Politics

Pro-Obama Commenters Astroturf White House Facebook Page

A small group of pro-President Barack Obama commenters dominated conversation on the White House Facebook page during the last five years, according to a data analytic firm’s examination of 3.6 million posts by more than 515,000 unique profiles.

The firm’s analysis and a Daily Caller News Foundation investigation suggest digital astroturfing may have been behind many of the most frequent commenters. “Astroturfing” refers to efforts aimed at creating the appearance of more public support than actually exists for an individual, institution, program or proposal.

Twenty-four percent of the 3.6 million comments on the page since 2010 were posted by only 250 profiles.

The percentage of comments during 2011 and 2012 by the same 250 profiles zoomed to 42 percent leading up to the 2012 election in which Obama won a second term, according to the data compiled by Tyson’s Analytics and reviewed by TheDCNF.

The 16 most frequent commenters on the page generated 5 percent of all comments over the five-year period, and 11 percent of all comments over 2011 and 2012. The frequency of their comments plummeted after the 2012 election.

TheDCNF found many of the top profiles were linked to Facebook accounts with just the commenter’s name listed as a friend or only a small handful of names of purported friends.

A profile with the name Richard Graham commented more than anyone else on the page since 2011 — 18,129 times. His comments were virulently anti-Republican, even calling GOP supporters “Nazis.” On the day before Obama’s second inauguration, Graham posted “four more years of justice and prosperity. Forward!”

The second most frequent commenter was a profile under the name Roger Aldi. Aldi posted more than 17,800 comments on the page. Only one friend is named on the Aldi profile, and the Aldi profile’s only visible posts are an updated cover photo of a horse, and a profile picture of a man riding a horse.

George Sharp, the third most frequent commenter, was associated with nearly 15,000 comments praising Obama and his policies. The Sharp profile lists another “George Sharp” as a friend. The first Sharp profile picture is a “Jungle Book” image, and the second Sharp has no profile picture.

Similar patterns were seen among the rest of the most frequently commenting profiles. The profile associated with Lisa Burnette, for example, posted thousands of comments during the five years, but lists only 18 friends and has no profile picture of her own.  

The profile linked to Carol Duke posted thousands of comments on the White House page and has a Hillary Clinton image as its profile picture. Many of this profile’s posts were unusually lengthy, often seemed pre-crafted and always promoted Obama’s policies. Many of the comments were time-stamped only a minute apart.

The profile associated with Justin Cook, another frequent commenter on the page, appears to have a second profile. Justin Cook is friends with another Justin Cook.

Many of the top commenters are also Facebook friends with each other, and often like and defend each other’s remarks, TheDCNF has observed.

None of the top 10 commenters responded to repeated requests for comment by TheDCNF via telephone or Facebook messaging. The White House press office also did not respond.

It’s against Facebook terms of service for a user to have more than one profile, and profiles are supposed to be in the user’s real name.

“You will not provide any false information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission,” Facebook’s terms read. “You will not create more than one personal account.”

Not all of the most prolific profiles on the page are pro-Obama. Carolyn Parker’s profile, for instance, is linked to pro-Donald Trump posts.

The White House Facebook page wouldn’t be the first time unusual activity was seen on an Obama-connected social media page.

The Washington Times reported in late 2014 that 60 percent of the comments on the Obamacare Facebook page between September, 2012, and October, 2014, originated from fewer than 100 Facebook profiles, based on an analysis from Tysons Analytics.

The top 25 commenters all followed a pattern of posting between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Organizing for Action, Obama’s political action committee-turned nonprofit advocacy group, ran that page.

The New York Times in 2012 reported that up to 70 percent of the president’s 19 million followers at the time were fake. The NYTimes used the social media analyzing tool StatusPeople to reach that figure.

“Fake accounts tend to follow a lot of people but have few followers,” Rob Waller, a founder of StatusPeople, told the NYTimes. “We then combine that with a few other metrics to confirm the account is fake.”

Top 10 White House Facebook page commenter profiles’ number of posts between Jan. 1, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2015:

1. Rich Graham: 18,129
2. Roger Aldi: 17,802
3. George Sharp: 14,988
4. Scott Trent: 12,499
6.Fausto Cettolin: 11,895
7. Carolyn Parker: 11,682
8. Charles Blanton: 10,993
9. Carol Bardin: 10,685
10. Demera Barger: 10,508

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Jonathan Haggerty, Jacqueline Thomas and Elena Weissmann contributed to this report.

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