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.