Aug 14, 2012 · 2 minutes

Facebook has a page for US politics. I read it and I shudder for democracy.

I visited the page today after learning that Republican vice-presidential pick Paul Ryan has been racking up some impressive numbers on the social network. In just over two days, Ryan's new campaign page – which features a large photo of his arm stuck up Mitt Romney's back, ventriloquist style (see above) – has amassed more than 570,000 likes. Ryan's previous Facebook fan page has 222,000 likes, a total that has almost doubled in the last couple of days, according to Mashable's count.

Ryan as VP candidate appears to be a lot more popular among Facebookers than his opposite number, Joe Biden, whose page has only 350,000 likes. But in Biden's defense, he's likely not even aware that his Internet is switched on, let alone that it plays host to a book of faces to which random punters apply cartoon thumbs as an expression of approval.

Perhaps of more concern for the Obama campaign – which, remember, supposedly owns social media – is that in the wake of the Ryan announcement, the Romney campaign is starting to hog the online chatter. While Obama's page has close to 28 million likes, it only 1.35 million "talking about this" points – Facebook's metric for the number of shares, likes, or comments on a post, or answers to a question, or responses to an event. Romney, by contrast, has only 4.1 million likes, but 1.58 million "talking about this" points. That's a much higher strike-rate than social-savvy Obama, and suggests that for now Romney is winning the battle for attention on Facebook and that many of Obama's followers must now be on Google+ or (On that last point, consider yourselves japed.) Going by this evidence, it would seem that there's nothing quite like a handsome Randjob to resuscitate a flagging election.

The Facebook flush, however, might ultimately turn out to be short-lived, insignificant, or both. You'd expect candidates to get a bump after a significant news event such as the Ryan pick. But anecdotal evidence also suggests that – hold on to your jaws! – there's a ton of bullshit in Facebook comments and 93 percent of it seems to gravitate towards politics.

If you think open discussion on the likes of Facebook and Twitter is an advance in the well-being of democracy, I invite you to consider the following, curated from the hundreds of comments (who reads these?) posted to Facebook's US politics page in the wake of the Ryan announcement.

Mind you, that's not much worse than what's on Fox or CNN.

Facebook and Twitter will be under greater scrutiny in this election than in the last, not least because the former is now a public company and the latter is an easier way to gauge public sentiment than doing actual surveys. But this time round, it seems the Republicans will be just as savvy on social media as will the Dems. On Twitter, for instance, Romney got an early boost from the Ryan announcement, and the Guardian is reporting that the Romney campaign is closing the digital gap despite being vastly outspent by the Obamans.

It could all be meaningless, but, until proven otherwise, serious commentators – especially yours truly – will consider social media data as an important electoral bellwether. From the evidence you've seen in this post, however, it seems that social media will be much more useful to politicians and their marketing efforts than as a platform for reasoned and informed political debate.

Good for democracy? Maybe. Good for political advertising? You bet.