After a 20-year IT career spent keeping the digital bad guys out of the corporate networks I managed, I’ve developed a sharp sense of when something digital isn’t right. Readers of my blog have seen me put this ability to use against phone scam artists, hapless former Nigerian kings, phishers, and other digital vermin.
When I spot something unusual, I am driven to find out as much about it as I can. I enjoy the challenge of uncovering online crooks, exercising my online sleuthing skills to get answers. Something big and unusual caught my attention last week; something no one else seems yet to be talking about.
I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t care if I’m the only one to see that the emperor has no clothes. If I am truly convinced that everyone else is missing the truth, I must, must be bold enough to say so. I can’t ignore it. It’s just part of my personality.
With that in mind, let me state this clearly and concisely: Mitt Romney is manipulating his social media numbers. How do I know this? Because Romney’s campaign picked the wrong guy to manipulate.
I returned Wednesday night from one of my many meetings to suddenly find updates from Mitt Romney’s campaign in my Facebook feed. Thinking that Facebook had implemented some new sort of “promoted status!” similar to one of my unfavorite features of Twitter, I went about deleting these updates from my news feed and didn’t think much about it.
After deleting the third or fourth update, though, I began to suspect something else was going on. Clicking over to the Mitt Romney Facebook page, I was aghast to see that I was listed as a “fan” of the page!
Wait, what? I support Obama. Grudgingly at times, yes, but still.
It being late and my mind a bit fogged with India pale ale, I wracked my brain to figure out how this could’ve possibly happened. I’m an expert in network security and know not to click on bogus links. Could I have been somehow tricked? The change had been made sometime Wednesday evening, since that’s when I first saw Romney’s updates in my feed. I certainly couldn’t recall anything that I could’ve done to make this happen.
My next thought was that someone or something had used my laptop to make the change. It’s true I met with a group of people in a small room that night but each person had his own laptop and mine never left my sight. Could someone there possibly have used my laptop to make the change when I might have had a moment of distraction?
I then remembered Facebook’s Activity Log, which shows users everything they’ve ever done with the service. Every post, every comment on a link, every picture tagged, everything. All activity since one’s Facebook account was created gets put into this log. Fine, I thought. The Activity Log will list this digital transgression and I will know when and where it was that it occurred.
Only there was no such record in the Activity Log. The hundreds of other Facebook pages I’ve ever liked appear in the log but not the Mitt Romney one!
Now the digital sleuth in me began to get very interested! Facebook says I like Mitt Romney’s page but I don’t and never did and Facebook can’t tell me when it happened. If I clicked like on Romney’s page by mistake (or on purpose), fine: show me when I did. If my laptop was used without my permission to make the change, fine: show me when I did. If my account got hacked to make the change from elsewhere, fine: show me when I did.
But Facebook can’t do that. It doesn’t show me ever liking the page. I can only conclude that the change must have taken place outside of Facebook’s usual channels.
In other words, someone or something appears to be secretly manipulating Facebook accounts to boost the popularity of Mitt Romney’s Facebook page.
I searched for some way to alert Facebook staff, trying to rule out any unseen stupidity on my part, but finding any direct way of contacting Facebook people is damn near impossible. I opted for posting a question in Facebook’s help forum. If Facebook didn’t answer perhaps other users would, and at least confirm that I’m not the only one seeing this.
Soon after, I got a response from another user:
“The same thing happened to me and a few other people I know.”
Ok, perhaps I’m on to something here. Another search turned up these responses from users, all of which show the same thing happening to them. There’s this one:
“A couple of my fb friends “Like” Mitt Romney. For some reason, each day, I’m getting a newsfeed entry from one or the other of these friends that “XXX likes Mitt Romney” and it includes a recent Mitt Romney facebook post. However, these newsfeed entries don’t appear in either friends’ timelines at all.
I didn’t know that a page that you “liked” could spam your friends’ newsfeeds like this. Is this allowed? If so, how can I tell if a page that I “like” is spamming my friends?”
… and this one:
“I definitely don’t “Like” Mitt Romney (to put it mildly) and do not want his face popping up on my fb page. This is totally uncool. How can this be prevented?”
People who don’t like Mitt Romney are being added to his Facebook page without their knowledge and permission. I found a handful of them in just a few minutes of searching, but how many more are there? How many fans of Mitt Romney’s Facebook page actually chose to be there and how many have been unwillingly added like I was?
Last night I discovered a post from The Centrist Word blog that strongly suggests that Mitt Romney has been artificially boosting his social media following using bogus accounts. The unusual growth curve of his Facebook followers seems to support these claims. What I have to add is that perhaps these aren’t just bogus accounts that are boosting his page but the accounts of unwitting, real users, too.
Social media is a very powerful influencer. When your Facebook friends see that you’ve put your digital stamp of approval on something, they are more likely to approve of it, too. Secretly manipulating a user’s account to like Mitt Romney’s Facebook page is the 21st-century equivalent of surreptitiously planting a political sign in their yard. It’s wrong and unethical, but it does appear to be happening.
I can’t abide cheating. Nothing makes me madder, and cheating is exactly what Mitt Romney’s campaign appears to be doing.
See the following links for background:
- Facebook virus forces me to “like” Mitt Romney
- Email to Facebook
- More Mitt Romney Facebook hijacks
- Centrist Word: Mitt Romney Campaign Busted Buying Hundreds of Thousands of Facebook LIKES and Twitter Followers
Update Sept. 28: I renamed this post today from http://www.markturner.net/2012/08/25/is-romney-manipulating-his-social-media-numbers to “Did Mitt Romney hack my Facebook account?” because it’s more accurate. I don’t know if this will make it disappear in the search results/links but it’s possible.
Update 2 Nov: Bobby Calvan’s article in The Boston Globe is the best media account yet of the Hacked by Mitt Romney phenomenon. Go read it!