Did Michelle Rhee's education organization StudentsFirst buy thousands of Facebook "likes" from a click farm in Bangladesh?
Opponents of Rhee's "Ed reform" group — which has spent big money on state legislative and local school board elections in Tennessee — say yes, they did, in an attempt to inflate the movement's perceived popularity. StudentsFirst says the likes were indeed fraudulent, but that they didn't buy them. In fact, they suggest that their opponents might've bought the likes for the page, then called attention to them in an act of sabotage.
In other words, it's just another day on the education beat.
The allegations of fraudulent Facebook-ing emerged Wednesday, when a group called the Tennessee Momma Bears published what they found when they went looking into StudentsFirst apparent social media popularity. In short, they didn't believe there could possibly be that many people liking the group on Facebook.
"StudentsFirst's Facebook "likes" were bought from Bangladesh!!!" they write. As proof that this sort of thing can be done — and it absolutely can be done — they link to an example of such a place offering to sell hundreds of likes for your Facebook page.
The Momma Bears post was re-blogged by Diane Ravitch, an education commentator who is perhaps the most prominent opponent of Rhee and the movement she represents. Attention from Ravitch propelled the story into Education Twitter, a truly frightening place where you should not dare to tread.
StudentsFirst responded yesterday by posting a chart on Facebook that showed the number of likes they had paid for on the StudentsFirst Alabama page — the one that initially drew suspicion — in the last month, with the caption "Nice try."
In the comments of that post, the organization says "we didn't buy likes" and promises another statement soon. That follow up came Thursday evening, and it shed a little more light on who that "nice try" was aimed at.
We've received a few questions about recent, irregular activity on our Facebook pages, so we'll try to clear it up.
A few days ago, we spotted a dramatic & sudden spike of "Likes" on our StudentsFirst Alabama & national pages - specifically originating from Turkey & South Asia. This jump, over 1000 "Likes" in a day, was the clear action of a click/"Like" farm. As soon as we became aware, we reached out to Facebook to fix the problem.
With Facebook's help, on Wednesday we were able to eliminate the bulk of spammed "Likes" on our StudentsFirst Alabama page. We are continuing to work on cleaning away any remaining spam/click farm "Likes" from our Alabama and national pages.
We're still investigating why we were targeted and how some folks who oppose our education reform platform curiously brought attention to this issue within such a short time frame of it happening. We'll keep you posted as soon as we learn more.
In the meantime, let's all stay focused on the hard work of ensuring ALL kids have access to great schools and great teachers.
The possible explanations seem to be these:
A. StudentsFirst, an organization seen by many as an astroturf operation, paid for Facebook likes to strengthen the appearance of "grassroots" support for "reform."
B. StudentsFirst opponents, who see little, if any, good faith in the "reform movement" or groups like Rhees, buy or otherwise acquire the fraudulent likes for the StudentsFirst page in an act of sabotage, figuring the ends justify the means.
C. The StudentsFirst page was hacked or spammed in some way that had nothing to do with either side of the education debate.
D. LOTS of people in Bangladesh like StudentsFirst.
So, what have we learned? We don't know yet. But do like this post on your way out.