Friday, April 22, 2016

Who got owned by Clinton's million dollar troll campaign?

Everyone's having a good laugh over Hillary Clinton's ridiculous million dollar troll campaign. Oddly enough, this seems to include a lot of people who got caught up in it. As far as I can tell, the idea seems to be that if you did not personally enlist in the War Against Bernie Bros, and maintained some degree of agnosticism or ambivalence over the whole affair, that you managed to escape complicity in Clinton's idiotic scheme.

This is absolutely ridiculous. It betrays a grossly uninformed and simplistic understanding of how this sort of influence operation works. The elite mobilization of provacateurs against the left has a long, well-documented and well-understood history, with predictable and deliberate objectives that the professionals who plan these campaigns are well aware of. A few of the more obvious ones:

  • SHIFT THE OVERTON WINDOW - The goal here is simply to promote "Bernie Bros are #problematic" into the spectrum of tolerable and respectable opinion. This is easy to do with centrists: just take an insane radical position that Sanders supporters are all white male crypto-Marxist racist sexist neo-Paultards, and then stand back while Ron Fournier types stroke their chins and conclude, "Maybe both sides have a point." A whole genre of centrists managed to avoid putting their feet in their mouths too badly here - but still went out of their way to hedge their comments with obligatory "of course, there has been some harassment" concessions that no one would bothered to make if we'd treated it like the non-issue it actually was. They got trolled.
  • PROVOKE OVER-REACTIONS - Perversely, a major goal in this sort of campaign is to goad immature, emotionally unstable or unusually reactionary opponents - the kind one finds in every campaign as a matter of statistical inevitability - into saying or doing something that will embarrass everyone else. Let that sink in: here, the goal was clearly to incite precisely the climate of racism, sexism, and general antagonism that Clintonites have been wringing their hands about for the past year. We know that they've done this before, and it's an obvious and utterly foreseeable outcome of this kind of strategy. Did you say dumb things about how Sanders supporters were somehow complicit in or responsible for DogBoner88 throwing around some bigoted slur? You got trolled.
  • FOMENT DISCORD AND DAMPEN ENTHUSIASM - Even when the targets of this sort of campaign understand what's going on, there are always going to be internal disagreements about how to handle it. This is fine as long as the debate stays comradely and proportional to the challenge; decent and intelligent people can disagree on how to handle situations this complex and fluid. But instead, what often happens is that the targets of this sort of campaign turn on each other, and displace onto allies reactive aggression that should be channelled towards the people who are causing the problem in the first place. This kind of internal argument fosters discord and becomes an energy sink, which of course is precisely as intended; and if you're blaming a comrade for a problem Clinton caused, you got trolled.
  • BLAME THE VICTIMS - A related but distinct outcome from the previous three is a pseudo-agnostic or conflict-averse tendency to blame the targets of this sort of campaign for defending themselves. Even people within the targeted movement will do this on occasion, but it's more common among above-the-fray type third parties who think the whole controversy will go away if the victims unilaterally stand down. Of course, when you're running a million dollar troll campaign, flamewars are going to happen whether or not any particular people get involved; and when targets are getting smeared as bigots and partisans, they have every right and reason to defend themselves and their movement. So yes, if you were making some variation on the mealy-mouthed "these Bernie Bro articles are stupid but their complaints about them are just obnoxious" or whatever, great work: you got trolled.
Honestly, anyone who came into this primary with even a trivial amount of skepticism, a basic familiarity with how the Clintons campaign, and any kind of dim intuition about how modern online marketing / astroturfing works should have been able to recognize the million dollar troll campaign pretty quickly. It is absolutely criminal that journalists, who are supposed to be far more familiar with all of this, didn't blow the lid off of it themselves, and mostly just waited for Correct The Record itself to admit what was going on. And if you got what was happening, the appropriate response every step of the way was to call Clinton out on it and not let any of it turn into an indictment of Sanders.

If you didn't get what was happening, and proceeded accordingly, that's fine - this doesn't make you a bad person. It just makes you a sucker who got caught up in one of the largest and most aggressive troll campaigns in history. That's exactly what happened if you got involved in any of the above outcomes, even if you were clever and savvy enough not to take the bait hook, line, and sinker.