Thursday, April 21, 2016

Of course the "Bernie Bro" smear was a PR campaign

Clinton Super PAC Correct the Record (CtR) admitted on Wednesday what has long been perfectly obvious to anyone paying attention: controversy over so-called "Bernie Bros" has been long driven by a coordinated and massively funded PR campaign:
The [Barrier Breakers] task force currently combats online political harassment, having already addressed more than 5,000 individuals who have personally attacked Secretary Clinton on Twitter... Lessons learned from online engagement with “Bernie Bros” during the Democratic Primary will be applied to the rest of the primary season and general election.
There's a lot of subtext in the press release that's easy to miss. For example, CtR notes that the task force
provide[s] a presence and space online where Clinton supporters can organize and engage with one another and are able to obtain graphics, videos, gifs, and messaging to use in their own social spaces...[and will share] their efforts and content with other groups.
This may seem relatively benign at first glance - but it takes on a whole new meaning when we consider a specific argument CtR made in May:
...campaign finance experts...noted that super PACs...cannot be coordinated with a candidate or political party...But Correct the Record believes it can avoid the coordination ban by relying on a 2006 Federal Election Commission regulation that declared that content posted online for free, such as blogs, is off limits from regulation...allowing independent groups to consult with candidates about the content they post on their sites.
It's obvious what's going on here. The FEC imposes all kinds of funding and disclosure rules on campaign communication operations. But there's a (dubiously) legal way to get around this: just let one of your super PACs "provide" staffing and resources in a "space online", and then tell them what to do. CtR has explicitly claimed its right to do this, and now it has created the opportunity for Clinton's campaign to do this. Why would they not be involved?

Who else is involved? CtR hints at this, too:
The task force staff’s backgrounds... include former reporters, bloggers, public affairs specialists, designers, Ready for Hillary alumni, and Hillary super fans who have led groups similar to those with which the task force will organize.
Of course, none of these people have ever disclosed their involvement in this effort (or the "similar" ones), none of them will unless they are forced to, and none of them will be held accountable for it. By the way, those "other groups" that CtR shares content with? Journalists.

One group who they do not admit is involved - but who almost certainly is involved, given the type of work being done and the vast sums of money going around - is PR firms. And on that note, I'll just remind everyone of this anecdote, which (to my ear, as someone who has worked in the field), sounds even more plausible now than it did before:
I am officially a former "digital media specialist" (a nice way to say "paid Internet troll") previously employed by Hillary Clinton's campaign (through a PR firm). I'm posting here today as a confession of sorts because I can no longer continue to participate in something that has become morally-indigestible for me. 
Just to give you an idea, here are some of the guidelines for our posting in October: 
1) Sexism. This was the biggest one we were supposed to push. We had to smear Bernie as misogynistic and out-of-touch with modern sensibilities. He was to be characterized as "an old white male relic that believed women enjoyed being gang raped". Anyone who tried to object to this characterization would be repeatedly slammed as sexist until they went away or people lost interest. 
2) Racism. We were instructed to hammer home how Bernie supporters were all privileged white students that had no idea how the world worked. We had to tout Hillary's great record with "the blacks" (yes, that's the actual way it was phrased), and generally use racial identity politics to attack Sanders and bolster Hillary as the only unifying figure.
3) Electability. All of those posts about how Sanders can never win and Hillary is inevitable? Some of those were us, done deliberately in an attempt to demoralize Bernie supporters and convince them to stop campaigning for him. The problem is that this was an outright fabrication and not an accurate assessment of the current political situation. But the truth didn't matter - we were trying to create a new truth, not to spread the existing truth. 
4) Dirty tactics. This is where things got really bad. We were instructed to create narratives of Clinton supporters as being victimized by Sanders supporters, even if they were entirely fabricated...These kind of posts are manufactured to divide and demoralize Sanders supporters, and are entirely artificial in nature. (The same thing happened in 2008, but it wasn't as noticeable before social media and public attention focused on popular forums like Reddit).
The whole thing is worth a read.