Democrat Steve Pestka, who is running for a seat in Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District, has seen a remarkable surge in his social media popularity in the past two weeks. His Facebook page, which had around 1,000 “likes” at the start of May rounded out the month with over 7,500, wrote Electablog.
Though the campaign has denied purchasing Facebook followers outright, the demographics of Pestka’s supporters certainly point to fishy dealings. Pestka seems to be most popular among 13-17 year-old males, and individuals from Israel.
Campaign spokesman Steve Coon responded to accusations of purchasing Facebook support by saying, “There were some nontargeted general Facebook ads run in support of Steve Pestka’s campaign and that practice has ended.”
The practice of purchasing online support is certainly not a novel one. Facebook and Twitter scam-helpers abound on the internet, with sites such as increaselikes.net, usocial.net, and intertwitter.com promising deals such as “Get 200 likes for $12.99 or your money back.”
“I believe it happens and it’s mostly out of the desire to have numbers, even if they’re fake, to show you have momentum,” said Kombiz Lavasany, a new media consultant and former Democratic National Committee staffer.
Though Lavasany does not know the specifics of Pestka’s particular case, he said that the practice of purchasing social media support is definitely prevalent in politics, with candidates followed by large numbers of empty Twitter accounts.
But the Michigan case also demonstrates how easy it is for fakery to backfire.
“This shows how a simple data analysis can bust claims of an organic "surge" in support—simply by looking at the stats Facebook publicly makes available,” said Patrick Ruffini, a Republican Party new media strategist and president of Engage. “With anyone able to spend money to get likes, the real number we need to be looking at is engagement—how many likes or shares does an average post get? If someone has thousands of likers, but no one is liking the content they put up, that's a sure sign their support is a mile wide and an inch deep.”