Did Los Angeles use fake likes on its Facebook page to boost its chances for the #OlympicGames2024?

| April 4, 2017 | 0 Comments

With France and Los Angeles both in the bidding for the 2024 Olympic Games, suspicions have been raised in by Le Figaro in France that the LA bid cooking the books with fake Facebook ‘likes’ and fake followers on Twitter, writes James Drew.

With the International Olympic Committee’s final decision on the 2024 Olympic Games fast approaching, Paris and Los Angeles, the two cities left in the running, have upped their game trying to win the hearts and minds of the judges. Tony Estranguet, the leader of Paris’ bid, has recently said that he can “100% guarantee” that no bribes will be accepted or offered before the final decision is reached on September 13. The reason for this seemingly bizarre claim stems from the allegations of corruption that are surrounding Tokyo’s successful bid for the 2020 Olympics. French authorities are now investigating payments to a secret bank account that are alleged to have ensured Tokyo’s winning bid.

Not to be undone, the Los Angeles team has brought a string of stars on board to lobby the IOC – Dr. Dre, Magic Johnson and LA Lakers owner Jeanie Buss headlined a group of nominees for the city’s Board of Directors. But that’s not the only trick up LA’s bid: according to reports that have surfaced in French media, the organizing team has allegedly used the services of fringe web companies to artificially boost the number of likes of its Facebook page and increase its follower base on Twitter.

Indeed, the Facebook page of the sole American city left in the running has gained more than 800,000 likes in the past three months, a whopping surge of support. In January, the Americans had 200,000 fans. As of April 4th, it has 1,038,857 supporters. What explains this sudden enthusiasm?

A team of digital snoops asked the same question and their results were startling. Most of the new 800,000 likes have overwhelmingly arrived from Africa and the Middle East, including from countries placed on Donald Trump’s infamous travel ban, such as Somalia or Libya. If in 2016, 96% of fans were based in the U.S. (202,000 fans) with Mexico (840 fans) coming in second place and Brazil (360 fans) in third, in April those numbers changed dramatically. While the U.S. retained its top spot with 222,000 likes, Bangladesh and Pakistan surged. Only 25% of likes are currently coming from within the US. To wit:

Bangladesh: from 83 fans in January to 104,165 fans in April

Pakistan: from 56 fans in January to 92,104 fans in April

Nepal: from 71 fans in January to 78,515 fans in April

A similar situation was found on Twitter: more than a fourth of LA’s followers were added in March, a boost of over 27,000 for an account created more two years ago. This sudden increase did not translate to more engagement: the number of engagements stayed roughly the same between January and April.

According to RTL, a popular French radio station, there is no doubt that Los Angeles bought the fans: “There are many people on the market who offer fans to buy, especially from African countries”, a social media expert quoted on the program said, before adding that “the committee in charge of the Los Angeles bid would have used a communication tool well known to large companies.” A cursory Google search will return hundreds of sites and companies claiming to provide thousands of followers for Facebook or Twitter.

This does not bode well for Facebook and Twitter, currently facing down accusations of enabling the spread of fake news, especially during the politically charged American election season. While Mark Zuckerberg announced this week that he will team up with Craigslist founder and journalism advocate Craig Newmark to fund a $14 million effort to counter fake news, the Facebook founder doesn’t seem too bothered by the spread of fake likes on its network. For the sake of his reputation, one would hope that further crackdowns are in the pipeline. At the end of the day, the surge in fake likes and followers for LA bid is unlikely to do much to garner the support of the IOC.

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Category: A Frontpage, EU, France, US

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