The Liberal Party has denied artificially inflating its social media support after an eye-watering spike in “likes” for the party and leader Tony Abbott’s Facebook pages.

Abbott has now zoomed past social media devotee Kevin Rudd in Facebook popularity with over 130,000 likes. This is up from around 78,000 a week ago and well above Rudd’s 101,058. Abbott’s Facebook statistics page shows the Opposition Leader received almost 20,000 extra Facebook likes last Friday alone.

Abbott’s page received over 60,000 new likes in the week of August 3-9 — up from only 845 the week before the election was called.

The Liberal Party’s official Facebook page has also had a spike in activity and now has over 127,000 likes — more than any other party. Activity on the Labor and Greens pages has been far steadier over the same period.

The Liberal Party announced yesterday that it would investigate the purchase of fake Twitter followers for Tony Abbott, whose account soared from 157,000 to 198,000 on Saturday night.

“It’s really clear what they’re doing: they’re pouring heaps of money into promoting their page,” said Australian Services Union NSW secretary Sally McManus, who is co-ordinating the Australian Council of Trade Union’s social media campaign for the election. “It creates a false impression that they’re much more popular than they are.”

McManus estimates the Liberal Party has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on sponsored Facebook posts.

A Liberal Party spokesman told Crikey today the Facebook spike was “legitimate” and its followers “are absolutely connected back to real people”.

Social media consultant Hugh Stephens says there could be several explanations for a spike in Facebook support. These include increased interest following the announcement of an election date; big spending on sponsored posts and advertisements; or the purchase of fake Facebook likes.

Blogger Llewellyn Stevens first addressed the spike in support for Abbott and the Liberal Party in a post on the weekend.