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The Facebook-Novum

Intro (by me – Karsten): Second part of the crowdsourcing experiment made by the german blogger Sascha Lobo regarding what he deemed as suspicious fast growth of a political fanpage. First part in english can be found here. Original in german is here: part 1, part 2.

tl, dr: The Facebook page ”Wir wollen Guttenberg zurück” has after my estimations largely true fans.

The ”Call for crowd action” last Friday has found a surprising uptake from the community: in addition to more than 900 comments there where close to 100 emails with all sorts of clues, from quasi professional data analysis up to pure speculations. Several scripts have been written to tracks the number of fans of the Guttenberg-page, some of them from before the call to action, and there has been a very, very extensive datacollection. Big thanks to all who participated.

First to the methods described in the main article – the collection of screenshots was made obsolete by the scripts, which where implemented early and got in-depth data collection for the growth graph of the fanpage. The second method was with certain assumptions which where not bullet-proof but deemed good enough to make some analysis. In fact if you look at the numbers from the second method, which can be deemed a good estimate just because of the sheer volume of contributers, the proportion of Guttenberg fans is alot smaller then expected – sometimes significantly smaller. One possible explanation for this is even more interesting than any tools with which you can control fake profiles: Maybe this scandal has resultet in Guttenberg drawing people to Facebook which were not there before – and a whole lot of them in fact. The numbers of social Bakers, a statistics service mostly for Facebook, which even if not being perfectly precise, points to an larger increase in the numbers of newcomers to facebook in the end of february then any previous occassion.

But the many contributions that have been made by the crowd have contributed to some interesting insights. Some selected people can be found below as part of the evaluation, many others will go unmentioned – but thanks to all the participations I now have come to the clear opinion: I think the majority of the fans of the fanpage are genuine. I have no evidence, and of course it is possible that I am mistaken. But there are strong facts – strong enough for me – that would indicate the authenticity:

Fact #1
The main argument for that it is real growth is that there seems to be an absolutely normal growth curve. The Twitter user @scytale and @marekventur have compared the data of the fanpage growth with those of the page of the show ”Germany’s Next Top Model” – and also with the growth data of the Page to Guttenberg. Here are the very telling results: 

Fact #2
Facebook has at my request dug into the data and found:

”[…] There may be fakes here and there – but not en masse”.

There have always been known shortcomings of Facebook, also technical ones. For example, I have often gotten spam-or worm-like activities sent to me by methods described in this article: ”Devious ways to get Facebook Likes”. Theoretically, this principle would also be technically possible in the Guttenberg page. But – it is hardly likely that this would remain unnoticed on this scale. Just as it is possible to make the mistake of copying two thirds of a doctoral thesis without realizing it, there may be several hundred thousand Facebook users who become fans, without realizing it. But it is hardly likely. However despite these and other shortcomings of Facebook it must be said that they often are quick to respond in the case of fake accounts. The creation of fake profiles is possible, but far from trivial. Even more difficult would it be to fake six-digit numbers of profiles so that the technicians of Facebook – who on a every day basis have to deal with fakes – do not recognize it.

Fact #3 
The journalist Marcus Black of the newspapper Rheinzeitung got an admin access by the fanpage creator, and has taken a look into the internal Facebook insights. There are detailed statistics – both for interactions as for traffic from sources like Twitter – sufficient proof that the majority of page visitors are real.

Of course there remain inconsistencies. Of course there are individual accounts that are clearly fakes. Of course it is possible that scammers for whatever reasons, jumped on the train. For example to generate traffic with postings of repetitive nature for dubious sites. Looking at the comments on the Wall of the fanpage it could be assumed that alot of the people there are, to put it nicely, more easily convinced of clicking on more obvious clicktraps. And of course, is not known whether or not as the first ten thousand fans were faked for the page, to give a boost. But would it really matter, for example, if 100,000 of the nearly 600,000 fans were fakes?

The most important and Fact #4 of the authenticity of the fanpage is the evolution of the digital society in Germany itself. About 20% of the population or 17 million Germans are on Facebook*. It stands to reason that it is now a reasonably balanced cross-section of society. Of course with a tendency to younger, more progressive, socially minded people. But only with the tendency. It is undisputed that Guttenberg was a mass-media phenomenon. He was a person who resonated with people, of which it is somehow thought that they were exactly as they presented themselves on the fan page. Vigorously and intelligently this was analyzed by the Twitter user @haekelschwein in a comment to the blog netzpolitik.org. The former defense minister has had social media growth better compared with that of Justin Bieber rather then other politicians. Fittingly therefor in describing this phenomenon are references to a pop star. Guttenberg resonated with fans and followers – even if they often could not mention even one thing he stood for politically – mainly because he was aesthetic and emotionaly judged, not political. For his hair gel more than his political substance. But no one would become suspicious if a pop star like Dieter Bohlen in a few days had gathered half a million fans, everyone would have thought that possible – and blamed the irrational and flimsy nature of human beings.

And therein lies the key to this curiosity: as enlightened netizen it did not fit our picture that more then half a million people under the present fraud accusations and scandals surroudning mr Guttenberg would actively support his coming back to office – and at the same time be active on the web, which was considered somehow a more progressive and liberal part of society. Until now. If I would have found similar strong evidence that there were alot of fake fans, I probably would not have hesitated calling ”fraud”. But sometimes the facts fit not your picture, but yet they are correct.

The digital march of half a million people for Guttenberg shows one thing: for years you have been wondering when, apart from mail and online banking, when the people would finally arrive on the real web. And now that time is here.

Outro: *In Germany for a long time Facebook has had troubles growing, because of the strong precens of StudiVZ – a german social network (just as LinkedIn has troubles because of Xing, which originated in Germany).
Just as last post this post has been made possible thanks to contentor.de, which I am involved in.

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