WASHINGTON—Visit Mitt Romney’s page on Facebook and you’ll see 11.6 million “likes.” Lee Wolf, a self-described liberal who likes nothing about Romney’s politics, was stunned to hear from friends on the online social network that his name had popped up as an apparent supporter of the Republican presidential candidate.
“I don’t believe in anything he says. He’s not somebody I’d be voting for,” said Wolf, who owns the Lobster Shanty, a restaurant in downtown Salem. “I’m still wondering how it happened.”
Others are wondering, too.
“This happened to me!! I keep unliking the Mitt Romney, but his posts keep coming back!! So frustrating!! Go Obama!!!” wrote a Facebook user named Sabeen Shamsi, one of 676 people who “liked” a new Facebook page dubbed “Hacked by Mitt Romney” created last month to denounce how their “accounts are being signed up for Mitt Romney’s page without the owner’s permission.’
The culprit was unclear. A Romney spokesperson declined to comment publicly, and a spokeswoman for Facebook said she could not immediately explain any apparent glitches but said the company would look into the matter.
“I don’t think Mitt Romney is sitting at his keyboard doing this,” said Mark Turner, a computer systems administrator in Raleigh, N.C.. who set up the hacked by Romney page. He suspects it’s a Facebook software issue.
Still, Turner said it was upsetting, “because they’re putting words in my mouth.”
With 60 percent of all American adults connected via social media portals such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, online communities have become an important part of the political process, according to the Pew Research Center.
Indeed, 39 percent of all American adults have taken some kind of civic or political action using social networks, such as encouraging friends to vote or advocating a political position, said Aaron Smith, a Pew researcher.
“Recommendations from people they know or people like them can be more powerful than people they don’t know,” Smith said.
It’s understandable, he said, why some would be upset that they’re being portrayed as having beliefs they do not hold.
Imagine, he said, if an Obama yard sign suddenly appeared on the front lawn of a Romney supporter.
“What appears on people’s social networking sites is a self-curated picture of who they are,” Smith said.
Pat Gauen, a columnist with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was also surprised to be informed that he had “liked” Romney.
“This is my first presidential election as a member of Facebook, which I joined for kinship with family and friends and now find overrun with moronic political rants. I never comment there on anything except for occasional innocuous messages to those I hold close,” he wrote in August.
“Was I the victim of sabotage (like the time one of our kids swiped about 100 campaign signs and posted them all in our front yard)? Or the victim of my own keyboard clumsiness?”
Gauen posted a disclaimer and “unliked” Romney’s page—with the caveat, he said, that doing so was “not the same as ‘dislike,’ for which there is no option, nor would I want to say that anyway.”
Kristine Faxon, the executive director of a Savannah, Ga., arts college, thought she was hacked last month when she saw Mitt Romney among her “likes.”
“I’m a huge Obama supporter,” she said. She thought her dad, a Romney supporter, had played a trick on her. But he insisted he had nothing to do with it.
“My friends thought I did a complete 180,” said Faxon, who moved to Georgia from New York City in July.
Wolf isn’t quite sure how he came to “like” Mitt Romney. If the date stamp on his Facebook account is to be believed, it happened at 2:15 a.m. on July 17. On the early morning of July 16, he also “liked” the rapper Jay Z, car racer Danica Patrick, and Grey Goose Vodka.
“It’s highly unlikely that I pressed “like” on any of these things,” he insisted.
Wolf said a friend alerted him that something was amiss. “It concerned me enough to put a message out,” he said. “I don’t want to give friends the wrong impression, that somehow I actually agree with the things he stands for.”
At first, Wolf thought it was a glitch. But on Thursday, he saw with his own eyes that buried in his list of 470 “likes” was Romney’s smiling mug.
“Now that I know it’s actually there,” he said in a telephone interview, “I’ll ‘unlike’ it as soon as we hang up.”