Monday, April 11, 2016

Bots to the left of me, Bots to the right

Who are the BernieBots?

A couple of months ago, Glenn Greenwald (a Sanders supporter) wrote an influential piece which argued that the "obnoxious BernieBro phenomenon" wasn't really real. Right. It is to laugh. You know those CSICOP guys who will smugly tell you that poltergiests don't exist, even as you're watching Grandma's crockery smash against the walls? Greenwald is like that. Sorry dude, but you can't talk me into denying the evidence of lived experience.

The problem with Greenwald's analysis is that he framed his argument in terms of sexism. That's not the real issue. The real issue concerns the incessant comment spam from a pro-Bernie troll army. I lived and blogged through 2008, and I know bots when I see 'em.

Folks, you have no idea how many zombie BernieBot comments get deleted from my inbox every hour, even though I've made clear that this is unfriendly territory and their efforts will be wasted. (In the process, I've accidentally deleted a few comments from real people that should have passed through: Deepest apologies.)

Actual human beings would learn from experience. Actual human beings, acting on their own initiative, would reserve their energies for a more profitable endeavor. Yet BernieBots keep functioning in accordance with their programming.

This is not a simple case of a confrontation between ordinary Americans who favor differing candidates. This is an operation. Someone paid to make this happen.

We eventually learned that Obama's henchman, David Axelrod, ran a robo-troll shop in 2008. Axelrod's secret explains why so many Obot comments came from the same "CHIGILL" (Chicago, Illinois) IP address -- 24/7, at least every ten minutes.

(I admit that what is happening now isn't as bad or obvious as what happened then. But it's still pretty damned bad, and pretty damned obvious.)

So who is paying for the care and maintenance of the BernieBots? Here are some ideas from my readers:
I've come to believe that at least two-thirds of the BernieBots are GOP ratfuckers, given that such silly insults as "killary" is consistent with the the third grade mentality of Trumpers and Obots. I think the Koch money is pulling these fools from the same very shallow gene pool, or is perhaps breeding them in septic tanks. Most of their attacks seem perfunctory and without much creative energy, aside from some of the gross graphics produced by a few of the great brain damaged.
Agree with the above comment. The ratfkrs are too abundant, and the phrasing is too crude (particularly for Democrats), to look like real people doing the posting. This is mass-production trolling, carried out by parties unknown ... although Koch operatives come to mind.
This is a good point. Republicans have made no secret of their preference for running against Sanders: A socialist cannot win in the general. (The right's "All Democrats are socialists" meme would become more difficult to laugh off if our presidential candidate is an actual socialist.) Thus, it makes sense for the Republican establishment to function as Bernie's "secret angels" in the internet wars.

Let's take that idea a bit further.

Sanders says that no larger donors have contributed to his suddenly-massive campaign war chest. I question this claim: Given the nature of online donations, it's fairly easy for one person to give a million bucks that has been covertly divided into smaller chunks. (The technical problems are not too formidable. You just need to do a little research and to apply some creative thinking.)

But there's more than one kind of donation. What about the donation of services? Adelson or the Kochs could pay for a troll army and Bernie Sanders would not even know.

That said, someone on the Sanders campaign staff must be savvy enough to figure out what's what.
Ratfuckers yes, but GOP ones? Or Trumpers? I'd be interested to hear more about the specific similarities between pre-election Berniebottery and pre-2008-election Obottery. If it's a massive operation and the similarities are overwhelming, then that would indeed suggest that Trump is the chosen one.
On the other hand, let us not be too quick to dismiss the possibility that Sanders is witting.

I tend to view Sanders as the geriatric version of The Candidate. I don't know how many of you have seen that important film. (For me, it's been awhile: Last time I saw the whole thing was during its original theatrical run in 1972.)

In the film, Robert Redford plays the idealistic son of a California governor -- obviously based on a young Jerry Brown -- who is talked into running for a senate seat against a sure-to-win Republican incumbent. Reford is told that his purpose is not to prevail but to convey a vision -- to win young new voters over to the left wing of the Democratic party. But somewhere along the way, idealism gets lost. The Devil whispers into Redford's ear: Imagine victory. See it. Taste it. You really do want to win, don't you? That means you've gotta do whatever it takes....

Obviously, the Devil has whispered into the ear of Bernie Sanders. The man I see now is not the man who entered the race and (refreshingly) told Hillary Clinton "Nobody cares about your damn emails."

Just as Bernie is the geriatric version of Robert Redford in The Candidate, Barack Obama was, in 2008, the African-American version of The Candidate. That election became a nightmare. Paradoxically, it was much easier to support Obama in 2012, when progressives had given up on their delusions of Messiah-hood. We knew the score: Obama was shit; Romney was shittier. Easy decision.

It's always easier to deal with a political campaign, as opposed to a political movement. I do not trust movements, especially in the internet age. Mobs are scary, and hysteria can be engineered.

Even stranger things are happening on the right side of the aisle. A kind reader has directed my attention to the following:
Some of Donald Trump’s support on Twitter comes from accounts with zero followers who tweet identical messages and who have been part of social media marketing campaigns in the past.

Patrick Ruffini, a conservative activist and anti-Trump supporter, noticed that several hundred accounts have used word-for-word language to urge voters to opt out of Ted Cruz...

Some of the accounts also send advertisements for all manner of web-based entities designed to show up in trending topics and search results for various topics.

These accounts, Ruffini discovered, have a history of tweeting the same messages...
I will leave for others the task of comprehending the technical issues: Twitter annoys me, and I don't want to have to deal with it again. But it appears that nearly two million pro-Trump tweets came from these fake accounts.

Also see this piece in Legal Insurrection:
The Trumpbots, or accounts that seem to exist solely to attack those with unfavorable views of The Donald, are a special breed of vicious. I’ve learned it’s best to ignore, block, and move on. Why waste time on people, or bots rather, not interested in positive engagement, I say.

I’ve also suspected there was a concerted effort to derail conversation on social media and to attempt to fluster influencers. It all reeked of some kind of psychological web warfare. Turns out, I might have been right.
For months now, a faction of the right has fastened on the theory that the "Bots for Trump" phenomenon is the dirty work of none other than Vladimir Putin -- who supposedly just loves The Donald. (Example.) A doubtful idea, this: Putin must understand by now that Trump is an irrational man who can flip faster than a tossed quarter.

Here's the argument of a former-Democrat-turned-neocon blogger:
I’m not on Twitter, and don’t really know that much about how it works. But I have noticed that many of the pro-Trump trolls who arrive here have proxy IP numbers, mostly originating from Australia, Hong Kong, and the like.
So? In the age of the VPN, it's easy to make any computer appear to be located all over the world. (I should also mention TOR. Is it possible to use Twitter via the TOR browser?) None of this points toward Putin.

The Noisy Room blog (a pro-Cruz operation) has more:
While it has been exposed at that self-proclaimed pro-Trump “liberals” are heavily active on social media, and that some of these operatives have made up fake stories to slander Ted Cruz, (see here, and here), Ruffini has been able to uncover metrics about what he refers to as “Trumpbots.”

It should be noted that many of the fake pro-Trump and anti-Cruz “news” stories being spread originate from outside the United States, particularly Macedonia.
Bottom line: Across the political spectrum, The Bot phenomenon has deformed our national conversation. Right and left has felt the punch. If right and left got together and compared notes, we might be able to understand better this new method of political manipulation. We would know how often these tactics are used, who uses them, and whether these troll armies have had an impact in non-election years. And we might be able to craft legislation designed to solve the problem.

But right and left won't compare notes, because we can't stand each other.

One final point: The bot phenomenon goes well beyond the game of Democrat-vs-Republican. In the past, we've looked at Israel's "Megaphone" operation, which targeted any blogs, large or small, that dared to critique His Bibiness. I've had to deal with those clowns as well. The Megaphonies were always pretty easy to spot, since students were hired to do the dirty work. The kids, being kids, were inarticulate dolts -- and you could tell that their heart was not really in their work.


ColoradoGuy said...

It's easy to forget that the real masters of sophisticated media control are the Americans, not the German Nazis or the KGB. Think about it: sure, the Communists blast propaganda from public loudspeakers, but the American way is to have the target of the propaganda spend their own money to buy a radio, television set, computer, or smartphone. That's the key element of "buy-in"; they've already consented to watch and listen, and paid their own hard-earned money for the privilege. Filling in the content is easy in comparison.

Surely the code for synthetic on-line personalities is not all that hard to write. Nixon sent himself tens of thousands of fake telegrams in support of the Vietnam war. Are fake bots all that different?

What we're seeing is a mix of old and new intel-community public-persuasion methods, the advertising community launching "viral" campaigns, and Internet start-ups showing off what they can do. There's no good way of telling how much is real and how much is synthetic.

Part of the desired effect is uncertainty. That's how COINTELPRO worked, back in the days of widespread antiwar protests. You never knew who was listening, who could be an FBI agent, and who could be a narc that would turn in you and all your friends. That uncertainly was exactly what Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover wanted. That was the real engine behind the War on Drugs ... neutralize all those pesky hippies and campus radicals. And it largely worked, although too late for Nixon.

So the real question is: Who sounds real, and who sounds like a well-designed PR campaign? Real people have rough edges, and make mistakes, but also sound original.

Anonymous said...

You're saying there is a conspiracy to nominate Bernie. For all I know, you may be right. But deleting every comment that asks for clarification, smearing even long time commenters as rat-fuckers, impugning bad motives on almost everyone who raises questions, everyone who supports Bernie, makes your own efforts look insincere. You might start by taking down that silly Trump-Sanders banner and try reasoning with skeptical readers.

Joseph Cannon said...

There is no reasoning with a mob. I've dealt with this kind of madness before.

Thanks for your input. I'll do precisely the opposite of what you suggest.

Gus said...

Makes me wonder just how long bots have been a thing on the internet. I'm guessing they've been around before 2008, we just didn't know about their existence (well, I didn't, anyway). I've always suspected that the Republicans Clinton fishing expeditions had a broader polarize the public. Divide and conquer, and all that. I'm not going to delve into conspiracy here, but this election certainly increases my feeling that things are going on behind the scenes that we serfs are not privy to. I suspect there is more going on here than just partisan bickering.

Caro said...

To ColoradoGuy:

I've been watching Nicolas Le Floch on MHZ Network, which is now almost up to the point of the French Revolution. It's a re-enactment, of course, but presumably based on historic research.

In the last episode, enemies of the king were posting hateful lies about him, but for the illiterate there were groups doing plays that would pop up anywhere and everywhere, enact scenes showing how awful the king was, and then move on to do it again. I'm no monarchist, but I hate lies in all situations.

I guess all these attempts at manipulation aren't new, they've just graduated to new platforms.

Caro said...

And today's Republican obstructionism was foreshadowed 176 years ago:

“'Whether, sir, you did not state upon the hustings [the campaign trail], that it was your firm and determined intention to oppose everything proposed; to divide the house upon every question, to move for returns on every subject, to place a motion on the books every day, and, in short, in your own memorable words, to play the very devil with everything and everybody?'”

- Charles Dickens, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, 1838, words spoken by an unhappy constituent to his member of Parliament

Anonymous said...

Excellent quote!
We should mail copies to all Republicans.