PMW FACEBOOK SCAM
Social Media Experts Decry Opponent’s Facebook Scam
Two social media experts who watch trends and monitor activity across multiple platforms and regularly comment and analyze both the best and worst of online behavior, today criticized Preserve Marriage Washington (PMW) for artificially inflating its Facebook fan base.
Yesterday, Washington United for Marriage revealed that there were four inexplicable and huge surges in PMW’s Facebook “likes” that corresponded with its favorite city displayed as originating in Asia or Northern Europe. For graphics illustrating the pattern as well as date stamped screenshots which show the spikes and the corresponding foreign cities, click here.
According to Anita Verna Crofts, associate director of University of Washington’s Master of Communication in Digital Media program, PMW’s tactics erode confidence in social media platforms.
“Virtual communities and causes that appear on social media platforms such as Facebook demand the same commitment to authenticity as place-based communities,” said Crofts. ”The practice of buying Facebook likes erodes trust with the public and in the case of advocacy-oriented initiatives, undermines the organization’s message.”
Beth Becker, the owner and strategist for Progressive PST, which consults with clients on online engagement, said while it is tempting to hype numbers on social media and it’s not all that difficult to do, it significantly erodes the ideal goal of genuine, online community engagement.
“Buying social media audiences is not difficult,” said Becker. “The problem is it’s fake, it’s inauthentic. People engage in social media to engage with people they know, people they’d like to know and organizations they support. At the end of the day, the number of likes a page has on Facebook is a pretty empty number. I call it the numbers fallacy. It has to be social, it has to be authentic and if an organization is not doing it, and creating a false environment, it’s simply not real.”
Opponent’s Facebook Scam: Sudden Spikes in “Like” Numbers, International “Favorite Cities” Suggest False, Inflated Fan Base
While Washington United for Marriage (WUM), the broad coalition working to defend the state’s marriage law and approve Referendum 74, has gradually and organically built its Facebook page to more than 52,000 fans or “likes”, lead opponents have taken the opposite route, apparently buying “likes” to create an inflated online community much larger than they actually have.
As the graphs shown here and below this release attest, Preserve Marriage Washington (PMW) had approximately 2,500 Facebook fans until late summer when its page exploded in numbers over just a few days. It would be the first of four such bursts, all of them linking to overseas locations. Also, accessed here are the screen shots of PMW’s Facebook page, which are time stamped and confirm a pattern of inexplicable spikes in its fan base.
The pattern began between Aug. 20 and 22, when PMW’s page received nearly 8,000 new “likes” and showed first, New York City and, finally, Makati, a city in the Philippines, as the “most popular city”. (Facebook defines this as “The city where most of the people talking about this Page are from”.) Almost overnight, PMW’s Facebook page skyrocketed to 10,427 fans.
Later that month, Facebook announced it was accelerating its efforts to remove fake fans and “likes” system-wide. Facebook reiterated they “do not and have never permitted the purchase or sale of Facebook Likes.” Shortly after that crackdown, PMW lost about 4,000 fans and their total page “likes” dropped down to approximately 6,100.
Apparently undeterred, sometime in the week of Sept. 17th, PMW’s page displayed 3,000 new “likes” or fans, with the most popular city listed as Chemnitz, Germany. Again, toward the end of September, another spike of 9,000 “likes” occurred. The most popular city for the page at that moment? Bangkok, Thailand.
On Sept. 27th, Facebook confirmed it was purging fake “likes” and the impact was reported widely around the world (see here, here and here). Around the same time, the daily average of new fans on PMW’s page dropped from several thousand to a few hundred.
Still, once again, in mid-October, PMW’s page gained a quick and easy 3,000 likes. As of Oct. 24, the most popular city on PMW’s Facebook page was Vilnius, Lithuania.
Overall, from mid-August to last week, PMW added 16,000 “likes”, all generated in a few, multi-day bursts, which coincided with the days the site was most popular in the Philippines, Germany, Thailand and Lithuania.
“It’s probably not surprising that the same group that distorts the truth and tries to confuse voters would go so far as to buy their supposed ‘grassroots’ fan base and violate the terms of Facebook,” said WUM campaign manager Zach Silk. “Clearly, our opponents don’t give a hoot about the truth. It’s just hard to believe that people in Southeast Asia or Northern Europe care all that much about Referendum 74 in Washington.”
###(High resolution images of the graphs and screen captures are available in a 3.7mb zip file. Contact Andy Grow if you’d like it sent to you.)
THE PATTERN OF PMW’S FACEBOOK SCAM
On Aug. 3, PMW had about 2500 “likes”. Then, in four separate spikes, with most activity coming from four international cities, PMW’s base shot up like a rocket. The chart below outlines the history and repetitive patterns. Continue scrolling and you will see screen shots of PMW’s Facebook page verifying the foreign cities and date stamped when the number spikes occur.
A Facebooker notes her skeptical reaction to the nearly overnight spike in new likes for PMW on a PMW comment thread on 08/21/12:
The comment no longer appears on the thread.