Pre-Release Piracy Grows Across Facebook and Publications

Movie studios that use Facebook to promote upcoming films — such as “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which has 4.4 million likes on its Facebook movie page — have discovered a potent downside to the extra publicity. Pirates post links to copyright-infringing streams; spam includes chain letters, pornography, phishing, malware and hate speech. Illegal sites are harvesting personal data and running money scams and now targeting publications with embedded Facebook comments, including BuzzFeed, ESPN and Huffington Post.

Variety reports that BrandBastion analyzed 120,000 comments on eight films, and discovered that “one in 25 in the sample included harmful comments, exposing some 32 million fans.” For example, “Ride Along 2” displayed “1,139 harmful comments out of a 15,000 sample.”

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About 31 percent of the comments included links to purportedly free versions of the release, in addition to free streaming of “Batman v Superman” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” About 3 percent of these offers actually led to the promised content.

Carnegie Mellon’s research reveals that “on average pre-release piracy causes a 19.1 percent decrease in box-office revenue,” making this a serious issue for movie studios. Furthermore, says Variety, about 62 percent of these comments “impersonated free streaming channels to acquire non-authorized credit card payments,” 19 percent led to malware, adware and spyware, and 16 percent linked out to clickbait scams.

These kinds of scams are new to free media sites and, now they’re extending to “the hundreds of thousands of publications that use embedded Facebook comments,” including BuzzFeed, ESPN and Huffington Post. Facebook Help Center says that existing tools prevent much of the spam from reaching the site and that it is battling the cybercrime that appears.

“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,” explains Facebook.

What Facebook and the movie studios are up against is a very lucrative business, estimated at a collective $227 million a year from advertising for movie piracy. What can movie studios do? “Unfortunately, to a large extent, their hands are bound,” says Variety. “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.”