The State Department spent more than $630,000 on advertising campaigns to boost the number of Facebook "likes" for the agency's pages on the website, according to a report released by the agency's inspector general.
Between 2011 and March 2013, the agency's Bureau of International Information Programs used the funds on advertising to increase the number of fans for each of its four Facebook pages from 100,000 to more than 2 million, according to the May report.
The program was initiated after the bureau expanded the agency's presence on social media by setting up Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and blogs targeted at foreign audiences, the report states.
The report found that many employees in the bureau were critical of the advertising campaigns and felt that the agency was "buying fans" who may have once clicked on an ad but have never engaged further.
Defenders of the initiative argued that advertising was needed to increase visibility because of the difficulty of finding a Facebook page using the website's general search tool, according to the report.
The inspector general's report recommends that the State Department bureau reduce spending by focusing its advertising on specific public diplomacy goals and not on raising the number of Facebook "likes" on the agency's pages.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at Wednesday's daily press briefing with reporters that the agency currently spends $36,000 a year on the Facebook outreach program.
Psaki said the initiative continues to target "a broad range" of people "living internationally" and that the bureau behind the program is working to implement inspector general’s recommendations.
"We take the valuable feedback of the [Office of Inspector General] seriously, and we’re committed to addressing the recommendations and the concerned outline – concerns outlined in this assessment," Psaki told reporters.