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Ormond Beach Observer Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019 2 years ago

The cost of being fake on Facebook

Advice on fake votes, from a fake account in Ormond Beach.
by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

Here’s a Facebook mind-bender for you: Jose Elmo just told Jose Elmo that Jose Elmo doesn’t exist and therefore Jose Elmo’s identity can’t be stolen. More on that later.

In other news, the Ormond Beach Observer created a Facebook poll on Thursday to ask for residents’ opinions about the length of terms for the city commissioners. Do you favor two-year, non-staggered terms, or do you want four-year, staggered terms?

Of course, a Facebook poll is not a good tool for data collection; it can easily be swayed if you ask likeminded people to participate and vote like you do. But the polls can be fun, and the comments can occasionally provide some insight.

On this poll, it was looking like most people preferred the status quo, which is two-year nonstaggered terms. But the next morning, 100 more votes had come in, swinging the poll results the other way, and as of Monday, Feb. 25, it appeared that the people had spoken: 154 wanted four-year terms, 103 wanted two-year terms.

The people have spoken!


Maybe not.

As it turns out, at least 100 of those four-year-term voters don’t live in Ormond Beach. Not only that, but they also don’t have a lot of Facebook friends. And many of them all shared the same cat videos recently.

Apparently, the poll had been manipulated with votes from fake accounts.


Advice from the 'real' Jose

Jose Elmo, an anonymous account, told me in a Facebook message that we should investigate who was behind the fake votes on the poll and make sure we weren’t being played.

“When you conduct a poll of this nature you need to have a mechanism to assure that it is one vote for one person and someone isn't stuffing your online box,” he or she wrote. “If you don't know how to check the ID of voters to determine whether they are fraudulent, ask someone how..If you don't the Observer will lose face.”

Ironic advice coming from an “anonymous” account.

Ever since Jose Elmo materialized last year, he or she has made comments on our posts and criticized Ormond Beach City Commission’s handling of Granada Pointe and other matters. Considering he or she is fake, should we even allow him or her to comment on our Facebook page?

Bryan Shaffer, son of Granada Pointe developer Paul Holub, has become an online enemy of Jose Elmo, and he believes we should block Jose Elmo altogether considering he or she won’t reveal his or her real name.

But what good would that do? It’s so easy to manipulate these accounts that if we block one, more will appear. For example, the recent conversation between two Jose Elmos.

After the Feb. 19 City Commission meeting, during which the Granada Pointe car wash was approved, Jose Elmo posted: “let’s see…. city staff said no, planning board said no but all the guys who got builder contributions to their or political campaigns said YES.”

Shaffer responded to the post. He claimed that Jose Elmo’s real identity was Tim Scheiber, a real estate agent who has been a CANDO 2 supporter. It’s a claim Shaffer has been making for months on Facebook. Shaffer then encouraged people to call Scheiber.

Jose Elmo was not pleased. He replied, “let’s go,” apparently fed up with Shaffer and willing to pick a fight.

Shaffer didn’t respond, but instead, another account with the same name, Jose Elmo, replied, saying, “Thats right and if you need a home sold call my cell,” and Scheiber’s cell number is included.

The two Jose Elmos go back and forth a few times, ending with the faux Jose Elmo calling the real Jose Elmo a “weak little pathetic human.”

The real Jose Elmo threatened to file a police report.

I’ll let the police figure that one out.

Who is Jose Elmo?

I called Scheiber, who said he’s not Jose Elmo.

I contacted Shaffer on Facebook to ask him if he’s the faux Jose Elmo, and he said, “Nope, never have had any account on Facebook except the one you are talking to now.”

I contacted the “real” Jose Elmo, and he or she refused to reveal his or her identity but was sure that Shaffer was the “faux” Jose Elmo.


Cost of fake voters

The Facebook poll didn’t cost anything to make. But it may have cost something because of the fake votes that skewed the results.

Joe Hannoush, who also ran for Florida House last year, was the first one to comment about the poll. I later talked to him on the phone and asked what he thought about the fake votes.

“I’m disgusted by it,” he said. As a libertarian, he believes that “everyone can do what they want, as long as they’re transparent about it. If someone wants to be fraudulent or deceptive, we hate that.”

Another Ormond Beach resident, Beverly Taylor, said she was “disturbed.” After seeing Hannoush’s post calling out the fake votes, she kept thinking about it, and, while she was supposed to be watching “The Avengers: Infinity Wars” with her husband one night, she instead clicked on every Facebook profile of the voters and tallied up 104 fake accounts before she stopped.

Now working in pharmaceutical sales, Taylor used to teach math at Seabreeze High School (City Commissioner Troy Kent was her student), and she values accuracy and numbers. She normally usually uses Facebook for friends and family; this was the first political post she has ever commented on, and it has changed her views about Facebook.

“When it comes to politics, I’m going to more skeptical — as I should be,” she said.

She felt similar to the way I did. Sure, you hear about these kinds of hacks happening on the national and international scene. But here?

“I’m disappointed that it affected Ormond Beach,” she said. “Aren’t we pure, aren’t we good people? We don’t need to manipulate a poll. Who’s behind this?”

Even though I wasn’t expecting scientific accuracy from the poll, I admit that, similar to Hannoush and Taylor, I also felt disappointed and maybe even betrayed by the votebots that were employed to ruin it. I called my company’s IT guy to ask if we could somehow get to the bottom of it, and he said it was basically impossible because of the way Facebook keeps its data private.

Why do it? There’s no good reason, he said. It’s just like asking why people would create graffiti: Because they can. Everyone from Jose Elmo to Jose Elmo to fake voters on a poll.

Brian McMillan has been editor of the Palm Coast Observer since it began in 2010. He was named the Journalist of the Year for weekly newspapers in North America by the Local Media Association in 2012. He lives in Palm Coast with his wife and five children. Email...

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