The leader of the Austrian anti-mass migration Freedom Party (FPÖ) Heinz-Christian Strache has received a surge of support on social media, gaining over 40,000 supporters on Facebook in a single day and eclipsing his rival, Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz.
The FPÖ leader, who has styled himself as the “people’s candidate” for Chancellor of Austria, has raced past current electoral favourite Sebastian Kurz this week gaining 40,500 Facebook supporters on Thursday alone, Heute reports.
The dramatic rise in support online has made Strache the most popular candidate for Austrian Chancellor on the social media platform with 723,000 supporters compared to Sebastian Kurz with 690,000 and current chancellor and leader of the Social Democrats Christian Kern with only 212,000.
Some have accused Strache and the FPÖ of buying “fake followers” but the party has denied the claim. FPÖ MEP Harald Vilimsky said: “We do not have fake followers and we do not buy followers.
“In addition to the organic growth, which has constantly been on the rise for many years, there are always the unions of HC fan pages, which brings small boosts,” he said adding that anyone claiming Facebook followers could easily be bought were “no expert but ignorant”.
While Strache leads on Facebook he is a distant third on Twitter with only 19,000 followers compared to Chancellor Kern who has 65,700 and Sebastian Kurz who has 238,000.
Unlike Facebook, Twitter followers are much more easily faked. Breitbart News reported earlier this year that almost 50 per cent (17 million) of U.S. broadcaster CNN’s followers were fake.
According to the website Twitter Audit, whilst Strache has fewer followers, 86 per cent of them are real compared to 50 per cent for Sebastian Kurz, and 48 per cent for Christian Kern.
Strache and the FPÖ are currently polling in second place behind Kurz and have so far campaigned on stopping mass migration, securing the borders of Austria, and vowing to ban radical Islamism. On foreign policy, the party has suggested that the Austrian embassy in Israel be moved to Jerusalem and have called for stronger ties with Russia and members of the central European Visegrád group.
Even if the new surge in popularity on social media can translate into enough support for the FPÖ to come out on top on October 15th, they may have difficulty forming a government as left wing Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen has previously said he would block a Strache government.
President Van der Bellen beat FPÖ candidate for president Norbert Hofer last year after almost a year of campaigning due to faulty ballot papers and irregular vote counting practices which caused the initial election to be overturned.