Tea Parties, Facebook, and Astroturf in the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Race

I should have known better. I do this kind of stuff for a living. But sometimes even I take a quick look at something and make false assumptions based on what is quickly available.

Yesterday The Bull Elephant called shenanigans on Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman claiming the endorsement of the Loudoun County Tea-Party:

That couldn’t be further from the truth. The page he refers to is a fake Loudoun Tea Party page, one that was set up to in 2011 solely to endorse Chapman for Sheriff. It’s a virtual Tea Party page only, it has no members and it has no meetings. It has no affiliation with the real Tea Party of Loudoun County, the group that meets in Loudoun on the second Tuesday of the month and is chaired by Dr. Daniel Brubaker.

There are two Facebook pages for Loudoun County Tea Parties.

One did indeed endorse Chapman for Sheriff, the LoudounCounty Tea-Party with 4723 likes.

The other has not endorsed, the Tea Party of Loudoun County with 82 likes (up from 30 yesterday afternoon).

There’s some debate on which group is the “real” Tea Party but that may go no where – there can be more than one Tea Party group for a locality.

The question then becomes one of legitimacy. Mainly, can the LCTP be viewed as a reliable, trusted source of information and endorsements that reflects the Tea Party and informs the public in general?

Many people look at 4700 likes and stop right there. That’s a lot of likes. But likes alone do not tell the full story of a Facebook page and the people behind it. Likes can be bought. Quantity alone is a false metric. Quality matters as well – what kind of engagement does the page have with its audience.

And the answer for LCTP is not very much.

Their most recent posts concerning the endorsement and attacking The Bull Elephant each pull a max of 21 total engagements (likes, shares, comments). That’s less than one half of a percent of the page’s total likes. Until recently, the page had very few posts in the last two years, and among those the engagement was in the single digit if it was above zero at all. Very few posts, if any, break above the 0.5% engagement rate.

The page also raises red flags in lacking any information about the group, any contact information, or even a single name of a person behind or driving the page’s content.

This page reeks of astroturf. It’s not the first instance of online shenanigans coming up in the sheriff’s race, but it certainly stands out when a campaign wants to wrap its arms around it. This is not to say the Chapman campaign can’t claim the endorsement. Clearly they got it. But I’d hope a campaign would do more to find out who is behind a group endorsing them to ensure legitimacy and even just to cover their own tails. Anonymous endorsements carry pitfalls that any campaign should be weary of.

Now, the TPofLC Facebook page is new. Honestly, it looks like it was built in response to the existence of the LCTP page. But they link to a website with more information, they have regular meetings, you can find names and faces. It at least is giving the appearance of legitimacy. LCTP fails on all points.

I don’t know the history, perhaps the LCTP was at one point the genuine deal and there was a split, or someone at some point saw an easy way to build a ready made audience for whatever on down the line. But as it stands now, the page looks illegitimate and its viewpoints are suspect and should be taken with a grain of salt.


2 thoughts on “Tea Parties, Facebook, and Astroturf in the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Race

  1. The website the TP of LC links to, is that the single page with a single event that, as of this morning, was still listed as TBD? it’s updated now with a location.

    That page was created as a site in 2010, and just updated a couple months ago.

    It would seem the astroturfing was actually done by the candidate and some fellow campaigners:
    http://firewallnova.com/2015/04/the-sheriff-versus-the-puppets/

    They don’t call it “LoCo” for nothing.

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