their employees to comply with the police, but also told them not to save anything in order to avoid leaving a documentation trail.
“There was a smaller company here that did something wrong, and the police showed up there, but they could only get who their current assignments were, and a few that had been tracked through there, because they did what we did. That’s why you prepare.”
Weirdly enough, the major reason Albert’s company was at risk had nothing to do with people being burned by computers, going mad from a clickophany, or defrauding the internet with garbage content. “You need specific licenses for having what we had [i.e. rows and rows of computers]. We were told the license covered it, but after we added some more rows, that rule was mentioned more. We were somewhere in between being legal and illegal, I think.”
Ah, we know that territory well. We call it “sub-legal,” and our lawyers say that’s “really stupid.”
Companies Care More About Backlash Than Working Conditions
Corporations are happy to have their social media pages or videos go viral thanks to click farms. But nobody wants to be seen using them. Coca-Cola noted that they “did not approve of fake fans,” and made an ad video private after click farms helped it hit six million views. Albert definitely saw the impact of companies pulling out of deals when they realized click farms were being used.
“I’d come into work and settle down in front of the screen, to see the Word document in the corner, [which] would have [had] numbered tasks going ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5’ were now [going] ‘2, 4, 7, 9, 12, 13, 14’ because so many clicks of the day had been changed or pulled. [It was] almost always because they were caught. We didn’t even need to ask why after a while. Newer [farmers] would always ask, because they didn’t know. And the answer was, ‘A company pulled out because they found out we were being used,’ and then on with work. During the day, managers would occasionally come through saying, ‘Delete all Facebook-likes-This-Company tasks,’ because they were just cut.”
Albert didn’t want to say how much he made, exactly, but Thailand click farmers can make several thousand a month, while Bangladeshi click farm workers make as little as $120 a year. Nobody deserves to be on the internet for 12 hours a day, at any price. But at least one of the American companies that hired Albert’s click farm sent someone by to check out the conditions.
“I think he was a scout from a company to see what it was really like. It’s not the prettiest building, but it is hot. Instead of asking why it was hot (indoors, Philippine summer with thousands of computers overheating), he complimented us on how fast we were typing. I think that’s how he saw a happy worker — by how fast we were typing.” Hey, you know, some people see the glass as half full, some see it as overflowing with human sorrow. “That’s also how negative our jobs were. We knew we weren’t liked, but another company sent somebody to see what the conditions were like. You do that for sweatshops.”
Albert himself doesn’t think these places are sweatshops. While he has moved on to a newer, better, healthier career, he still doesn’t think there’s anything morally wrong with his old job. He’s frustrated when American companies pull their money at any hint of click farming. “You get upset, because you were duped into fake popularity. But for us, that’s food money we lost. We’ve seen the stories. People on Facebook are happy because they found out some company was using fake users to drive up numbers, but from our view, you’re cheering that we don’t get paid.”