The US State Department is under fire for spending US$630,000 over two years to win millions of "likes" on its Facebook pages at a time of severe government austerity measures.
A scathing report by the department's independent watchdog took the co-ordinators of its social media outreach policy to task, saying it needed to "direct its digital advertising to specific public diplomacy goals".
The report by the Office of the Inspector General found that two advertising campaigns launched in 2011 and 2012 cost some US$630,000 with the "goal of building global outreach platforms for engagement with foreign audiences by increasing the number of fans … on four thematic Facebook properties".
"Many in the bureau criticise the advertising campaigns as 'buying fans' who may have once clicked on a post or 'liked' a photo but have no real interest in the topic and have never engaged further," reads the report, released late last month.
Although each of the four thematic pages run by the Bureau of International Information Programmes attracted 2.5 million fans by mid-March, only 2 per cent of those actively engaged by 'liking' topics or sharing information posted on the websites.
"Many postings had fewer than 100 comments or shares; the most popular ones had several hundred," the report says.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the report had been taken seriously and vowed that most of its recommendations would be implemented before the start of the 2014 fiscal year in October.
The State Department has embraced the wide outreach made possible by social media.