Social Slipups: The Case of Anthony Gemma's Mysterious Followers

Social media, if used correctly, can be an invaluable political tool, with the power to raise awareness, spread targeted messaging, and mobilize voters to rally behind a cause, an issue, or a candidate. Many candidates have discovered the beauty of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Google+, creating and populating their profiles in ways that reflect their political ideologies. Politicians can use their Facebook as a channel of communication with their constituents. Political organizations can create events, spread awareness, and fundraise using platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Candidates can reach their target audience – voters – and encourage them to participate in upcoming elections. But attaining success in the social media realm is not always easy, and as technology advances, there are bound to be some slipups. That’s where we come in. While we’re all for spotlighting the innovative and creative users of social media in politics (see yesterday’s post), we’re also on the look out for social media blunders, Twitter gaffes, and Facebook faux pas. That’s why we’re creating a weekly series called “Social Slipups,” where each Friday, we’ll be profiling one politician, political figure, organization, or candidate who has committed one of the social media sins.

So to start off the series, we’re focusing on Democratic congressional candidate Anthony Gemma’s suspicious jump in the social media ranks. Buying fake friends on Twitter pretty much tops my list of “Twitter Worst Practices”, especially if you are running for office. That’s why Anthony Gemma’s meteoric rise in Facebook and Twitter followers, and refusal to explain how he gained such a large number of followers in such a short amount of time, warrants a closer look.

Let’s begin with Facebook. He started off the year with around 3,141 Facebook fans. For a candidate who has never held office before, that’s a decent number. During the month of February, this number leaped to 107,614 and now nears 530,000. Half a million people have liked his liked his Facebook Page in the last 6 months. Politico points out, that’s “10 times more fans than the number of votes he received in his 2010 primary loss to Cicilline.”

Could it be because of the elusive “Fans Only Area” with a tempting icon of a house that’s attracting thousands of users to “like” his page? Or maybe it’s the heart-felt call to action situated right below his profile picture, urging his fans to “please suggest this page to all of your family and friends”.

Something else suspicious: With 528,296 fans on his Facebook Page, his posts receive incredibly low levels of engagement.

Take this status update, posted yesterday.

This seemingly inspiration and honest post, in which he included a direct call to action, only received 16 likes. To put this into perspective, that’s 0.003% of his total fans on Facebook. Now, it’s unlikely that every single Facebook fan will like any given post from a politician’s Facebook Page, let alone a candidate, but this is an unusually low percentage. With over 500 thousand supporters on the largest social network, we should expect more than 16 likes within 22 hours of posting the message.

What’s more, most of his Facebook fans aren’t even from Rhode Island, let alone the United States. The majority of his Facebook likes come from Bangkok, Krung Thep, Thailand. By the way, this information is completely open to everyone.

Moving on to Twitter. During the same month his Facebook page ballooned, his Twitter account, @AnthonyGemma, welcomed more than 400,000 new followers. His account now has close to one million followers, 965,896 to be exact. According to Michael Hussey, CEO of PeekAnalytics, a social media research firm, “fewer than 1 percent of Gemma’s Twitter followers are based in Rhode Island, but 14 percent are in Canada,” reports Politico.

“This is a Rhode Island politician,” Hussey said. “Why would a Rhode Island politician who nobody knows outside of the Providence metropolitan area have 2 percent of his followers from London or 3 percent to the state of Georgia?”

So how could the Rhode Island congressional candidate amass almost 1 million Twitter followers, passing the likes of Governor Mitt Romney, House Speaker John Boehner, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

We’re not accusing Anthony Gemma of buying followers. There must be a reasonable explanation for the addition of 400,000 Twitter followers and over 100,000 Facebook fans in the month of February, right?

His campaign refused to clarify, with campaign spokesman Alex Morash writing via email, “The campaign does not comment on our social media strategy.”

Anthony Gemma is up against Congressman David Cicilline, the Democratic incumbent of Rhode Island’s 1st congressional district. And while a Democrat will likely win the seat, the September primary will one of the closest House races of 2012.