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State Dept. Bureau Spent $630k On Facebook 'Likes' 99

Posted by timothy
from the now-that-is-some-economic-stimulus-right-there dept.
schwit1 writes with this excerpt from the Washington Examiner: "State Department officials spent $630,000 to get more Facebook 'likes,' prompting employees to complain to a government watchdog that the bureau was 'buying fans' in social media, the agency's inspector general says. 'Many in the bureau criticize the advertising campaigns as "buying fans" who may have once clicked on an ad or "liked" a photo but have no real interest in the topic and have never engaged further,' the inspector general reported. The effort failed to reach the bureau's target audience, which is largely older and more influential than the people liking its pages. Only about 2 percent of fans actually engage with the pages by liking, sharing or commenting. In September 2012 Facebook also changed its approach to users' news feeds, and the expensive 'fan' campaigns became much less valuable. The bureau now must constantly pay for sponsored ads to keep its content visible even to people who have already liked its pages."
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State Dept. Bureau Spent $630k On Facebook 'Likes'

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  • The people running the country no longer understand it. They're obsolete.

    Time to take to the streets and kick them out.

    • by Trepidity (597) <.delirium-slashdot. .at. .hackish.org.> on Thursday July 04, 2013 @01:17PM (#44189009)

      When thinking of good models to emulate, are you thinking more of Egypt Revolution 1.0, which got taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood, or of Egypt Revolution 2.0, which got taken over by the military?

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        OK, how about an Iceland...?

        • by Gr8Apes (679165)
          You'll have to change your name - Joce is not acceptable.
        • I think the French model is much more likely.
          • by sageres (561626)

            Which republic? First? Second? Third? Fourth? Fifth?
            Which incarnation?
            And who would you rather have? Robespierre, Napoleon or de Gaulle?

            • by jd2112 (1535857)

              Which republic? First? Second? Third? Fourth? Fifth? Which incarnation? And who would you rather have? Robespierre, Napoleon or de Gaulle?

              French (Revolution) model as in round up all the 1%ers and all that support them, put them in prison and chop their heads off. Repeat as necessary.
              Doesn't matter who they install in office. As The Who said, "Meet the new boss, Same as the old boss."

              • by sageres (561626)

                Then remember that Robespierre ended his life on a guillotine. The executioner was executed by his own creation, Comité de salut public. Be careful what you wish for.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        When thinking of good models to emulate, are you thinking more of Egypt Revolution 1.0, which got taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood, or of Egypt Revolution 2.0, which got taken over by the military?

        Things were much more interesting during beta Egypt. Raining blood, frogs, and oh the locusts. Can't forget the locusts.

      • When thinking of good models to emulate, are you thinking more of Egypt Revolution 1.0, which got taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood, or of Egypt Revolution 2.0, which got taken over by the military?

        That should be n+1 and n+2.

      • by liamevo (1358257)

        You mean the same way it happened with the 1st revolution? Just with much less bloodshed and prolonged rioting?

      • Egypt Revolution 1.0 was taken over by the military as well. Both times the military promptly handed over the reigns (or at least that's what was in the news, I dunno if that's how things actually worked on the ground but I suspect it was).
        The main difference that I noted was that in 1.0 the police largely clashed with the populace but in 2.0 the police said they would stay out of it because they don't like the Muslim Brotherhood either.

        But, yeah, I feel really bad for the Egyptians. They already went throu
      • by ttucker (2884057)

        When thinking of good models to emulate, are you thinking more of Egypt Revolution 1.0, which got taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood, or of Egypt Revolution 2.0, which got taken over by the military?

        And then probably also by the Muslim Brotherhood.

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        the first one got taken over by military too.
        that's the point with separating military and politicos... so they can police, by not being part of it.

        some say the 3 headed system is best - where you have the courts, the politicians and the military as separate entities. USA at the moment has them all as one. the head politician commands directly the military to do whatever he wants and the military is bound by the courts to do just that and the courts do what they're told to.

      • by bfandreas (603438)
        They are on the brink of a civil war if they don't keep their cool. You can't jail the former executive power of a democracy for "insulting the judicative" and claim you strive for democracy short or mid-term.

        But there is a lesson to be learned from Egypt. You can't run a country when you nicely carve the population into "us" and "them". You can't follow your religious convictions no matter how sincere when you are also to look after the needs who are not of your flock. The Morsi administration tried to r
      • by SMTB1963 (1893272)

        When thinking of good models to emulate, are you thinking more of Egypt Revolution 1.0, which got taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood, or of Egypt Revolution 2.0, which got taken over by the military?

        At this point, I trust the US military WAY MORE than I trust ANY of the three branches of our civilian government.

        I choose Revolution 2.0

        NOW.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      But that would mean getting up.

      Is there a way I can participate by clicking "Like" on Facebook?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by phantomfive (622387)
      I have no love for the politicians running the country, but.......

      Have you seen the signs protesters in the street flash around? There's a chance that 99% of them fail to understand the country as well, and a good portion of them have lost touch with any sort of reality completely.
    • by nospam007 (722110) * on Thursday July 04, 2013 @02:05PM (#44189323)

      "The people running the country no longer understand it. They're obsolete."

      You don't understand, after thousands of years, civil servants finally found a way to get people to LIKE them.
      Small wonder they overdid it.

  • by Trepidity (597) <.delirium-slashdot. .at. .hackish.org.> on Thursday July 04, 2013 @01:16PM (#44189005)

    The state department's budget is about $50 billion annually. There is probably some waste in there, but shaving off $630k in Facebook marketing is not a very promising place to start (that'd be a savings of 0.00126%!).

    Besides which, various PR nonsense is a big part of what the state department does; it's sort of the marketing/sales department of the U.S. government.

    • by Joce640k (829181) on Thursday July 04, 2013 @01:24PM (#44189049) Homepage

      I agree. A much better long term saving would be to fire the person who signed that plan.

      • by ultranova (717540)

        A much better long term saving would be to fire the person who signed that plan.

        The only thing firing people for making mistakes does is make everyone concentrate mostly on covering their asses rather than doing their job. And the most efficient way to do that is to avoid being responsible for anything, the end result being that only corruption gets done.

    • You must be:

      a- joking

      b- a politician

      c- lost your sense of reality
      • by Trepidity (597) <.delirium-slashdot. .at. .hackish.org.> on Thursday July 04, 2013 @01:30PM (#44189091)

        I suspect it's the people pushing this kind of populist story who fall into category (b). Let's say we have a $50 billion agency, and think it should save money. We could:

        Option 1. Start by looking at the major expenses, and find some that can be cut down. Let's define "major expenses" here generously as anything that takes at least 1% of the State Department's budget. Are those all necessary? Can some of them, even if necessary, be done with less? Make these the main targets of your anti-waste campaign.

        Option 2. Pick something down in the noise, under 0.01% of the budget. But find something that makes for a good evening-news scandal. Something populist having to do with the price of toilet seats, or Facebook, or something else that you can explain in under 10 seconds to idiots. Make this the main target of your "anti-waste" campaign.

        The main difference is that Option 1 may actually save money, while Option 2 is just political grandstanding.

        See also: idiots who think arguing over PBS funding is going to balance the federal budget.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I agree! The budget is so big that we shouldn't even consider looking at an item if it isn't in the "top 100" projects list.

          In this sense, let's buy everyone an Alienware computer, upgrade to the most expensive brand of toilet paper, put in a soda fridge that is fully stocked for all federal employees, paint the building every year, and invite Britney Spears to the company picnic.

          Waste less than 1% of the budget is still waste. The fact that the employees themselves thought that it was enough waste to rep

          • by H0p313ss (811249)

            I agree! The budget is so big that we shouldn't even consider looking at an item if it isn't in the "top 100" projects list.

            In this sense, let's buy everyone an Alienware computer, upgrade to the most expensive brand of toilet paper, put in a soda fridge that is fully stocked for all federal employees, paint the building every year, and invite Britney Spears to the company picnic.

            Waste less than 1% of the budget is still waste. The fact that the employees themselves thought that it was enough waste to report it should be an indication.

            True... but this is like software optimization, you can spend your time fixing 1000 things that have a 0.00126% impact and you're still fucked.

            Or you can go after something that will actually make a difference.

            • Just like software optimization. When you've got '1000 things' to fix, you've really got 1 thing to fix: Process/Culture. There is a difference between premature optimization and not doing stupid slow things.

              Even if you can eventually 'fix' the mess, it's now a mess with the inner loops optimized, not cleaned up. The original team is likely making another mess.

              • by H0p313ss (811249)

                Just like software optimization. When you've got '1000 things' to fix, you've really got 1 thing to fix: Process/Culture. There is a difference between premature optimization and not doing stupid slow things.

                Even if you can eventually 'fix' the mess, it's now a mess with the inner loops optimized, not cleaned up. The original team is likely making another mess.

                Not at all, you can be inefficient in non-critial code if it makes it easier to understand or maintain.

                But if you're attacking a performance problem you don't start by wasting your time and money on little pointless fixes, you go for the root of the problem with extreme prejudice.

                "Well we're still bottlenecked on the DB, but I made the pages load 5ms faster by spending the day optimizing our CSS."

                And now nobody will understand it... thanks Bob...

                • If you have 1000 things 'to fix' you've got a basic problem with producing crap in the first place. You start with the assumption that the system is clean, but only needs optimization. That doesn't match with your stated case of having '1000 things to fix'.

                  Sure you can make something work by fixing the critical parts. But if you don't want to be in the same position in a year you'd better change the culture and fire the worst mess makers.

                  Back on point: The person that authorized the buying a 'likes' sh

            • by aardvarkjoe (156801) on Thursday July 04, 2013 @05:40PM (#44190649)

              True... but this is like software optimization, you can spend your time fixing 1000 things that have a 0.00126% impact and you're still fucked.

              The reason why software developers will tackle the biggest performance bottlenecks first is because a developer can only work on one thing at a time, and so should attempt to get the largest return on their investment in time.

              The government, however, is not a single person, and employs millions of people. The people that are able to address the waste in area A are probably not the same people that can address the waste in area B.

              It would be foolish for a large software development team to assign every developer to work on the same performance problem. Similarly, it would be stupid to tell those who aren't working on the top problem to sit on their thumbs until the top problem is resolved. If a source of government waste is identified, then the appropriate thing to do is address it, not come up with excuses why it's not important.

        • by aardvarkjoe (156801) on Thursday July 04, 2013 @02:10PM (#44189351)

          There's no reason why you can't reduce waste in both categories. Which is what most of us who oppose government waste want to do.

        • by dj245 (732906)
          If you add up and cut all the "less than 1%" garbage that is in a budget, maybe you can spare the biggest programs- the ones that presumably are more important.

          I've heard arguments that "all the low hanging fruit is gone", "the easy to cut items have been cut already" etc. More pork is created every day by all members of congress. Recognizing wasteful spending and public backlash should be a continual process.
        • by kermidge (2221646)

          Doesn't matter. I don't care if it was only $63.00 spent on Facebook likes. If it's a stupid thing to do, stop doing it. Just because $630,000 is by you a trivial sum is irrelevant - it's still taxpayers' money spent stupidly. One doesn't have to have some external big goal to decide if a sum is worth not spending; all that's needful is to judge a given expenditure for what it is.

          For that matter, either-or thinking is itself stupid.

    • by bagboy (630125) <neoNO@SPAMarctic.net> on Thursday July 04, 2013 @01:27PM (#44189067)
      Um, thinking that 600k may have paid for some increased security around Bengazi, or for a quick rescue team? I'm pretty sure the state department has many other priorities that could have been funded with this waste.
    • by c0lo (1497653)

      The state department's budget is about $50 billion annually. There is probably some waste in there, but shaving off $630k in Facebook marketing is not a very promising place to start (that'd be a savings of 0.00126%!).

      Speaking of "it's relative": what would you do with $630K? Isn't it a pity they get wasted?

      Besides which, various PR nonsense is a big part of what the state department does; it's sort of the marketing/sales department of the U.S. government.

      Hell, yeah... like the citizens need more ads for bullsh... aren't they paying already even without campaigns? Or is anyone under any delusion the top 1% will get to click the "Like" and suddenly agree to pay more taxes?

      • by nedlohs (1335013)

        There's about 300 million Americans. I'll take a double share since I'll have the kid's one as well.

        There's actually not much I can do with 0.4 cents actually.

    • Sure it may be a small expenditure in their overall budget, but what are they buying here? PR? Good or bad PR? I don't see the point in government agencies "buying" likes on FB. Are they insecure?
      • by nedlohs (1335013)

        I doubt it. Someone decided that spending money on generated "likes" which then allow them to server up ads cheaper to those people later was a better idea than spending the money to server up more ads now.

        That was likely an error because:
        1. Apparently facebook changed the rules making it not result in the cheaper ads after all.
        2. It ends up targeting the wrong demographic.

        But neither has anything to do with them actually wanting the "likes" just to feel more popular.

      • by arth1 (260657)

        And why on Facebook, instead of media that's available to everyone, including those of us who don't use Facebook?

        It's as bad as when DMV provides documents in a format that requires Adobe to read them, with an encryption and signature that serves no other reason than to block users of other software.

        Government communications should never rely on proprietary vendors, whether they're named Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Adobe or other.

    • The implication is that if they're wasting money on things like that, they're probably wasting money in other places, too.
    • Besides which, various PR nonsense is a big part of what the state department does; it's sort of the marketing/sales department of the U.S. government.

      Yes, they're bumping into the commerce department's turf. I'm surprise there isn't a big battle there. And Hillary should get an award for the amount of money she moved. An heroic job she did.

      Personally, I don't mind them spending money on propaganda, horrific as it is. Words are just words. The scary part is that there are people who believe it, and act on i

      • by Trepidity (597)

        External PR, at least, I believe used to be the turf of the U.S. Information Agency [wikipedia.org], but in 1999 it was split up, with the broadcasting functions (VoA radio, etc.) going into a separate agency, and everything else going to the State Department.

    • Last year I can find is 2010. 16 billion. What's 34 billion between friends?

      The reason you look at stupid decisions at any scale is they give you a chance to fire the incompetents before they waste money at a still bigger scale.

      Of course that would require accountability among government workers. Which is a much bigger problem.

      I don't think 630k$ is petty cash. Firing someone over it will make the next idiot stop and think.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      how much of it should be spent on empty facebook pr? 0%

      it serves as nothing else than dickwaving contest for the purpose. the marketing department loves it though because they can say exactly that "these dollars got us 20 000 likes!" - because they like metrics that don't translate to anything meaningful underneath, yeah on the surface it's exactly that - 20 000 likes - but the benefit for society aspect can't be measured anyhow.

    • by Le Marteau (206396) on Thursday July 04, 2013 @03:36PM (#44189905) Journal

      It's more than just the monetary cost. It's a morality issue.

      Is it moral to take, under threat of jail, funds from anyone, no matter how small, to pay for Facebook likes?

      Our government is immoral. Cases such as this serve to highlight it.

      Apologist for our immoral government will continue to say, "oh, what's a million dollars here or there" not realizing or denying how obscene their position actually is.

    • by Nyder (754090)

      The state department's budget is about $50 billion annually. There is probably some waste in there, but shaving off $630k in Facebook marketing is not a very promising place to start (that'd be a savings of 0.00126%!).

      Besides which, various PR nonsense is a big part of what the state department does; it's sort of the marketing/sales department of the U.S. government.

      I beg to differ. That is a lot of money. That is money that could go to better stuff, like education. Buying "likes" just shows that you suck so bad you have to spend PR money.

    • It isn't a lot of money by itself but it plays into a theme, which may or may not be right. If State Dept is loose with this kind of spending, what else are they wasting money on? Or was this genuinely a one off and generally the State Dept is frugal, but somehow this one fell through the cracks?

      In any case, whatever the facts, I need to finish the email I've been working on offering my SEO services to Whitehouse.gov...

    • by Bengie (1121981)
      That $650k could be going to PBS.
  • The page (Score:4, Insightful)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Thursday July 04, 2013 @01:33PM (#44189109) Journal
    Here is the page [facebook.com]. It's hard for me to understand why the state department even cares if people visit their page or not.
    • by taxman_10m (41083)

      I'm wondering if it had anything to do with Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential ambitions. A similar thing happened where I am where the guy in charge of the state lottery spent a bunch of money on advertising and also happened to be running for governor.

    • Re:The page (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Thursday July 04, 2013 @01:54PM (#44189251) Homepage Journal

      It's hard for me to understand why the state department even cares if people visit their page or not.

      Propaganda always sells itself as the popular choice.

      • lol FAIL, they've mainly demonstrated that they AREN'T a popular choice.
        • they've mainly demonstrated that they AREN'T a popular choice

          Yet 99.995% of the population will never read this article or hear about this.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      because it gives the marketing dept. stats about how many people clicked through their ads and did a "desirable action". you might argue that outside that particular excel bar graph it doesn't matter at all but this is the only marketing they have "verifiable" bar graph for. it's measurable! who cares if it's irrelevant.

      STATS!!!!! maybe they like the word so much because it's so close to STASI.

      • Can't they just ask the NSA?
        • by gl4ss (559668)

          Can't they just ask the NSA?

          they don't want the real stats about how many people are actually watching the page.. the likes are better, more viral, doesn't involve necessarily that the perp visits or reads the page or gives a shit about it.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Here is the page [facebook.com]. It's hard for me to understand why the state department even cares if people visit their page or not.

      The page you linked to currently has 281,000 'likes.' So at a budget of $630,000, each 'like' cost more than $2. Wow.

  • by hessian (467078) on Thursday July 04, 2013 @01:53PM (#44189247) Homepage Journal

    In government, you are not judged by results. You are judged by appearances, specifically how many people you can fool for long enough that they forget all the stuff you've screwed up.

    This is why as little as possible should be entrusted to government. Even government workers will generally agree with this: government works best when it has a small set of goals and some way of measuring "success" other than cheering uninformed voters.

    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

      In government, you are not judged by results. You are judged by appearances, specifically how many people you can fool for long enough that they forget all the stuff you've screwed up.

      This is why as little as possible should be entrusted to government. Even government workers will generally agree with this: government works best when it has a small set of goals and some way of measuring "success" other than cheering uninformed voters.

      It is much more simple than that. In government you are judged or valued not by what you or your section accomplish, but simply by how many people report to you. The more that report to you, the more important you are. That is why it is so difficult to introduce more efficient processes. If processes are improved so staff could be reassigned to other projects, the manager/superviosr in charge loses prestige because they have fewer people working for them.

      Government, like any business, should have measurabl

  • Timothy (the poster of the story) better watch out. If we have learned anything from the Snowden affair, the government doesn't like it's dirty secrets aired in public.

    • Yup.. They retroactively make this factoid a secret, and send the black SUVs to Timothy's house and send him off to Guano-tanamo.. Oh wait.. No more timothy stories on /.???? hmm.. an out-of-control government or no more timothy stories... ahh.. gotta go with the out-of-control governent.. Timothy only annoys me when I read /. and the government annoys me (and a LOT of others) only ALL the time

      • I vote the government renditions timothy. After he's dead, we use the case to hang some feds. Everybody wins.

    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

      Don't know why I got modded down. She's people on /. have no sense of humour.

      • by arth1 (260657)

        Don't know why I got modded down. She's people on /. have no sense of humour.

        So obviously you do know.

        (You still should ditch that speech recognition or auto correct program you use; it's rather painful to read the results.)

  • zomg wer reding your msgs lol

  • Why did it cost 600k+ to do this is my question? They could have just interfaced the NSA database with a script and created accounts from people who are recently deceased and liked the living hell out of what ever page they thought needed the lov'in. Throw in some AI for back and forth and you would have a love consensus of biblical porportions. I bet I could have pulled this off for half what they think they spent, which is probably half of what really got flushed.
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      Why did it cost 600k+ to do this is my question? They could have just interfaced the NSA database with a script and created accounts from people who are recently deceased and liked the living hell out of what ever page they thought needed the lov'in. Throw in some AI for back and forth and you would have a love consensus of biblical porportions. I bet I could have pulled this off for half what they think they spent, which is probably half of what really got flushed.

      the way nsa does contracting if they had done that it would have cost 1 million bucks. what, you think perl coders come in trees and don't need 3 levels deep organization that also needs to get paid from the contract??

    • Back in the year of the flood there was a likely fabricated story about the NSA. If NSA QA found a bug in your software they would just send it back and tell you: 'there's a bug.' The theory was that the programmers didn't really start looking for bugs until then. Claim was the programmers fixed an average of 9 bugs before they found the one that QA found.

      Think how much that kind of process costs. Don't involve the spooks. Fire the idiot who approved this expense.

  • It must be terrible to have to constantly pay more and feel like your getting less and less in return.

    Welcome to the life of every tax payer, cable TV subscriber, health insurance purchaser, etc. I feel both the laugher of irony and the sorrow of more wasted tax payer dollars when private companies turn things around and "tax" the government.

  • buy the people's support with their own money.

  • by GrEp (89884)

    That's way low. A lot of State employees have personal FB accounts where they post material similar to what would be on the embassy account. Add those in and the ROI for engagement is probably much higher.

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