Social media: All that glitters is … what?

Fake followers, fans, friends on social mediaChances are, you haven’t heard of Anthony Gemma, and I hadn’t either. 

Unless you live in Rhode Island, that is.  Mr. Gemma is a businessman who’s running for U.S. Congress there. And despite the fact that he has yet to win his own political party’s primary, he has already amassed nearly 1 million Twitter followers.

That’s more followers than presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

According to various social media monitoring services, Gemma’s Twitter account added ~400,000 followers in February 2012 alone.

And how about this stunning statistic: Between January and February of this year, the number of friends on Mr. Gemma’s personal Facebook page jumped some 5,600% to nearly 170,000 people.

How is this possible? For clues, we can start by noting that Mr. Gemma has described himself as a “social media guru.” In addition to owning a regional plumbing business, he’s also headed up a concern called Mediapeel, which bills itself as a providing “media strategy advice” to companies.

And therein lie clues to the sudden surge of “interest” in Mr. Gemma and his Congressional campaign in the social media sphere.  One can only imagine the lengths to which Mr. Gemma and his campaign staff are going in order to show off the candidate’s “obvious” fame and notoriety.

But are Mr. Gemma’s social media followers for real? Or are they of the same ilk of the famed digital “Potemkin Villages” that have sprung up all over the Internet?

Consider a few telltale signs about Anthony Gemma and his fantabulous social media presence:

  • Fewer than 1% of Gemma’s Twitter follows are based in Rhode Island … but nearly 15% are in Canada. You’ll find another 2% from London, England, plus thousands of others from places all over the globe.  I’m not sure how far afield Mr. Gemma takes his regional plumbing business, but this geographic map is intriguing to say the least.
  • Gemma’s Twitter “fans” are an unusually  inactive bunch. On February 24, 2012 – the same day Mr. Gemma’s Twitter account picked up a tidy 87,000 new followers in one fell swoop – he asked his Twitter audience to retweet a photo. A whopping six people chose to do so.
  • Earlier this year, after the progressive organization Rhode Island’s Future questioned the validity of Mr. Gemma’s burgeoning bevy of Facebook friends and noted that the most popular origin of his friends, followers and fans was an unlikely location — Frankfurt, Germany — all of the names referenced in the RIFuture blog post mysteriously disappeared from Gemma’s social sites.  Interestingly, however, the most prevalent place of origin for Gemma’s personal Facebook page’s friends is another foreign city: Moscow.  I guess Mr. Gemma’s international interests range from the Germanic to the Slavic.

Although it’s impossible to know for sure, these signs suggest that there’s precious little “there there” when it comes to the extent of Mr. Gemma’s true social media footprint.

And in fact, just last week the political website Politico made the latest attempt to get to the bottom Anthony Gemma’s questionable social media presence.

Politico took note of this tweet from Mr. Gemma’s account, posted on July 24, 2012:  “Don’t add up your troubles, count your blessings. RETWEET to pass it on!”

Of Gemma’s nearly 1 million “followers”, only 17 did so.

And while one of them actually appears to be a Rhode Islander, the others include followers from Sydney, Calcutta, the Baltic States, Indonesia …

… But none from Potemkin Village.

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