Trolls As A Campaign Tactic

Once again the right wing has found a way to cry that they are victims as Breitbart also applies a common right wing tactic of accusing liberals of doing things which the right has actually done. His paranoid rants include:

Much of Mr. Obama’s vaunted online strategy involved utilizing “Internet trolls” to invade enemy lines under false names and trying to derail discussion. In the real world, that’s called “vandalism.” But in a political movement that embraces “graffiti” as avant-garde art , that’s business as usual. It relishes the ability to destroy other people’s property in pursuit of electoral victory.

Trolls are a fact of life on blogs. I receive multiple comments from right wing hardly means that this is a strategy of any campaign (other than John McCain’s.) Anyone concerned that this will destroy their “property” simply has to use the blog’s moderation functions. Most blogs of any size on either the left or right have found it necessary to do so.

While most trolls are acting on their own, using blog comments was actually a strategy of the McCain campaign which Jonathan Martin wrote about last May:

John McCain’s campaign is using their campaign website to encourage supporters to post supportive comments on political blogs, including the most well-known liberal site in the blogosphere.   And to make things easier, they’re including talking points with which sympathizers can use to get out the McCain message.

“Select from the numerous web, blog and news sites listed here, go there, and make your opinions supporting John McCain known,” instructs the page.

McCain supporters are asked to send the details of their comment to the campaign, which in turn will verify it and then reward the supporter with “points” (assumedly to accumulate for McCain swag).

Wired wrote about it in June:

It seems that his campaign team is trying to extend that approach online. The McCain campaign in late May launched a new blogger outreach section on its website that encourages supporters to lobby for their candidate across 94 blogs that range in political bent from far left to far right.

The campaign arms the blog-raiders with one of McCain’s speeches on the need to transcend partisan politics to deal with the problems that the nation faces…

David All, a Republican Web 2.0 consultant, and co-founder of Slatecard, an online political action committee, defended the strategy. He calls it “smart” and “unique.”

“He’s got the most comprehensive blogger outreach strategy, and this is just an evolution of that,” he argues.

In recent years every campaign has had supporters who troll other blogs–and they generally do it without pay or official connections to the campaign. In 2008 this was seen predominantly from Ron Paul supporters with Hillary Clinton’s supporters coming in a distant second. Howard Dean had his share of supporters trolling other blogs in 2004 to the point where the campaign found this to be an embarrassment and urged supporters to cut it out. Sarah Palin has her share of rabid internet supporters, but, true to their candidate, they tend to be the least intelligent and many have difficulty even stringing together coherent troll comments. While Obama made extensive use of the internet to organize supporters, his campaign generally seemed to have far less interest in the blogosphere outside of their own campaign blog than most other recent campaigns.

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11 Comments

  1. 1
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I could be guilty of what Breitbart is talking about. I have been commenting on Jenn Q Public blog as heavily as I have been commenting here, of late. If I really believed Breitbart was somehow tracking my comments, I’d feel perversely flattered.

    I don’t think I am totally on the wrong track, however. I believe Breitbart may genuinely be equating ‘making dissenting arguments in comments on conservative blogs’ with ‘trolling.’

  2. 2
    Jenn Q. Public says:

    Ha! Eclectic Radical is my liberal troll.  Too funny. 

    I don’t consider someone with a different political perspective a troll as long as an effort is made to present a reasoned argument.  Who the hell wants to live in an echo chamber all the time?

    However, conservative blogs are absolutely plagued by “mobys” who pose as righties in the comment sections.  They spout  ridiculous arguments that reflect the most common stereotypes of conservatives (racist, homphobic, violent, etc) in an apparent effort to discredit the blog.  The moby strategy is frequently advocated at Daily Kos – this week, for instance, they’re going after that new community site run by Fox.

    Does the political right have similar campaigns against liberal blogs? Probably, but I’ve never seen specific calls-to-action.  I think Breitbart’s main point was that the right is woefully disorganized and could learn a thing or two from the more sophisticated coordination that happens on the left.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    I can’t say what Daily Kos does, but that is hardly the same as saying Obama is doing this sort of thing.

    I also receive posts by people who write like they are liberals but it is clear from their comments that they are really conservatives who are repeating the Limbaugh/Hannity/Coulter distortions of liberal beliefs.

    Quoting comments in a blog is generally a poor way to characterize liberal or conservative belief unless there is a very clear trend, as opposed to isolated comments. I’ve notice several times cases in right wing blog in which liberals are attacked based upon material in blog comments. Of course the blogosphere is a big place and it is certainly possible that some liberal bloggers have also done this.

  4. 4
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Well, as long as I am not a troll. I feel much better now. :)

    I do have to question how many of these comments, on both the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ are really people pretending to espouse views not their own. In my experience, many people really are that kind of idiot (on both sides of the political spectrum) when they think they can express their real feelings without consequences. I’ve seen plenty of depressingly stereotypical posts and comments from writer professing to be liberal and writers professing to be conservative on blogs of both persuasions. They can’t all be trolls.

    I think some people really are just that stupid, on both sides.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    When dealing with the most extreme it is often difficult to tell the difference between someone with extreme views and someone pretending to have such views and trying to sound off the wall. Sometimes it is obvious it is trolls. Other times it is not so clear.

  6. 6
    Eclectic Radical says:

    It is not just about ‘extreme.’ I am certainly on the ‘far left’, I would generally call my views extreme.

    Some people are just idiots.

  7. 7
    Ron Chusid says:

    True, it is not just about extreme. Neither “extreme” or “idiot” is the ideal word but I think you know the type of person I’m talking about regardless of the label.

  8. 8
    Fritz says:

    Eclectic, dude — you don’t seem to be on the ‘far left’ to me.

  9. 9
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Fritz, read my blog and see if you still think the same.

  10. 10
    Fritz says:

    Eclectic — well, all right.  I hope you’re amusing.  :)

  11. 11
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Mostly painfully serious. If you want amusing, check out ‘The Snarking Lot’ in my links. Sadly, Jeffrey Ferguson has not been active for a little while now. Plenty of stuff in his archives, though.

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