Republicans Using Incredibly Sketchy And Manipulative 'Dark Patterns' To Dupe People Into Donating Way More Than Intended
from the sketchy-grifters dept
Last week the NY Times had an incredible article about how the Trump campaign tricked donors into giving way more money than they meant to, using so-called “dark patterns” (i.e., tricky UI design and wording) that got many people to think they were donating one time, but instead accidentally signed up to contribute the same amount every month. The Trump campaign ended up having to return an astounding $122 million of the money it raised in refunds, much of it due to these tricks.
Contributors had to wade through a fine-print disclaimer and manually uncheck a box to opt out.
As the election neared, the Trump team made that disclaimer increasingly opaque, an investigation by The New York Times showed. It introduced a second prechecked box, known internally as a ?money bomb,? that doubled a person?s contribution. Eventually its solicitations featured lines of text in bold and capital letters that overwhelmed the opt-out language.
The tactic ensnared scores of unsuspecting Trump loyalists ? retirees, military veterans, nurses and even experienced political operatives. Soon, banks and credit card companies were inundated with fraud complaints from the president?s own supporters about donations they had not intended to make, sometimes for thousands of dollars.
?Bandits!? said Victor Amelino, a 78-year-old Californian, who made a $990 online donation to Mr. Trump in early September via WinRed. It recurred seven more times ? adding up to almost $8,000. ?I?m retired. I can?t afford to pay all that damn money.?
Over at The Bulwark, Tim Miller noticed that, even following the NY Times expose of this practice, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) seems to have doubled down on this practice. First, it sent a text message to people falsely saying people needed to sign up within 10 minutes to Donald Trump’s vaporware social media network. The page the link takes you to says you only have 10 minutes to “join” the social network (which makes no sense) and then asks you to “stand with Trump.”
The framing of “Yes: I stand with Trump!” v. “No: I prefer Fake News!” is already quite something. But if you scroll down below the fold, it gets way more insane. When Tim first published his article, the sneaky money bomb dark pattern box (which again, you have to scroll down to see) has a bunch of text in bold, followed by an unbolded final line admitting that you’d be making your donation recurring.
We need your help to DRAFT Trump for President! Check this box if you want Trump to run again. Uncheck this box if you do NOT stand with Trump
Make this a monthly recurring donation.
You can see how that might be confusing. Lots of Trump supporters may check the box for the first, bolded, part, and not the latter. And that’s not even mentioning the 2nd (also pre-checked box) for a second donation for a week later.
And then it got even more insane, because the NRCC updated the boxes… to make them even worse and more obnoxious:
So now it’s not just click here to support Trump, now if you uncheck the sneaky recurring payments box, you’re “a defector” and side with the Democrats. The full text:
We need to know we haven’t lost you to the Radical Left. If you UNCHECK this box we will have to tell Trump you’re a DEFECTOR & sided with the Dems. CHECK this box and we can win back the House and get Trump to run in 2024.
Again, it hides the “make this a monthly recurring donation” bit beneath that bolded text and still has the pre-checked “donate again soon” box.
As Tim Miller notes in his piece:
I?m sure there?s some formal legal difference between the NRCC tricking someone into signing up for a nonexistent social media site?and then having a default box opting them in to both double their pledged amount and make it recurring?and the criminal advance-fee scams made famous by the imaginary Nigerian princes.
But as a moral matter, the difference is awfully hard to suss out.
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, because Congress (in a bipartisan fashion) has been screaming about these supposed “dark patterns” on social media for the past few years, when nothing any social media company does is nearly as exploitive and sketchy as this. In fact, one of the NRCC’s star children is Senator Josh Hawley, who keeps introducing bills to force social media sites to get rid of such “dark patterns.” When that was happening, Hawley decried that “Too much of the ‘innovation’ in this space is designed not to create better products, but to capture more attention by using psychological tricks that make it difficult to look away.”
I’m sure that Hawley will be along any moment to decry the efforts by the NRCC to trick people into donating way more money to his campaign than they meant to. Right? Right?