Coordinated Trolling Efforts Are Serving Up Small-Scale Election Interference Across The Country

from the I'm-so-old-I-remember-this-being-nothing-more-than-knocking-down-yard-signs dept

A brave new world of voter suppression is upon us. It isn’t shadowy government guys with guns patrolling polling centers in search of “voter fraud” unicorns. It isn’t the surrealistic landscapes created by gerrymandering. It isn’t even the messages being sent from the top man in the land: that people who aren’t Caucasian are probably bussed-in illegals voting straight Democrat.

This new voter suppression flows through the internet, originating in closed chat sessions and manifesting as disinformation campaigns meant to steer certain voters away from the polls.

In a private “strategy chat” with more than 40 far-right trolls, one user who tried to create a new Twitter account to spread disinformation ahead of Tuesday’s midterms elections described how he had hit an immediate roadblock: Twitter banned him for deliberately giving out the wrong election date.

“Were they really banning people for saying [vote on] November 7? Lol, whoops,” the user, whose name was a racist joke about Native Americans, wrote. “Maybe that’s what got me shadowbanned.”

As the report points out, some of Twitter’s anti-election interference efforts appear to be working. Tweets containing the wrong voting date were blocked before they were seen by other users. But there’s only so much algorithms can catch. Faced with this blocking, the trolls viewed in this chat room adjusted their tactics.

Several were successful in creating unique identities that appeared to be middle-aged women who posted anti-Trump rhetoric as part of a long-term effort to build up followings that could later be used to seed disinformation to hundreds or thousands of followers.

If this seems counterproductive in terms of eliminating votes for non-Republican candidates, it actually isn’t. As NBC’s Ben Collins notes, this more clever effort has managed to elude moderators. Posting under hashtags like #nomenmidterm and #letwomendecide, these accounts are being used to deter male liberals from casting votes.

The interference is coming from inside the house. Homegrown efforts are joining foreign state-sponsored interference to make every election from 2016’s to the rest of forever seem tainted. This is piled on top of ongoing problems with electronic voting devices, which are notoriously insecure and far from user friendly. The democratic process appears to be no more secure than a connected tea kettle.

But this cascade of bad news shouldn’t deter anyone from voting. For the most part, the system works! (And by “system,” I mean the actual act of voting, not necessarily the system run by those receiving votes…) Even if the individual act of voting can often feel pointless or useless, it’s still better than the predetermined “elections” held by despotic governments where the outcome is made-up and the points don’t matter.

This also shows efforts to quell online disinformation are working to a limited extent. Combining humans and algorithms makes more sense than relying solely on one method, but both have their limitations. Human biases can strip the neutrality out of moderation efforts and algorithms tend to do one thing pretty well, but suck at anything else that requires comprehension of context, nuance, or sarcasm.

This is the new normal for elections. Get used to it. But don’t get discouraged.

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Comments on “Coordinated Trolling Efforts Are Serving Up Small-Scale Election Interference Across The Country”

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Atom Ant says:

Only if mean prop up illusion that have a say...

> For the most part, the system works!

Which I see is exactly what you mean:

> (And by “system,” I mean the actual act of voting, not necessarily the system run by those receiving votes…)

That reads to me that one can vote only that in itself “the actual act” doesn’t affect “the system”. More Freudian reveal.

And by implying that “the right” / Republicans are in control of “the system” and therefore the ones stealing the vote, you all project / displace.

Besides that, you’re as always pretending to be coolly objective while actually partisan in omitting all mention of The Establishment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: stroke alert: Only if mean prop up illusion that have a say

F—Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A—Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S—Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?

T—Time: If you see any of these signs, call 9-1-1 right away.

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

When The Election Process Itself Is Politicized ...

… then your democracy is in trouble.

In other countries, voter registration, electoral boundaries and the whole election process are run by an independent body that operates in a transparent fashion so everybody can be satisfied that it is not being subject to political interference.

In the US, it seems that, so long as nobody can actually point to specific dollars being paid for specific votes, then everything is fine.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: When The Election Process Itself Is Politicized ...

Elections are politicized. It’s the lack of communication channels that put democracy in jeopardy. People are just accepting stuff from their own personal bubbles and sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling “lalala” to everything that may burst that bubble. That’s why democracy is in danger.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: When The Election Process Itself Is Politicized ...

“That’s why democracy is in danger.”

Think I’ll add a few items to the list.
1) long lines
2) election officials yelling at voters
3) voting machines without cords
4) voting machines locked up in a closet
5) weirdos with guns outside the polling places
6) not enough ballots
7) wet ballots

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 tl;dr

10.) Partisan gerrymandering at the state level (primarily by Republicans)
11.) Revocation of voting rights upon felony convictions (which happens to disproportionately affect racial/ethnic minorities)
12.) Voter suppression efforts, including…
12a.) Voter ID laws (which tend to negatively affect the poor)
12b.) Voting roll purges
13.) Partisan attempts (primarily by Republicans) to make both the act of voting and voter registration as hard as possible so potential voters will be discouraged from casting a ballot
14.) Little-to-no willingness on the part of the current POTUS and his administration to properly secure voting machines and other election-related technology from enemies of American democracy both foreign and domestic
15.) Little-to-no willingness on the part of the current POTUS and his administration to properly investigate and prevent election meddling from foreign powers
16.) Little-to-no willingness on the part of the current POTUS and his administration to fully denounce both political violence carried out by his supporters and the ideologies and rhetoric that led them to commit those acts

Anyone else have anything else to add?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: When The Election Process Itself Is Politicized ...

In US it’s now just lie lie lie about the opponents instead of talking about what you are going to do. It’s ridiculous and gigantic waste of fucking money. $80 million so the two women in AZ going for Jeff Flake’s seat can produce tons of lying ads and mail about their opponents. We don’t give a shit about our poor and homeless but we’ll spend $100s of millions of dollars lying about the opponents in political races.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hypocraisy, it's what's for dinner bitches

It is of interest to watch as those who espouse law ‘n order break the laws with impunity, subsequently wagging their fingers at those they oppose spouting off about personal responsibility and civility as they encourage all sort of bad behavior. These folk like to wave the flag shouting thank you for your service as they vote against VA funding and approve more foreign wars. These same folk proclaim to the world that the US is the greatest democracy in the history of the universe while they do their best to disenfranchise the eligible voters who disagree with their agenda/platform/actions.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Unimpactful

Twitter has followers and likes. When the followers already like you there is no need to change any minds. Changing non followers minds, or those that don’t like you seems a bit far fetched within the limitations Twitter imposes.

If the people mentioned in the artcle are just trying to get to people that read the stream(is that the right word? I have never been on Twitter) I would think there are many too many posts to catch many eyeballs, let alone actual attention.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Unimpactful

Ya, twitter does ignore their own ToS. So many on the left and their REAL Hate speech gets allowed over and over again. It’s on the left, who cares.

Hate speech is not speech you don’t like. If someone says Protect OUR borders. That is not hate speech. That’s following the Federal Laws. Every country has the right to protect their borders. Open borders mean you’re no longer a country. let alone a country of LAWS. This is just one of many examples that the LEFT like to call Hate speech.

Yet on the Left where they call for MOB Rules and killing people, that’s OK. What’s hate about that? It’s directed at the right, so it’s OK and not hate speech.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Unimpactful

When shit happens it’s ‘labels’ fault. When shit doesn’t happen it’s ‘labels’ fault. When something you don’t like is ‘labels’ fault. When something you do like happens it’s ‘lables’ fault.

The problem isn’t things happening, it’s the labels.

Get rid of the ‘labels’ then look at the problems. If the problems exist without ‘labels’ then you might be able to do something about it. If the ‘labels’ continue to exist, then doing something about it depends upon ‘labels’.

Get rid of the ‘labels’, which means dump political paries altogether. This idea has been around a long, long time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Unimpactful

Even if they can’t sway the numbers needed for an election via twitter, some parties (coughcoughRussiacoughChinacough) might have interest in spreading the general malaise with the democratic system and the meme that it doesn’t work. It could be that the meat components of the system are- surprise, surprise- the most vulnerable.

Anonymous Coward says:

garbage in - garbage out

"it’s still better than the predetermined "elections" held by despotic governments where the outcome is made-up and the points don’t matter."

Truly despotic governments usually don’t even need to miscount ballots, because real opposition candidates are never even allowed to run. For instance, in US-occupied Afganistan, all candidates for elected office must be pre-approved by the ruling authorities, and anyone who ever had any connection to anything Taliban-related is basically barred for life. So an election could technically be considered "fair" despite being completely unjust.

No surprise then, that the opposition party in Afghanistan has no other option than to do their "campaigning" through the barrel of a gun. Had the Electoral College exercised its option to vote against Donald Trump, much of the United States may well have reacted in similar fashion.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: garbage in - garbage out

Truly despotic governments usually don’t even need to miscount ballots, because real opposition candidates are never even allowed to run.

Depends on the despotic government. Russia, for instance, has quite a few real opposition candidates who run every election, but it’s also quite clear that none of them have a chance at winning.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: garbage in - garbage out

This highlights just how idiotic the Electoral College system is. The most popular candidate may necessarily not win, and if the Electoral College decides to vote against a candidate they were chosen to vote for, as is their right, people will be wailing and gnashing their teeth about how their candidate was “robbed” and could resort to some real nasty stuff because they didn’t get their way.

It’d be nice to get rid of the Electoral College once and for all, or at the very least get the National Popular Vote Compact up and running.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: tl;dr

Unfortunately, getting rid of the EC is going to require a constitutional amendment — and I really don’t see that happening as long as the EC exclusively benefits one political party.

Same with the NPVC: as it stands right now, in order for it to hit its threshold, at least one state is going to have to ratify it against its own interests.

But of course there are other elections, besides the president. Since I’m looking this morning at a very close Senate election where a third-party candidate may have played spoiler, I’ve been thinking a lot about ranked preference voting. Apparently we had an RCV bill in the state legislature last year but it didn’t go anywhere; I think it’s a good issue to revisit.

The Democratic case: even if Sinema ends up winning this election, it’s going to be very close. By the time all the votes are counted, we’ll see whether a Green Party candidate tipped a Senate election to a Republican, or whether she almost did. Let’s not have that happen again.

The independent/third-party case: more people will vote for independent and third-party candidates under a ranked-choice system, because they won’t feel that their votes are wasted — they can vote for the independent/third-party candidate as their first choice, and the major-party candidate as their second choice.

The Republican case: okay, so in this race, first-past-the-post worked in your favor. But what about next time? Former Republican AG Grant Woods is mulling an independent Senate run for 2020. Next time, it could be an independent candidate playing spoiler and putting a Democrat in the Senate.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They do think for themselves. It is a matter of frequency. If your friends, their friends, a celeb you admire, and a general stream in your feed are all telling you a version of the same lie, then you will begin to believe it. No matter how smart you are.

That is the point of these campaigns. Get frequency up enough so the average person sees it the five to seven times so they will begin to remember it and internalize it.

Ninja (profile) says:

I’ve said before but it needs to be driven home: we need to start seriously caring about critical thinking. You know, if somebody says “don’t vote to give voice to women” instead of concluding “yeah, let them vote!” one should just laugh at it and say “no way, I’ll be voting with them to further their cause and help make a difference!”.

Before making any decision or forwarding anything people should naturally go through a self-checking process. Check if it doesn’t trigger any deep emotion or seem too absurd then go check multiple sources and read multiple takes on it (including from sources you don’t agree with) and then make their mind about believing or not. It has to be natural, we have to start teaching our kids this.

ECA (profile) says:

Still want..

A tab/button/checkbox that says..
‘none of the above’

If we could get abit of truth out of these folks, insted of Lies, mis-info, Pork barrel back doors, Rules for everyone except Me attitude..

Both sides keep hiding from us, and not saying anything..
knowing what they stand for, anymore, is like 2 kindergarten Gangs pointing fingers, but never getting anything done.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I stopped with Twitter a year+ ago. NEVER used it since. I just don’t care. I don’t want to know every little thing someone is doing. Or anything else. Facebook I limit to a few minutes once a month. Very little personal info on the site. Just enough to long lost friends to find me. Which has worked in the past. I’ve missed family things because of it. Though the last time when I didn’t respond, they called me by Voice. Imagine that!!!!

So much wasted time on that crap when you can be out talking to REAL PEOPLE face to face.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This is the idea of creating a OPEN SPACE, that anyone can talk, chat, debate..
But then it gets to noisy..and people walk away..

Watching conversations, and understanding Both sides is great, Even a Troll can have a good comment. The REAL problem is illogic. Trying to find those that are Throwing in Crap that isnt true. Total lies, just to confuse people and Derail what is trying to be done.

A democratic society, Needs conversation..Needs Debate.. and the internet can be a great place..

Anonymous Coward says:

The voter suppression that’s stood out to me most this election is actually surrounding voter suppression.

I’ve seen numerous posts in various places stating “I discovered I was removed from the voter list for reason X. I guess I won’t be voting this election.”

From what I can see, the idea here is to capitalize on all the news surrounding voter suppression to indicate that if you plan to vote Democrat, you will most likely go through a bunch of hoops to try to vote, and then not be allowed to anyway, so why bother?

Sometimes someone followed up with a “Wait a minute! Go vote! You can get a provisional ballot!” comment, but in some places (where I couldn’t comment), I saw a definite lack of this kind of response.

The problem with this sort of thing is: how on earth would you ever go about flagging this as voter suppression? So what do we do about it?

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


what do we do about it?

Ending—or at least mitigating—voter suppression happens only when we make voting easier for everyone. To that end, I have a few suggestions:

  • Same-day voter registration
  • Automatic voter registration at 18
  • Non- or bipartisan election oversight commissions
  • Restoration of voting rights to convicted felons after they have served their time
  • A law that turns Election Day into a national holiday
  • Non-partisan advertisements that instruct people on how to register, how to check their registration status, where they should go to do such things, and what papers, forms, or other items they may need to complete their registration
  • Free public transportation to and from polling places on Election Day
  • Early voting days that start at least a week before, and run up until, Election Day (this includes weekends)
Glenn says:

And, still, it’s Republicans doing more to interfere with voting, whether it’s trying to disenfranchise as many [non-Republican] voters as possible and making [non-Republican] votes count for nothing by way of surreal gerrymandering scenarios. (When you can’t win by majority, then lie, cheat, and steal your way to a “win”.)

First, we have to get rid of the Electoral College.

Also, ALL states need to support early voting. It shouldn’t take more than half a day to cast your vote. If everyone voted who could vote, there are places where the polls would have to stay open 2 days or more to accommodate the long lines.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I was thinking that Friday, Saturday and Sunday, all three, would be good days for voting. It gets around the three main Sabaths and give plenty of time for voting.

The other option might be that all voting be absentee. Just mail a ballot to every registered voter, or better yet, the entire Drivers License database (who actually needs registration?).

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s the LEFT who is always trying to cheat the system.

The Republican-controlled legislature in my home state gerrymandered voting districts to such a perverse extent that the courts what struck down the district maps pointed out that those maps could only have been made with racist intent. I hope I should not need to remind you of what has happened in Georgia over the past few weeks. And if you think those are the only two ostenisbly “red states” where voter suppression is going on, you are either woefully or willfully ignorant—and I would hope on the first one being correct.

If you believe Democrats are doing just as much partisan gerrymandering and voter suppression as Republicans (if not more), by all means: Please provide proof of your claims and the necessary citations required for verifying your evidence. If you cannot: Stay quiet so the adults have a conversation, you sweet summer child.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Not all state have mail in voting.
It was “the left” that implemented most, if not all, of the state level mail in ballot systems.
It is “the right” who like to yell at eligible voters standing in line trying to exercise their right. Some even sit outside the polling place with their barking dog although some prefer a gun.

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