The rapid national growth and incredible political strength of the Tea Party movement shook the left to its tyrannical core. They did everything they could to stop it, from smears and lies, to demonization and ridicule, even then-president Obama got in on the smear action. But nothing seemed to work.
Nothing worked, that is, until the Obama administration pulled out all the stops and deployed a variety of alphabet agencies to actively target the “taxed enough already” movement. Arguably the most effective of these efforts to quash the truly grassroots movement was the deliberate targeting of Tea Party groups by the IRS, an action admitted to and apologized for, though no one, including Obama, was seriously held to account.
Since then, the left has tried everything it can think of to create its own version of the Tea Party. Unfortunately for them, everything they can think of is rather limited. Indeed, it’s limited to pathetic, desperate astroturfed attempts to buy “grassroots” support. From the “coffee party” to the “women’s march,” the left keeps trying and failing to buy an effective grassroots movement.
You’d think the continual failure of each such astroturfed leftist “movement” would sink in at some point, that they would clue in to the fact that repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results is insane.
Of course you wouldn’t think that, and neither do I, but it seems so obvious that it’s hard to understand why they keep throwing good money after bad in these elaborate, expensive, and ultimately doomed efforts to manufacture a grassroots movement.
Yet they keep trying to buy fake political support. It wasn’t that long ago—in February and March—that Nanny Bloomberg was humiliated by revelations that his paid online support staffers were actively undermining his campaign . . . and actively supporting other candidates on the same social media accounts they were supposed to use to pimp the guy signing their paychecks. Needless to say, Bloomberg’s paid supporters were no match for President Trump’s volunteer online army.
But the radical left has to radical left, and they are shifting some of their astroturf attempts to social media. It was with little surprise that I noted that Democrats are attempting to circumvent and defy social media platforms’ Terms of Service to pay social media “influencers” to shill for their candidate and agenda.
It seems the [Defeat Disinfo] project is rejecting the creation of fake accounts but is seeking to pay existing “influencers,” i.e. those with large social media followings, to tweet, Facebook, and Instagram (etc.) the “best” narratives . . . as defined by [Curtis] Hougland and Democrats.
. . . . This concept of paying social media “influencers” to post content provided by Defeat Disinfo for political purposes would seem to be a violation of most such platforms’ Terms of Service.
These Defeat Disinfo efforts leading up to the November election appear to be developing at breakneck speed.
As conservative conspiracy theories and deepfake videos race through the internet, defying the fact-checkers and bruising political candidates, Curtis Hougland is trying to fight back by borrowing from the playbook of his adversaries.
Hougland, a technologist and online-extremism expert, is hiring small armies of social-media mercenaries to do battle for Democrats.
These are not troops predisposed to political warfare. They are typically not aligned with the progressive candidate or cause that Hougland’s firm, Main Street One, is representing. But they hold a weapon that’s lacking among internet activists in the echo chambers of the left: large and devoted followings of persuadable voters.
“We are making a bet that human networks can out-compete the bots and trolls and sock puppets,” said Hougland, whose background includes helping the Pentagon track and fight Islamic State online.
Ah, yes, nothing says “success” like deploying your paid army of “bots and trolls and sock puppets” (oh my!) to counter a volunteer grassroots army of actual Trump supporters. Will they never learn?
Judging from this LA Times report, they have learned only that paying supporters to show up at protests isn’t very effective. Surely, they sputter, we can pay people to social media and it will work. This time. Really, it will.
As Democrats draft their counteroffensive, they are looking beyond the traditional tools — paid advertisements, media fact-checkers and unevenly enforced social-media platform rules. They are rethinking who needs to be drafted into this fight, when to engage these messengers, and how to advance their own narratives.
The emphasis is on empowering diverse voices online who may only be loosely affiliated with the Biden campaign. How to best enlist those people is a point of tension.
. . . . The folks at Main Street One, though, say they are seeing results in state and local campaigns by mobilizing influencers who have common cause with the candidate or ballot issue. They point to Kentucky, where an influencer they engaged to help undermine support for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was a mom with the social media tagline “bourbon, basketball and God,” who wasn’t a political activist but drew their attention for posting her disgust over McConnell’s push to dismantle Obamacare.
“If you want a more credible messenger, you don’t want them to be as explicit in their political views,” said Hougland, who has launched an anti-Trump political action committee called Defeat Disinfo. “These are all people who make a part of their livelihood by being approached by brands or organizations to express their passions. They are comfortable with this ecosystem. While they are somewhat new to politics, we are comfortable with that.”
Such tactics may have helped Democrats win the close Kentucky governor’s race last year, and their disciplined social media strategy also stifled false claims of ballot tampering from conservatives casting doubt on the election result.
“Everyone wants to cast this as a tech problem,” Hougland said. “It is a people problem. You can’t deal with it just with algorithms. You can’t just take it down. You have to deal with this proportionately.”
So they found someone they deem right-wing and who was already supporting a single Democrat agenda item and then decided to pay that person to do what s/he is already doing? Obviously, it’s not that simple, the idea is to get these “influencers” to post exactly that Hougland and Democrats want them to post, when they want them to post it.
The hope appears to be that the person’s presumably right-wing followers are as dim-witted and apt to be mindless sheeple as leftists typically are. Thus, they will just change their mind and worldview because someone they follow on some social media platform suddenly jumps the shark.
What can go wrong?
There does appear to be some pushback from the left over Hougland’s strategy, but predictably, common sense looks unlikely to prevail.
Others agree, but argue that solving the problem should not involve paying for posts. Even tactics that don’t involve payments to influencers can create questions and ethical quandaries. The methods both parties rely on to push their way into supporters’ social networks have become increasingly invasive and opaque, said Samuel C. Woolley, project director for propaganda research at the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas.
“Often, no one on either side is asking about the ethics of using large databases of voters gotten by suspect means,” he said. When Woolley surveyed his students about texts they were receiving from Democratic presidential campaigns, dozens told him they were getting blitzed with unsolicited messages.
“There are ethical issues around using these tools of automation that target voters without transparency or their consent,” he said. “I am just as suspicious of that as I am of some of the campaigns to spread disinformation.”
. . . . [Jiore] Craig [head of digital practice at GQR, a Democratic firm], who has worked for foreign clients in emerging democracies, is skeptical of the Main Street One model of hiring influencers with appeal in various targeted communities — for example, one group for older African Americans, another for single moms, another for devout churchgoers.
“I don’t want our country to move campaigning to this transactional pay-to-play system,” she said. “It then becomes the expectation of voters that we are paying for our support. I see this happen in my work abroad in places that are not functional democracies. It is not an effective way to organize and will have long-term consequences.”
Expect this sound analysis to fall on deaf ears, though. Democrats tend not to think things through and end up with laundry lists of “unintended consequences” as a result, so they bounce from crisis to crisis in constant “fix it now, deal with the fallout later” mode.
That said, this push to pay apparently right-leaning social media “influencers” who genuinely feel angry or upset by Republicans is something to keep in mind if you see people you follow suddenly start posting things that seem out of character for that person. Likewise, if someone you follow on social media suddenly dons a concern troll hat, wonder why.
It’s also something to keep in mind if you have any mention of God, illegal immigration, the Second Amendment, etc. in your social media profile, you might be targeted by these groups to post their “narrative” if you post something critical of anything related to the GOP.
Needless to say, this strategy can backfire bigly on Democrats. Bigly.
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