On Monday night, the eve of a contentious primary battle in Pennsylvania, during a town hall meeting with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, an assault was launched against many of Bernie’s largest Facebook groups, crippling his grassroots activists during a dire moment in the campaign. The tactic used was to flood the pages with reports of inappropriate content, varying from threats of violence to pornography.
The reports don’t have to be valid, after enough of them Facebook has an automated system to take the offending content offline until it can be reviewed by a human. They usually review the content before deleting it, but when too many complaints come in, faster than they can address them, then it becomes a matter of better safe than sorry.
So, that meant there weren’t any Facebook groups around to warn people of the problems they will face at the voting booth in the morning. Problems at polling places have been a mainstay in this election season. But we can’t blame those problems on Hillary Clinton, as they will also have an impact on whomever the Democratic nominee will be in November.
Secretary Clinton’s super PAC, Correct the Record, has been blamed for these cyber attacks, though there is no smoking gun. Of course, the way ops such as this are performed, there won’t be a smoking gun. Smart trolls use throwaway accounts and go through proxies, covering their tracks easily in a simple op such as this.
So, what do we know?
We know that Correct the Record made public that they are a super PAC, but will be working directly with the Clinton campaign. They claim this is legal because online content which is posted for free is not covered by campaign regulation. Just the idea of that is against Bernie’s entire platform, but it gets worse.
If they’re doing this for free then doesn’t that mean they really are grassroots volunteers, even if they aren’t using the best methods?
Not quite. They plan on spending $1 million on this social media campaign, which means they are paying for the content to be posted. It’s just the trolls rather than Facebook that’s getting paid. Though, you can bet they’ll still be paying to boost posts, which would blatantly violate campaign finance laws, or what little is left of them.
So, won’t Facebook have a problem with their trolling ambitions?
Correct the Record spun off a side-project named Barrier Breakers and possibly others to handle the trolling operation because you can’t have your main page getting implicated in this sort of thing. Of course, they still try to keep things legal when posting under the official group login by sticking with basic misinformation and allegations of misogyny.
But that’s only when posting under the official login.
We know that a man on Facebook named Casey Champagne, who lists a secondary name of Casey Max Charbonneau, and who also had a selfie with Hillary Clinton as his profile pic has been the first troll to out himself by bragging. Before being banned by Facebook, he bragged in a group called Bros 4 Hillary, which has also been deleted since. Casey had Correct the Record and Barrier Breakers among his likes on Facebook.
What did he do that was so bad?
Well, the group that Casey bragged in, Bros 4 Hillary, is the one that threw him under the bus as being solely responsible for posting child pornography. It is unlikely that this was an official tactic, though when you encourage mud-slinging people’s vision will get blurry. For now, he is the scapegoat, though the entire night of attacks could not have been him, alone.
Why couldn’t he do this alone?
An operation to exploit Facebook’s safety features takes more than one person to pull off. Facebook has systems in place to account for the malicious abuse of their reporting feature for inappropriate content. They prefer to have a human review the content in question before making a decision. There was a period in time when content was automatically deleted for any complaint, but Facebook adjusted their automatic response to account for this.
Of course, they still don’t want something truly jarring to remain online until a human gets a chance to review it. To guard against that problem, the content will be blocked automatically if they reach a specified threshold of complaints. That’s what happened with at least seven of Bernie’s biggest support groups. That takes more than one rogue agent, by design.
Was all of the trolling this horrific?
Not at all. Most of the trolling just consisted of making false reports of inappropriate content. As far as we can tell, Casey was the only one creating inappropriate content for others to report. And before the Bernie Blackout Monday night, most of the trolling was simply the spreading of misinformation and baseless accusations.
Does this mean Hillary shouldn’t be implicated?
Hillary should not be charged with distribution of child pornography. That was clearly not her doing, but it was her responsibility. She should take responsibility for using dirty campaign tactics and publically break ties with the trolling operations. She should admit to a poor decision that got out of control.
Did Hillary do anything illegal?
The announced coordination between Clinton’s campaign and the super PAC Correct the Record skirts campaign finance laws, even if the legality is up for debate. It might not be illegal, but it is objectively unethical, to say the least.
What does this mean for Hillary’s online support?
It means that when we encounter a Hillary Clinton supporter online, we’ll never know if they are real. For all we know, they may just be a paid troll.