Decreasing Fans, a Facebook Security Breach or a Major Bug?

by Eric Pena on April 27, 2010


Update: Sen. Noynoy Aquino has since then been proclaimed as President-Elect by garnering 43% of the total votes cast, leading his closest rival by more than 5.7 million votes. A Facebook representative, Simon Axten, insists that they didn’t find anything out of the ordinary and continues to maintain that it was a result of a normal un-fanning of the page. Wow!

Sen Aquino's Facebook Fan Page before it was taken offline. Click to read the status update.

The Philippine presidential elections is 13 days away and the passionately inflamed political campaign in these summer months has spilled online, particularly in the popular social networking site, Facebook. Following the highly successful Obama online campaign playbook, leading presidential candidates have pitched virtual recruitment centers online where their success or failure are honestly and legitimately displayed on Facebook’s fan counter—until something caused one candidate’s numbers to rapidly decline for unknown reasons.

Rapidly decreasing Facebook fan numbers

On April 23, 2010, the leading presidential candidate, Sen Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, registered his biggest FB lead over his bitterest rival, the multi-billionaire businessman and politician Sen Manny Villar, by 105,487 fans, raising his total to 1,358,134, the biggest among any Philippine politician and the second largest Facebook fan page by a Filipino. Both these men are serious in winning the battle on the ground and in cyberspace and has spent big bucks in television and online advertisements including FB ads—that must have contributed greatly to Facebook’s bottom line.

However, the seven months continuous increase of Sen Aquino’s FB fans suddenly spiralled downward after a spike of 25k fans the day before (attributed to a new FB video ad).

The graph shows removed fans outnumbering new fans after a spike the day before supposedly from a new video ad.

The number of FB fans lost in 24 hours is estimated to be around 16,500 fans. Previously, the fan page was averaging around 12k new fans a day and often makes it to PageData’s Top Gainers Leaderboard.

PageData Leaderboard on April 4, 2010

The cause of the decline is still unknown and is being investigated by Sen Aquino’s New Media Bureau. A changed of Admin accounts and passwords proved to be futile however. Frantic calls and emails to Facebook remains unanswered. This forced the Admin of the fan page to temporarily¬†unpublish the¬†site to prevent further unwanted removal of fans; closing one major avenue of support in the final stretch of the campaign, giving his rivals an unexpected (or expected) advantage.

From a member of Sen. Aquino’s New Media Bureau:

The fan page of leading presidential candidate in the Philippine election – Sen. Benigno Aquino III, encountered some serious security breach. Admins of the fan page believe it was hacked, possibly by techies from Sen. Aquino’s rvial camps. It could, however, be a simple glitch with the introduction of the “like” feature and other new plug-in APIs of Facebook.

Either way, it has serious implications for Senator Aquino’s campaign. He has over 1.35 Million fans in FB, the highest among all the candidates. And this is one of the primary channels by which he communicates to his supporters. With only 13 days left before election, he loses the ability to rally his supporters. Worse, the rival camp has put up a Sen. Aquino look-alike fan-page, with malicious intents to deceive his supporters.

The senator’s admins are frantic. They reported the incident to Facebook, but have not received any response since this happened during the weekend. This is one instance where you wish Facebook has a hotline you can call instead of just an email address. To some, Facebook has become more than just a social networking tool. It has become an important part of doing business, or in this case – running a political campaign.

So, is this a case of a security breach from a Facebook security flaw or a new major bug that could cause FB advertisers promoting their fan pages to lose money down the drain?

Facebook needs to look into this immediately especially for those who are paying them to build their fan page community.

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