AN election candidate has told The Northern Echo she can not explain why she has attracted thousands of seemingly “fake followers” on Facebook.

Dehenna Davison said she had not paid for her popularity on the social media platform, and has no idea why her follower count suddenly increased by tens of thousands to include a large fan base in the Middle East, scores of apparently fake profiles and a host of accounts containing explicit and disturbing imagery.

The Conservative candidate for Bishop Auckland currently has more than 23,500 Facebook fans – ten times as many as Helen Goodman, who has represented the constituency for Labour for more than a decade.

The only incumbent North-East MP with more followers is Labour’s Laura Pidcock, who has represented North West Durham since 2017 and has almost 39,000 people signed up to follow her social media activities.

Ms Davison believes repeated accusations of having an artificially inflated follower count represent politically motivated attempts to distract from issues she hopes to campaign on if elected.

However, social media experts spoken to by the Echo reiterated concerns raised by members of the public and highlighted signs of her “disproportionate” follower count – which equates to more than a quarter of those living in the Bishop Auckland constituency – not being genuine.

Ms Davison said she was aware of the longstanding issue and had not yet had the opportunity to resolve it with Facebook.

She said she had not paid for followers and nobody else had on her behalf, adding: “It is really weird – when I first set the page up for a previous local election, I gained about 150 followers overnight and went back to it about a month later to see I had thousands more.

“I know I have thousands from places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq and I’m not sure how that’s happened organically but it has led to me receiving some disturbing messages, including pictures of people being shot.

“I didn’t know how to get rid of them at the time so did nothing but now I’ve altered the settings so only people from the UK can follow me.

“I definitely have not paid for followers and this is just the weirdest thing, I wouldn’t even know where to go to buy them.”

Ms Davison, who has called on Facebook to improve its system for reporting disturbing content, said: “There has been a lot of things like this used against me but all it’s doing is distracting from the issues people on the street are talking about, like health care or youth unemployment.

“At the end of the day, whether someone has one follower or thousands, what’s important is what they’re campaigning on.”

A Facebook company spokesperson said: “It is against our rules to set up a fake profile or post violent or graphic content on our platform, and we have a team of over 35,000 safety and security experts dedicated to removing harmful content.

“Between July and September 2019 we took action on 2.9 million pieces of violent or graphic content and 1.7 billion fake accounts. We encourage Ms Davison to report any content using the reporting tools available.”