The news that our U.S. State Department has been purchasing fake Facebook “likes” leaves me hurting. What I feel is heartbreaking grief, akin to the loss of a loved one. You see, I still cling to the notion that the government of the United States is “my” government. So, when part of my government stoops so low, it is to me as if I have done this myself.
When profit-seeking businesses do underhanded things as part of their marketing efforts, I just write it off as a bane of the marketplace. There are truly good products and services out there, and there are shams and scams out there. The rule is, and I suppose always will be, “buyer beware”.
But I am both the buyer and the employer of the Department of State. They work for me, the taxpayer, attempting to promote peace and civility between my country and others in a time when very little is of as great a value to me as promoting world peace. The official description of the State Department’s function includes this.
The Department advances U.S. objectives and interests in shaping a freer, more secure, and more prosperous world through its primary role in developing and implementing the President's foreign policy.
What they say to the world population represents me and my values. And what they say is also meant to inform me, to show me how their efforts are paying off for the taxpayer.
So, what is the State Department doing or saying on my behalf that needs to be bolstered up by purchased “likes”? Who is it that these fraudulent positive reviews are meant to persuade and influence? Me, I think.
Case in Point
I don’t know if the Bureau of Consular Affairs, one of fifty-eight bureaus and offices within the U.S. Department of State, has purchased “likes”. (It is more likely that the Information Resource Management Office or Budget Planning Office actually disbursed the $630,000 spent to purchase “likes” for the State Department overall in 2013.) But at www.Travel.state.gov, the website for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the official overview of their activities (referenced below) shows that the Bureau of Consular Affairs doesn’t actually work on world peace. Its role is to help keep Americans safe abroad with useful, up-to-date information.
Part of the information in that overview is this -
Travel.state.gov – In FY 2012, there were 63.7 million unique visitors to our website. As of January 2013 @TravelGov had 289,000 Twitter followers and Facebook.com/TravelGov had more than 40,000 “likes.”
And today, on the same site, there is a post – “Fraud Warning - Diversity Visa Program Scammers Sending Fraudulent Emails and Letters.” The FAQs at the end of the post include these questions:
- How do I recognize fraudulent websites and emails?
- What is the purpose of these fraudulent websites and emails?
- How do I report internet fraud or unsolicited email?
I would ask:
- How do I know which of these “likes” are fraudulent?
- If “likes” are purchased, how can they matter to me?
Honest Government or Profit-Seeking Business?
But the overview also includes this –
In FY 2012, the Bureau of Consular Affairs generated approximately $3.14 billion in consular fee revenue, of which 78% ($2.45 billion) was retained by the Department of State and shared among its regional and functional bureaus. CA is almost entirely fee funded.
So, it turns out that this part of the U.S. Government doesn’t really work for me. Because I have allowed my government to become cash poor, its agencies have become no better than profit-seeking businesses who feel the need to resort to fraudulent “likes” in order to survive.
I recognize that my view of how our government works is simplistic and naive. But I don’t think many average citizens have a much better understanding of the “big business” of government than I do. I’m floored that one government agency can be generating $3.14 billion in fees in a year’s time. I can see that $630,000 is only a drop in that bucket.
My angst is not about the money. It is also not about political parties.
My gut-wrenching discomfort is this. I don’t want to be dishonest and I don’t want my government to be so. I do want to have the benefit of an honest “thumbs up” from others before I purchase a product or buy into a service. I don’t want to act like a lemming and accept information simply because umpteen thousand others have endorsed it.
And I probably won’t. After today, I carry a healthy dislike for “likes.”