Be nice to Hillary Clinton online — or risk a confrontation with her super PACThat was my conclusion back in 2013 when commenting on an Israeli article about Israel’s elaborate hasbara program:
By Evan Halper
When the Internet’s legions of Hillary hecklers steal away to chat rooms and Facebook pages to vent grievances about Clinton, express revulsion toward Clinton and launch attacks on Clinton, they now may find themselves in a surprising place – confronted by a multimillion dollar super PAC working with Clinton.
Hillary Clinton’s well-heeled backers have opened a new frontier in digital campaigning, one that seems to have been inspired by some of the Internet’s worst instincts. Correct the Record, a super PAC coordinating with Clinton’s campaign, is spending some $1 million to find and confront social media users who post unflattering messages about the Democratic front-runner.
In effect, the effort aims to spend a large sum of money to increase the amount of trolling that already exists online.
The plan comes as Clinton operatives grapple with the reality that her supporters just aren’t as engaged and aggressive online as are her detractors inside and outside the Democratic Party.
The lack of engagement is one of Clinton’s bigger tactical vulnerabilities, particularly when compared with rivals like Donald Trump, whose viral social media attacks are legion, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is backed by a passionate army of media-savvy millennials.
Some experts on digital campaigns think the idea of launching a paid army of “former reporters, bloggers, public affairs specialists, designers” and others to produce online counterattacks is unlikely to prove successful. Others, however, say Clinton has little choice but to try, given the ubiquity of online assaults and the difficulty of squelching even provably untrue narratives once they have taken hold.
At the same time, however, using a super PAC to create a counterweight to movements that have sprung up organically is another reflection of the campaign’s awkwardness with engaging online, digital pros said.
“It is meant to appear to be coming organically from people and their social media networks in a groundswell of activism, when in fact it is highly paid and highly tactical,” said Brian Donahue, chief executive of the consulting firm Craft Media/Digital.
“That is what the Clinton campaign has always been about,” he said. “It runs the risk of being exactly what their opponents accuse them of being: a campaign that appears to be populist but is a smokescreen that is paid and brought to you by lifetime political operatives and high-level consultants.”
The task force designed to stop the spread of online misinformation and misogyny is the brainchild of David Brock, a Clinton confidant who once made a career of spreading such misinformation and misogynistic attacks against her and Bill Clinton. His critics say he kept his taste for dirty tricks when he switched sides to become one of the Clintons’ most valued operatives. …When actor Tim Robbins was confronted on Twitter after making the dubious assertion that election fraud is robbing Sanders of votes, he accused tweeters who challenged him of being paid shills for Brock. Within an hour, he had directed a variation of the same message at 88 different tweeters:
“Dear @CorrectRecord operatives, Thank you for following today’s talking points. Your check is in the mail. Signed, @davidbrockdc”
Those independent tweeters who challenged Robbins were not on Brock’s payroll. Correct the Record is not paying activists outside the organization to send messages, although it is arming them with instructions, talking points and postable infographics.
But the Robbins response confirmed a well-established rule of social media: The kind of confrontations Correct the Record is manufacturing almost never win converts.
Social media scholars say that’s not necessarily a problem.
“It will get the people already supporting Hillary Clinton riled up and more excited,” said Filippo Menczer of the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research at Indiana University, who researches how and why misinformation takes hold on social media.
Although this Israeli system has been widely rumored to be operative for years, my first thought was that this didn’t sound very cost-effective. After all, plenty of people, some of them quite talented writers, like to comment for free.The Russian government has set up a hasbara system similar to Israel’s. America, in contrast, has lots of Volunteer Auxiliary Thought Police.
On the other hand, this should allow the Netanyahu government to systematically identify and evaluate its verbalist supporters at an early age, and then reward the ones it likes most.