Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Trolling and forgery

The Obama forces did a lot of blog trolling in the 2008 elections. They will no doubt continue the practice in 2012, although you won't see their handiwork unless your blog-reading habits skew right. Romney divides conservatives (Freepers hate him), so the O Team would be well-advised to concentrate on deepening those divisions. The pro-Obama forces probably won't spend much time and money manipulating Blogistan Left during this election cycle. Why should they?

We also know that Republican trolls will be out in force heavily this season, romping through prog-land. This remarkable Skydancing post outlines the evidence. The ad discussed here by Bob Cesca clinches the case. I've seen similar ads on freelancer sites.

What intrigues me are two specific documents that have been floating around since last August. Both documents are attributed to Karl Rove. Both outline plans for blog trolling.

The first document is called "Tactics for Effective Conservative Blogging." You can find it here and here and here. Here's a sample:
Engage. Demand an elaborate, time-consuming comparison / analysis between your position and theirs.
Entangle. Insist that the Liberal put their posts in their own words. That will consume the most time and effort for the Liberal poster

They will be unable to spread numerous points on numerous blogs if you have them occupied. Allowing a Liberal to post a web link is too quick and efficient for them. Tie them up. We are going for delay of game here.
Demoralize. Dismiss their narrative as rubbish immediately.

Do not even read it. Once the Liberal goes through the trouble to research, gather, collate, compose and write their narrative your job is to discredit it. Make it obvious you tossed their labor-intensive narrative aside like garbage. This will have the effect of demoralizing the Liberal poster.

It will make them unwilling to expend the effort again, and for us, that is a net win
And so on. This text certainly does a good job of describing right-wing tactics. Nevertheless, I'm not persuaded that Karl Rove is the real author. The wording is too obvious, too on-the-nose, and the villainy is too self-aware. Forgers tend to forget that, in real life, the people they consider the Bad Guys think of themselves as the Good Guys. Political opponents don't twirl their mustaches while cackling at their own evilness.

Does anyone have a provenance for the text called "Tactics for Effective Conservative Blogging"? Is there any evidence of Karl Rove's authorship?

This document reminds me of certain infamous fakelore texts which have received widespread distribution within the conspiracy buff subculture. I refer, of course, to such notorious works as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, "Silent Weapons," or L. Ron Hubbard's Brain-Washing hoax.

I have a longstanding interest in these forgeries. They always take the form of "liberated" documents written by a perceived Bad Guy (or a Bad Guy Group) scheming against fair play, decency, and all that is holy.

Political fakelore is, for the most part, a right-wing phenomenon. Umberto Eco's The Prague Cemetery details the 19th century history of this disreputable literary genre. (Sorry to keep mentioning that book, but it really is invaluable.)

The best-known left-wing example of fakelore is The Report From Iron Mountain. The Report is an oddity, in that it began as a liberal prank and found a new home among the paranoid rightists. Some on the right still consider it real.

Arguably, the "King Alfred Plan," which outlines an alleged government plot to murder American blacks, is another piece of left-wing fakelore. This pseudo-document first appeared in a novel called The Man Who Cried I Am, written in the 1960s by John Williams. The book is clearly labeled fiction. The Plan is the book's maguffin -- in other words, "King Alfred" is the Horrible Secret that the protagonist hopes to expose and the bad guys want to cover up. The novel, although quite good, had largely faded from memory by the early 1970s, when an unknown party retyped the Plan to look (sort of) like an actual CIA document. In that form, the Plan was distributed throughout the black community, and many people accepted it as real. There is good reason to believe that a member of the John Birch Society engineered this deception.

I can't think of many other well-known examples of incendiary political fakelore by left-wingers. (If you scour the JFK assassination literature, you'll find a few clumsy contributions to the genre, but these texts are familiar only to specialists.) Since far-rightists disseminated both Iron Mountain and "King Alfred," one cannot fairly call them left-wing forgeries, even though liberals wrote both works.

Our second putative Rove text is a memo titled "Internet Operations --  For Immediate and Aggressive Implementation." It can be found here and here. This one  is even less convincing.

Here's a sample:
1. Main mission:  Infiltrate all liberal web sites, posing as disaffected liberals with liberal-sounding user names, icons and signatures.  (Reference Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich, FDR, Smedley Butler, Bill Clinton, etc.)

2. Express.  Disappointment.  With.  Obama.  (Whining pays double!)  (jk!)

3. Push primary challenge.  Push third party.  Push Green.  Push Socialist.  Push write-in voting.  Push non-voting to "send a message."
"Internet Operations" was allegedly made public by the hacker collective known as Anonymous. I've seen no independent evidence that anyone linked to Anonymous ever had anything to do with disgorging these words. If hackers had gained access to Rove's emails, we would have seen an entire Rove trove -- including correspondence with people unfamiliar to the general public. Much of the material would be puzzling and obscure to outsiders.

I feel reasonably certain that Rove did not write this text. "Internet Operations" is, in all likelihood, a concoction designed to discredit any progressive who expresses public disappointment in Barack Obama.

Did this forgery originate in Axelrod's shop? Possible, but I doubt it.

Both documents -- "Tactics" and "Internet Operations" -- made their first appearances in August of 2011. Both were the initial postings of unknown newcomers to venerable progressive communities -- The Young Turks and Daily Kos. Although both texts are attributed to Karl Rove, the writing styles differ -- from each other, and from published Rove writings.

"Internet Operations" is written in a style we may call "internet-ese." Take a second look at this bit:
Express.  Disappointment.  With.  Obama.  (Whining pays double!)  (jk!)
Most people of Rove's generation don't write that way. You would expect to see that kind of puerility from a Twilight aficionado discussing the latest fanfic.

The only progressive known to me who enjoys playing these sorts of games is Neal Rauhauser, who also goes by the names John Dean and SluggoJohn. He's a well-known (if not always well-liked) net presence whom I described in an earlier post. However, I see no evidence connecting him to these two documents.
Strangely enough when I was reading through this supposed Karl Rove instructive, I recognized the technique used by posters against anything 'liberal.' I think we've all experienced the immediate discredit of sources by right-wing trolls and comments making liberal/progressive viewpoints sound like a case of self-inflicted leprosy.

Part of that is our own fault, allowing the Repugs to define who and what we are, and giving a pass to Dem candidates running away--like scared rabbits--from the term itself. Also, for too long we've pretended that simply being a Democrat = liberal values and policies. There are way too many neoliberals in the Party at the moment, many of whom are shaping policy with disastrous results for the country, particularly one that wants to call itself a democratic Republic.

Rule of Law anyone???

I had the misfortune of stumbling on an article by Phyllis Schlafly last week in which she boasted that their side had thoroughly discredited the word liberal and now they would do the same thing to the term feminism.

No doubt the trolls on all sides will be out in force for this election. Color me crazy but I'm expecting a very dirty, ugly campaign.

This comment has been removed by the author.
Peggysue, you're right. Even though I think the "Rove" documents are forgeries, they describe actual tactics. We've all seen these strategies.

I remember one occasion, during an early stage of the Iraq war, when Fox News reported on a battle that never took place. The right-wing commenters insisted that it DID take place. When Ted Koppel (embedded with the unit that had allegedly done the fighting) claimed that he saw no such battle, the righties denounced Ted as being part of the great Liberal conspiracy. When the NYT said that the battle never took place, the NYT became part of the same conspiracy. And so on.

That's how the right-wing blog-spammers acted when the Jessica Lynch fabrication began to fall apart.

No amount of proof is sufficient to establish any point if an opponent is allowed to keep moving the goal posts.

When you get into a detailed argument with any right-wing propagandist, he will insist that you prove every molecule of your argument -- and only with sources HE considers acceptable. And even if you do that level of homework (spending hours and hours going through newspaper archives and so forth), your work will be dismissed with a quick snarl, coupled with an insult about your personal appearance or some other unrelated matter.

In the meantime, a rightwinger always assigns himself the right to consider a point proven simply because he has said it. Proof by assertion. That's his act.

You can't argue with such people.

Right-wing fanatics will never -- ever -- say the things that normal people say during a debate: "All right, I must concede some territory on point X, but I would still direct your attention to..."

They just won't play the game that way.

To them, this is blood sport. It's not about the establishment of truth.
Joe, who is Neal Rauhauser? lol

Wow, wtf - how did I get connected to all this stuff? I don't do anything these days except battle nutcases. Please don't tell me you're off the deep end now too.

I am the only person I believe to ever send you a donation, and I offered other times. I helped you many times on research. And I helped Brad as well.

How did I suddenly become Neal whateverthehell, plus all the junk you wrote about me at another link?

Dude, seriously, you're way off on this. Feel free to email me at the same email I have had fora long time, or call me at my same cell phone number I gave you a long time ago.


John Dean
SluggoJD (since 1994)
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