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Faymann suffers Facebook fiasco

The office of Social Democratic (SPÖ) chief Werner Faymann is accused of using unfair methods trying to boost the chancellor's presence on the internet after a mediocre start.

The SPÖ boss launched his profile on social networking site Facebook on last month’s Austrian National Day when political observers expected him to speak out on the most urgent Eurozone crisis topics. Instead, the chancellor mentioned solely Austrian concerns like its neutrality. A spokeswoman for his office confirmed reports that as many as nine staff were assigned to take care of his new homepage and representations on Facebook, photo community Flickr, video platform YouTube and instant message portal Twitter.

Die Presse revealed that the SPÖ poured 98,000 Euros into its chief’s latest internet activities. Costs in the coming months are expected to surpass a sum twice as high, according to the newspaper. Now rumour has it that the party may have created fake Facebook accounts to improve Faymann’s standing after his efforts to win over young voters online bore no fruit.

Magazines and dailies exposed that profile pictures of users of the platform who linked their own representations with Faymann’s Facebook site were available from photo agencies. Investigations were started as the users under scrutiny had, according to information on their profiles, little other interests except backing Faymann and his attempts to improve Austria’s "social fairness".

The SPÖ vowed to examine the issue but denied having created the possibly fake profiles itself. A spokesman for the office of the chancellor – a former traffic minister and Viennese housing councillor – admitted there was still "potential to improve" Faymann’s latest World Wide Web (WWW) activities. He expressed the suspicion that political rivals may have orchestrated the false profile attack to thwart Faymann’s first main online endeavours.

Organisers of his sites on Facebook and Twitter made clear from the start that the chancellor may probably not post comments himself too often due to a lack of time. They stressed that contributions made by team members would be clearly identified as such. Speaking to Die Presse, social media expert Ulf Grüner explained that there were two strategies – the method of real dialogue with others and a campaign of making announcements regardless of feedback – of how to use internet sites like Facebook.

Political analyst Thomas Hofer branded Faymann’s Facebook presence as "boring" while public opinion researcher Wolfgang Bachmayer said the chancellor’s WWW actions have turned into a "PR disaster". He told the Kurier today (Weds): "Credibility and trust have been substantially harmed."

Faymann is accused of abusing his authority during his term as minister for infrastructure by placing ads in newspapers backing his political agenda and letting Federal Railways (ÖBB) and motorway administration company Asfinag pay for them. Many of the insertions lacked profound information but featured his photograph. Viennese state prosecutors are currently checking whether Faymann – whose party forms a coalition with the People’s Party (ÖVP) – could be charged of abuse of office. Referring to the investigations and the revelations regarding the SPÖ chairman’s Facebook site, Bachmayer said today Faymann kept expanding his attempts to fool people into the online world. "This is a fatal signal to voters," the analyst warned.

Meanwhile, Viennese newspaper Heute revealed it found out that several letters to the editor from different people in which Faymann and the SPÖ are lauded were sent from the same IP address. A spokesman for the party promised to look into the case but pointed out that hundreds of computers were connected with the SPÖ’s server. He said it could not be determined whether a SPÖ member or some other person filed the e-mails of which, according to reports, featured an image of a young man provided by a professional photo agency.

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