It worked so well in 2016, apparently, that Democrats are already lining up their excuses for next year’s presidential race. Politico reports breathlessly that a “‘Sustained and ongoing’ disinformation assault targets Dem presidential candidates.”
A wide-ranging disinformation campaign aimed at Democratic 2020 candidates is already underway on social media, with signs that foreign state actors are driving at least some of the activity.
The main targets appear to be Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), four of the most prominent announced or prospective candidates for president.
The theory is that elections are swayed largely by paid ads on Facebook and Twitter. This would come as news to most voters.
The cyber propaganda — which frequently picks at the rawest, most sensitive issues in public discourse — is being pushed across a variety of platforms and with a more insidious approach than in the 2016 presidential election, when online attacks designed to polarize and mislead voters first surfaced on a massive scale.
Not exactly massive. How much did the Russians spend on Facebook? Something like $100,000, I believe, an infinitesimal fraction of what the campaigns spent.
So what are these “raw, sensitive” issues that someone is writing about on Facebook and Twitter?
In Warren’s case, a false narrative surfaced alleging that a blackface doll appeared on a kitchen cabinet in the background of the senator’s New Year’s Eve Instagram livestream.
It turned out to be a reproduction of a Greek urn. I hope Politico will be equally assiduous in debunking the “false narratives” that surround Republican office-seekers. False claims that they colluded with Russia, for example.
[Kamala Harris] was also among the most targeted. One widely seen tweet employed racist and sexist stereotypes in an attempt to sensationalize Harris’ relationship with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.
Politico doesn’t tell us what the tweet said, so I have no idea whether it “employed racist and sexist stereotypes.” But Harris did, in fact, have an illicit relationship with the married Brown, who at the time was the most powerful politician in California. Brown’s patronage was key to Harris’s rise in Democratic Party politics. Voters will decide how much they care, but the subject is an entirely appropriate one.
Another racially charged tweet was directed at [Beto] O’Rourke…
“Racially charged” is the weasel phrase du jour. Its meaning, if it has one, is infinitely flexible.
The Twitter profile of the user where it originated indicates the account was created in May 2018, but it had authored just one tweet since then — in January, when the account announced it had breaking news about the former Texas congressman leaving a message using racist language on an answering machine in the 1990s.
Did O’Rourke leave a racist message on an answering machine in the 1990s? I don’t know and don’t care. The idea that a tweet asserting such a false claim (assuming it is false) could sway any votes–let alone a significant number of votes–strikes me as absurd.
The Politico piece is opaque because it characterizes tweets without reproducing or even quoting them. Personally, I have little confidence in Politico’s judgments. For example:
A separate Guardians.ai study that looked at the focus of the 200 account group on voter fraud and false and/or misleading narratives about election integrity — published just before the midterm elections and co-authored by Horvath, Zach Verdin and Alicia Serrani — reported that the accounts generated or were mentioned in more than 140 million tweets over the prior year.
“False and/or misleading narratives about election integrity” sounds like it would apply to anything that contradicts the Democratic Party line that voter fraud is a myth. Which is itself, by the way, a “false narrative,” but I don’t suppose anyone has tried to count the number of people who have seen tweets or Facebook posts promoting the Democrats’ false line.
The Politico account is troubling for several reasons, including the fact that it doesn’t seriously try to separate false claims from those that are true, but inconvenient for Democrats. Thus:
Kelly Jones, a researcher with Storyful who tracked suspicious activity in the three days after the campaign announcements of Harris, Warren, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), said she’s seen a concerted push over separate online message boards to build false or derogatory narratives.
“False or derogatory?” That is ridiculous: false assertions are bad, true but derogatory ones are not.
You get the drift. The Democrats are obviously happy with how their pretense that insignificant Russian activity somehow swung the 2016 election has damaged the Trump administration, and they are giving it another go. Now, I am looking forward to a Politico analysis of the legion of patently false claims about President Trump and his administration that circulate on Twitter and Facebook.