Why Are So Many ‘Firpo for DA’ Facebook Fans from Bangladesh? (Updated)
Ryan Burns / Lost Coast Outpost / January 24, 2014
The race to become Humboldt County’s next district attorney appears to be wide open, especially with longtime incumbent Paul Gallegos out of the running. Four candidates have launched campaigns: Allan Dollison, Elan Firpo, Maggie Fleming and Arnie Klein.
Is there a frontrunner? Well, it’s early yet, but if you look at the candidates’ campaign pages on Facebook, Firpo appears to be in pole position. To date she has racked up 30 percent more ‘likes’ than Fleming, her nearest competitor.
And where is most of the Firpo support coming from? Check the infographic below.
Firpo appears to have gotten most of her support from Dhaka, Bangladesh, which, in addition to deadly factory collapses, is known as the international hub for “click farms.” These are shady operations where, as the Associated Press put it, “workers tap, tap, tap the thumbs up button, view videos or retweet comments to inflate social media numbers.” This Facebook astroturfing has reportedly grown into a $200 million-per-year industry, though the workers tapping keys earn as little as $120 per year.
Was Firpo’s page ‘turfed? Let’s look a little closer.
Fleming and Dollison are both most popular in Eureka, the county’s most populous city. Makes sense. Klein evidently has yet to earn enough likes to get a “Most Popular City” ruling. Facebook explains that the most popular city is “the city where most of the people talking about this page are from.”
Now check out the “New Likes Per Week” (the gray line in the graphs below). Firpo’s page had zero likes until the week of Jan. 6 through Jan. 12, roughly a month after the first post there. In that week she suddenly landed 341 likes. Five days later, the weekly running tally dropped like a rock, and since that precipitous fall, Firpo’s campaign page has received no more than 29 likes in a single week.
Compare that to the other candidate pages, where the trajectories are far less dramatic. The best single week for any page other than Firpo’s was Fleming’s Jan. 3 through Jan. 9, when she saw 122 new likes, a modest peak on a rounded slope. Neither Dollison nor Klein’s page has received more than 50 likes in any single week.
One of the people working on Firpo’s campaign, reportedly, is Richard Salzman, who has been known to employ creative means to achieve political goals.
We contacted Firpo to ask about her Facebook page’s South Asian seasoning and were told that the page is being managed by a Jaison Chand. We called and texted but have yet to hear back.
Now, we’ll be the first to admit that the algorithms and tubes of the Internet are way too complex for us to fully comprehend. There may well be a logical, completely above-board explanation for this. We’ll let you know if we figure it out (or have it explained to us).
UPDATE: We just heard back from Firpo campaign worker Jaison Chiand, who says he has no idea why Facebook would list so much Firpo activity coming from Bangladesh. He took the page off-line while he tries to figure it out. Chiand said the big boost in support came during the week when he and other campaign workers enacted “an all-out-blitz” of social media promotion.
As for Richard Salzman, Chiand said emphatically that he’s not the campaign manager; Salzman, he said, has been “at best loosely associated with the social media stuff.”
Chiand also speculated that someone outside the campaign could have paid for the likes and then contacted the media as a sabotage maneuver. Both he and Firpo say they’re looking into it, going through the people who have liked the page one by one.
“If there is a group of Bangladeshis we will take them off. That is all I can say,” Firpo wrote to us on Facebook.