Sunday, May 1, 2016

Is Correct The Record Trolling The Hell Out Of Bernie Sanders Supporters?

Correct The Record is a semi-SuperPAC "strategic research and rapid response team" designed to "protect Hillary Clinton from baseless attacks." It is run by David Brock, a former conservative operative, who became liberal and then signed up with Hillary Clinton. The Correct the Record team has been described as an army of "Nerd Virgins" whom Brock keeps locked away in a sunless back-room, relentlessly doing Internet-messaging and, according to lots of people, trolling Bernie Sanders reddits and posting attacks on any Internet story showing Sanders in a good light.

Is that actually what's happening? Let's look.

What Does Correct The Record Ostensibly Do?

Correct the Record is ostensibly a messaging hub where journalists can go to get pro-Hillary quotes/facts/etc. for a story. A look at their Twitter and Facebook  pages shows a plethora of pro-Hillary and anti-Trump stories with little (presently) being said about Sanders. The sub-group Barrier Breakers is 1MM dollars funded and dedicated to learning from online encounters with 'Bernie Bros' (quotes in the original) to apply the lessons to the general election.

Here's a The Young Turks video which has them as spending a million dollars to harass Bernie Sanders supporters. Are they? Is this what they're doing with the money?

A Smoking Gun?

A post from 2015 that's getting a lot of attention now is this one: Confessions of a Hillary Shill. The post is a confession of someone who claims they were hired to troll the Internet and mess with Bernie Sanders supporters. According to the guy, he worked nights or weekends and made around 100/month. Apparently it was also dirty.

You can read the post but:
  1. The Reddit mods asked for any proof at all that the guy worked for Hillary. He could not provide it so they removed the post.
  2. Apparently the guy has a long history of confessing to be a paid shill for different people.
This trips The Omnivore's bullshit detector for a couple of other reasons (The Omnivore has read these kinds of anonymous 'confessions' before). Firstly: there is never ANY proof of payment or communication. This job would involve emails, messages, etc. Some of that collateral would be available. Secondly, and worse, the job description always works exactly how you'd think it would work--it fits perfectly into the paid-troll narrative we all have. Guys who are reasonably normal dudes are given part-time work to sow dissension in forums. They get marching orders and go out and, well, troll.

In real situations where organized Internet trolling happens (Russia's PR offensive) the results are iffy and the job is anything but work-from-home. To make matters worse, the risks involved in crowd-sourcing this work would be astronomical: if a paid Troll did go public with sufficient evidence to be persuasive the damage would be intense.

Having people making arguments is one thing. Sowing discord, trying to destroy operational communities, and foment despair are another. While The Omnivore could see ways to run a crypto-enabled shell-company run, fully anonymous whispering campaign without much by way of fingerprints, the chances of it being infiltrated by someone talking are near 100%.

Now--there are ways. Companies make tools for managing multiple online personalities (we are using them in the War on Terror) and if you had a small cadre of true-believers, you could probably keep operational security while having some impact . . .

But in that event, it would not look anything like what the paid-shill-confessors describe. Instead what they're describing is the "holy grail" of Internet-comments-spam of work-from-home-and-make-bank-for-doing-nothing. That's why this is so compelling. That and it gives you a way to dismiss posters you don't want to hear.

But if that post isn't real, does that mean it's not happening?

What Actually IS Happening?

When The Omnivore goes to the Bernie Sanders reddit (or other Bernie Sanders web-sites) the allegations are pretty similar:
  1. Down-voting. Someone is down-voting pro-Sanders confidence builders.
  2. Creation of paranoia. One allegation is that the attempt is to cause true-believers to distrust each other the same way that Counter Insurgency techniques infiltrate subversive groups and make them self-destruct.
  3. The Big One: Concern Trolling.
Let's take these one at a time.

Down Voting

This is the practice of giving a story or post a "dislike" on sites that allow it. It annoys or even hurts the feelings of whoever posted it. It makes some stories disappear (depending on the venue). Down-voting would be an effective use of a troll army. Firstly, it's impersonal: it could be done by a machine (even if human-guided--they click to down-vote and then over a few hours, the software streams in down-votes from hundreds of spoofed IP Addresses).

Secondly, it's measurable and impactful. If you could isolate posts you thought were valuable to the opposing teams in these areas and down-vote them, you could remove good ones, maybe promote bad ones, and so on.

Is This Happening?
The Omnivore doubts it. The reason: The Omnivore doubts that posts that are getting (somewhat) down-voted are really that valuable. The Omnivore finds it very unlikely that several down-votes will have enough impact to assign people to pursue it.

The other reason this isn't happening on, like, the Bernie Sanders subreddit is because down-voting as a strategic resource only makes sense when enough down-votes hide a post that the down-voters don't want you to see. The "front pages" of Reddit or Digg (is that even still around?) can work this way. The Sanders subreddit doesn't. Posts aren't being hidden.

The other value would be if there were an actual debate going on--like in the comments section of an international news site where people have differing opinions. On Bernie Sanders sites, there isn't real debate. There are just varying degrees of The Bern. As such, down-voting isn't going to convince people that an opinion is unpopular and therefore should be ignored.

Creation of Paranoia

If down-voting is at least feasible, this one is precious. The reason subversive groups are paranoid about infiltrators is that they are breaking the law. Subversive groups that really do things--as opposed to chatting on message boards or maybe Phone Banking--require high-trust because they are doing things that are illegal. dangerous, and have real consequences and impact. In that dynamic you have to trust the person next to you and everyone has a motive to turn: they got caught and flipped.

Conversely, Bernie Sanders supporters who accuses others of being trolls because they sense some fakeness in the former-friend's post are just whiners.

Is This Happening?
No. No one is creating identities, giving them modest histories as supporters, and then having them "go bad" in order to create a sense of paranoia.

Concern Trolling

This brings us to the big Kahuna of paid shills--the "Concern Troll." The theory is this: when something bad happens--either a candidate adopts an untenable position or suffers a set-back--or has a glaring weakness--someone comes in and says "I'm a true believer--and I LOVE candidate-X . . . but I'm concerned that when people go to they'll see that Candidate-X's plan will BANKRUPT EVERYONE. What can we do about this guys? Guyz??"

The agony of Concern Trolling is that it hits where it hurts--when supporters are having doubts or a candidate exposes a weakness--a full frontal assault will result in closing ranks and rebuking the attacker. Either with a related talking point or just a shouting down. Either way, there's some balm for the beleaguered. With a Concern Troll, you're talking to "a friend."

It requires a real response and often . . . there isn't one.

The problem with Concern Trolling is that while it's great at causing despair, it can only seriously work when someone is already pretty badly fucked. Concern Trolling Hillary, for example: "She's gonna go TO JAIL" provokes laughter.

Concern Trolling Sanders: "HE CAN'T WIN--HE'D NEED LIKE 90% OF CALIFORNIA!!" doesn't provoke laughter--it has math behind it.

This is also why it isn't happening: by the time Concern Trolling is available and effective, the war is already over. When the war is over, no one is going to pay money to rub people's noses in it.

Is This Happening?
No. But this bears repeating: Whatever Correct The Record is doing, it is NOT Concern Trolling reddit. This is because (a) the anti-Sanders points are essentially just factual and there is good cause to be demoralized. There is no ROI for the Clinton Campaign to go in and do dirty tricks--and it might actually backfire.

Also (b) Sanders is cooked without any Internet shenanigans. He lost in the Market Place of ideas and every story about ballot fraud and Facebook-Page-Takedowns and everything else are just stories that people who are losing tell themselves in an attempt to not feel like losers. Remember Romney poll-unskewing? Did you live through the PUMA McCain-Landslide?

According to Internet Lore, dirty-tricks are never more prevalent than when they are no longer needed. It's also part of the lore that the million-dollar campaign is targeting the lease valuable operators: people behind their computers.

If you want to make a real difference to a campaign? Don't bother phone-banking. Get out there and door-knock. What's that? The action is now in another state and you've got finals? Yeah, The Omnivore knew that. Everyone knew that. National Campaigns are tough.

So What ARE They Doing?

The Omnivore's guess is: What it sounds like. They are (1) paying attention to what is being said online so they know what is going on in the Internet trenches. (2) They are publishing counter-talking points for people on the Hillary-side (but NOT paid operatives) to be able to throw back at allegations. (3) They are looking at patterns of abuse ("Bernie Bros") to see what the learning is--they know that Team Trump will utilize many of the same attacks in the fall.

Are they attacking Bernie Supporters? If they are, be very glad: that is money horribly spent and totally wasted. 

The bad news is that if Correct The Record can get away with wasting money like that and Hillary is still winning by a mile? Then things are even worse than you imagined. Sorry--is that Concern Trolling?

No comments:

Post a Comment