I Love Trolls
The United States is the biggest, baddest kid in the global schoolyard we call geopolitics. The decisions made here impact the rest of the world. We can destroy economies, topple governments, realign international alliances, or starve a national populace into oblivion with ease. All without suffering any short-term repercussions. What happens here matters far more than most of us can comprehend.
Politics and policy combat is waged on many fronts. From courthouses to State Houses to Washington DC to living rooms across the country. It’s a dirty game played by armies of cruel, selfish, and well-funded people and organizations. They not only want to manipulate you to vote for their candidate. They want to dictate your choices in the voting booth. That’s the real power in any democracy.
One of the most hotly contested spaces in all of politics is Social Media. It can sway public opinion, fracture alliances, and manipulate our emotions in the most insidious of ways. In 2016, the Trump campaign and associated organizations used companies like Cambridge-Analytica to dive into our likes, dislikes, wants, needs, and aspirations through harvested online data. They used this information to drive bodies to the polls in the places that mattered most- Swing States. The Dems seemed to have forgotten what the Electoral College was and how American politics function.
The Clinton campaign and the DNC paid political hitman David Brock to create a troll army to AstroTurf cyberspace. Correct the Record, later rebranded as ShareBlue, harvested and manufactured Twitter profiles because Hillary was losing the internet to the younger, more internet savvy Bernie Movement. Team Grumpy Old Man had a life of its own. It was an organic machine that took no prisoners online. They knew what was at stake. Everything.
Battle Lines Drawn
Bernie’s online army fought through an unforgiving landscape in 2015 and 2016. They were besieged by Right Wingers beating the drums for the dregs of the GOP and later Trump. Centrist Dems were berating them because they feared the drumbeaters & loved corporate Dems. But, Lefties ignored all of the naysayers and put their noses to the grindstone and just kept moving forward. They built huge Facebook groups, scrubbed data on Reddit, created national networks of believers and spread the word of Progressivism.
They made sure everyone knew where Bernie would be every day when he was on the road. They set up networks of drivers to pack those venues. These crowd sizes were beyond anything seen in American politics in the modern era. They coordinated local, state & national meetings through social media, email, phone, text, and word of mouth. This was billions of combined hours worth of online & shoe leather activism.
In 2015, the young, motivated, and agile Bernie Movement was running roughshod over Team Hillary on Social Media. It was an absolute drubbing. But, Progressives were merely countering the nonsensical messaging that the Clinton Campaign/DNC was generating against Bernie Sanders. There was very little coordination, at first. People would do their own research on YouTube, Google, and the Bernie Campaign website. Then use that information to push back. Hard.
Like most young people, Millennials have less of a filter than Gen-Xers and Boomers. They were clumsy & inartful on occasion. They put forward the facts. They would stand firm in debates, grounded in the information that they compiled. The older generation was often stunned by this candid & unrelenting form of debate from people that they (wrongly) believed should show them deference. It was quickly deemed rude or impolite. Because Berners did not care whom they told these truths to, they were considered insensitive. Some were also called racists and bullies. They did not care. They maintained their dominance in cyberspace.
In no small measure due to the efforts of this ragtag group of online activists, Bernie started gaining traction. The large crowds and online dominance was all driven by the grassroots. Soon respected Black Dems like Nina Turner & Keith Ellison bucked the establishment to back the Jewish Socialist with unruly hair. Moral leaders like the Good Doctor Cornel West were becoming more vocal & visible proponents of Bernie’s Progressive platform.
By this time, the online activists were building communities. Along with massive Facebook groups and pages, they created YouTube channels, Podcasts, Twitter DM groups, Reddit groups, Tumblr pages, WordPress Websites, etc. All dedicated to the Progressive Movement lead by the most unlikely of heroes- Bernie Sanders. They were a machine getting their message out to all who would listen.
The more buttoned-down & conventional Clinton campaign was caught completely unawares. They suffered from congenital hubris and initially saw no need to invest seriously in an online presence. Nor did they make any serious effort to manage their reputation online. However, as Bernie surged in the poles, Tom Perez’s idea to attack Bernie on race & gender, as revealed in the Podesta Leaks, gained traction at Clinton HQ in Brooklyn. They dusted off the 2008 Dirty Politics playbook and went to work. They got media organizations like the New York Times, MSNBC, & Media Matters to echo their sentiments. People like Dolores Huerta, Patty Arquette, and others were on board to push the company line. They also cultivated relationships with some indie media- podcasters & YouTubers. Swiftboat 2.0 was born.
Realizing that Online Activism is also real and impactful activism, the Clintons hired amoral, political hitman David Brock to beat back the tide of Bernie Believers. Armies of paid trolls descended on social media under the Correct the Record banner.
Dirty and Racist
Knowing they were behind the curve, CTR played dirty. There were reports of Brock operatives infiltrating Bernie Facebook groups and posting pornography to get the groups shut down. They also recruited Black Neoliberals (dubbed Negroliberals by @GuruBluXVIII) to push the Bernie-is-a-racist narrative and to shout down Black Leftists. This effort included calling Black people supporting the only candidate that was active in the Civil Rights Movement “coons” and “sellouts.” They contended that “real Black people” supported Hillary. In a racist turn of strategy, after realizing Black Leftists actually had the moral high ground based on history, this faction began to block all People of Color and Descendants of Slaves to their ideological Left. Then passed block lists of Leftists to their White followers. This effectively silenced Black Progressives in pro-Hillary spaces. Vile, racist attacks on Black Progressives like the amazing and courageous Nina Turner go on, unabated and unanswered in their silo.
Many CTR trolls were real people looking to make a buck and monetize their followings by pushing Clinton Campaign propaganda online. Others wanted to curry favor with groups close to a future president and carried the Clinton banner with zeal. They went to places like Fiverr to buy followers to artificially inflate their online footprints. Others like former Newt Gingrich associate and the Left’s favorite antagonist troll farmer Sally Albright acquired accounts from real people and combined them with fake profiles to present as a unified group of Hillary supporters. These accounts would follow people in her network. Then they would like and retweet to amplify Clinton-friendly messages and also come down hard on pro-Bernie posts.
Initially, this artificial amplification was disconcerting for Bernie supporters. On Twitter, discussions often felt like being in a one-sided public debate and no matter how accurate/effective your argument, your opponent was the only one getting applause. Even blatant lies were amplified without shame. Often Berners would be swarmed by several accounts that were “with her.” They would say the planks of the Progressive platform would harm the very communities they were designed to help. You would hear Medicare for All wouldn’t help poor Black people, a $15 minimum wage would cause inflation that would only harm those in poverty, free college was racist, etc. All the lies would be amplified by hundreds of retweets and likes, making them appear to be valid positions. Clinton-friendly outlets like Vox, Mother Jones, and others would crank out articles supporting these specious arguments. Many well-meaning Dems fell into these illogical arguments because very serious people seemed to believe them. Centrist wagons were circled.
Team Bernie began to struggle in a space they once dominated. During the primaries, it was clear whenever Hillary had a bad news cycle- Correct the Record trolls would be out in force trying to tamp down the dissent on political Twitter. The would browbeat anyone that had anything to say that was anti-Hillary and pro-Bernie. However, after Bernie “lost” the primary, CTR stood down. It was like a switch was flipped. One day social media was filled with Hillary’s minions. Then activity dropped off a cliff. This silence was the state of affairs for several months. Only a few central figures stayed active. They mostly shamed people for not immediately supporting the Democratic nominee as Bernie did.
Then the polls started to tighten (more) between Hillary and Trump. The trolls went back to work to squelch dissent and bully Bernie supporters to the polls to support Clinton. If you weren’t full-throatedly supporting Hillary, you were called a racist-sexist-MAGA-Trumpette. To them, Hillary had no duty to earn votes. The Democratic Party paid minimal lip service to the Progressive agenda and then picked Wall Street’s choice, GOP-lite & pro-lifer Tim Kaine for VP. Obviously, to spit in the face of Berners to bring them to heel. These tactics were the absolute reverse of what should have happened.
In the end, most Berners did support Hillary at the polls. But, she still lost because of the campaign’s atrocious Swing State strategy, assuming there was an actual strategy. The campaign quickly placed all the blame on Comey, Russia, and Berners. They released their trolls and media operatives, armed with talking points to assure everyone knew their feelings.
Progressives all became Putin-bots overnight. They threw the Russia narrative around as if they had an official, completed law enforcement investigation report or people had been convicted in a court of law. The truth was/is, despite Centrist protestations; DSA, NSA, CIA, DHS, and the FBI still have not provided a smoking gun to connect anyone in Trump’s circle to Putin in regards to 2016 election influence. But, many Dems believe it’s true. Many media figures and operatives get paid handsomely to make sure the country believes it as well.
They Kept Swinging
Through all of this, Progressives stood firm. They slugged it out with online mercenaries, day in and day out. Berners gave no quarter and expected none in return. As mentioned earlier, the Centrists trolls made their most significant strategic error when they stood down. The paid trolls first tried to drown Progressives out by sheer force of numbers. That failed. They tried blocking. Nope. CTR types soon realized that left Progressives alone to spread the Progressive message. So they passed around lists of Berners to block. That isolated them even more. Then they started baiting & mass-reporting the more effective debaters from Team Bernie to get them suspended. They succeeded in building a bubble where they were unchallenged. But, this silo did not reflect what was going on in the real world where Bernie continued to grow in popularity around the country & the globe while they hid from Berners.
First, Centrist Dems called Berners racists & misogynists. They tried “Trump lover” & “Russian bot” smears. The Right tried to fracture the Progressives from within using “Soros/Dark money” attacks. Then they floated an Alt-Right/Progressive Left alliance. They tried to smear AntiFa as they punched Alt-Right hero Richard Spencer in the head every time his car stopped. Leftist repelled every attack & kept pushing.
The landscape is shifting. The powers that be are using the Russia “scandal” to silence Progressive voices. Some people like CharliePeach have been unfairly deleted from social media spaces. Others have been shadow banned. Twitter is actively and quietly working to decouple Progressive networks on their platform and hiding Progressive tweets. YouTube is squelching content from the Left. Google is pushing independent Leftist media sources down in their search results. Mirroring Google, Facebook is limiting views of “unverified” (read: independent) news sources.
Net neutrality is the next big wave that will impact Leftist online communities. Unlike the Right & the Center, we have no millionaires or billionaires to fund our activism. We won’t be able to afford to put our outlets on the internet “fast lanes.” The rich and powerful are doing what they have always done- stand together against the “unwashed masses.”
Republicans, Democrats, PACs, SuperPACs, and others spent millions to dominate the messaging wars in cyberspace. Then all in the same week, Troll Farmer extraordinaire Sally Albright was taken down by Progressive analyst @likingonline, leaving CTR/ShareBlue’s troll patrol in a shambles. The Rights high-tech data mining operation Cambridge-Analytica is now persona non grata. Ethnonationalist-with-the-good-hair Richard Spencer took his bruised ego & face off the college touring circuit.
Lefties are all over the internet, on independent platforms large and small. Independent media is resurgent. Millennials will soon be the largest voting block in history- paving the way for the Progressive change this country needs.
Progressive stood strong against all the odds. They worked around the clock fighting back the tide of disinformation from all the big money players. When the smoke cleared, the people that worked for free, in their spare time while millions were being spent against them. They are the last ones standing. Love, fellowship, good policy, and shared dreams have sustained them.
The current political and social environment is a little more hospitable to Lefties because of some fantastic, unsung heroes. I will mention a few here.
@lumpylouise spent countless hours creating graphics and gifs that lifted Progressive spirits and gave Centrist conniptions.
The @ProgressiveArmy became the go-to source for Leftist opinion and commentary.
Ever-problematic, @TheXclassV2 working with “no net.” Even after being doxxed and suspended, he kept fighting.
@RioSlade uses her uncanny ability to transform an entire conversation in a single tweet.
@mattwsm is a Progressive intellectual with the heart of an anarchist.
Resident gentleman, @popsknox is always calm, cool, and collected while delivering unpleasant truths.
@Hebahersi is smart, cool, consistent, and funny.
@BethLynch2020 uses her research superpowers to hammer away at establishment douchebags (and anyone else). #BethScaresMe
@goddesspamela leverages her near-magical ability to emote & persuade through her writing to keep the record straight.
A group that must be mentioned that have been holding it down in the ugliest, most toxic, 50-person thread on Twitter:
Except this thread, or at least its disproven debunked themes recur a hundred times daily usually from people invisible to me fighting with mutuals
— Little Jon Quijote (@brotherbeat) March 24, 2018
Along with @brotherbeat, there are @luciusringwald, @paulangelo7371, @PoliticsCourage, and @martinipr0blem. There are many other people on that thread. But, these five put it in for months when no one was looking. This is ideological rhetoric ground zero. Leaving the Centrists unchallenged in any space is a strategic blunder.
All of these warriors have shown the power of perseverance & comradery. You should follow all of them. The Progressive Movement is built on principle and conviction. A foundation of commonalities, not differences. This is what Class Solidarity looks like.
These people are heroes. The Centrists and Right Wingers call them Trolls. I call them family. I Love Trolls.
The fight is far from over. As we go into 2020, these awesome people will be in the crosshairs of the establishment. These folks will need your help. If you are interested in standing with these heroes, fill out the form below.
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