When pro-Clinton trolls went after me during the election

When pro-Clinton trolls went after me during the election
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A few weeks ago, executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter were called to Capitol Hill to testify about Russian “meddling” in last year’s election. There was a lot of hand-wringing and outrage from the politicians in the room — from both parties. And there was even a bit of acknowledgment from the representatives of the social media and Internet companies that their platforms were powerful delivery mechanisms for a focused, intense and perhaps even effective campaign to manipulate public opinion.

To me, it was a bit of déjà vu.

The outrage about the use of Facebook, Twitter, et al., to create and broadcast vote-swaying messages is, of course, because it was the Russians who did it.

And it’s probably appropriate, as the tech community itself is suggesting, to have greater disclosure of where the messages are coming from and whose money is paying for them.  Disclosure of such things is a fundamental part of our campaign laws.

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To be clear, as a free market, First Amendment guy, I get very nervous about the notion of government attempting to get in the business of controlling, restraining or otherwise influencing content.

 

But on a personal note, I have to say it was a little ironic to watch the politicians bemoan the idea that someone could dump a few million dollars onto social media and the Internet and almost immediately push poll numbers one way or another.

Yes, it’s probably bad when Russians do it. But what about when Democrats or Republicans do it?  I ask because ... it was done to me. Specifically, it was done to me by the same Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDHS secretary: No sign Russia targeting midterm elections at 2016 level Twitter suspends Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks accounts after indictments Elon Musk donated nearly K to Republican PAC, filings show MORE loyalists who are today so outraged that the Russians spent millions “against” Ms. Clinton.

It was mid-September of 2016. A couple of polls were released showing that the Johnson-Weld ticket was doing well with young voters — voters Ms. Clinton was counting on. A New York Times/CBS poll showed 26 percent of young voters leaning toward us — as many as were supporting Trump and rivaling Clinton’s numbers among that group.

That poll, along with similar results in an ABC/Washington Post survey, prompted a spate of news stories about Clinton’s weakness among millennials and the relative strength of Johnson-Weld. A couple of those articles included quotes from staffers at Priorities USA, the principal pro-Clinton super PAC, pledging a “multimillion-dollar digital campaign that talks about ...how a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpReporters defend CNN's Acosta after White House says he 'disrespected' Trump with question Security costs of Trump visit to Scotland sparks outrage among Scottish citizens Ex-CIA officer: Prosecution of Russians indicted for DNC hack 'ain't ever going to happen' MORE.”

Who knows how many millions of dollars were actually spent on that effort? Political junkie grape-vine estimates ranged from $10 million to $50 million — even on the low end, the amount probably equalled the total amount spent by our entire campaign.

It was a nuke, and the fallout was both immediate and significant.

Almost overnight, a virtual army of trolls suddenly discovered our Facebook pages and Twitter feeds — eerily parroting the “a vote for Johnson is a vote for Trump” line. Mysteriously, a number of pro-Clinton and progressive “news” sites all appeared to find and distort the same out-of-context Gary JohnsonGary Earl JohnsonWithout ranked voting, Pennsylvania's slim margins hide voters' preferences If weed is no longer a crime, why are people still behind bars? Gary Johnson: Trump admin marijuana policy shift could cost him reelection MORE quotes from years before, treating them as new revelations.

Of course, with a few million dollars' worth of digital “campaigning”, it wasn’t long before the mainstream media got in on the act, parroting the parrots.

I stopped Googling myself. I didn’t recognize the guy I had become on the Internet. Sure, I did some of the damage myself. But it was truly impressive what a “multimillion-dollar digital campaign” was able to do with a couple of gaffes and few decade-old, out-of-context quotes — none more damning than those readily available from Clinton or Trump.

From what one would read on an iPhone when the Clinton campaign was finished, it’s a miracle the state of New Mexico survived eight years with Gary Johnson as governor.

I was fair game. That’s what you sign up for when you run for president. I get it. That’s not the point.

The point is this: When it comes to election manipulation via social media and the Internet at the hands of organized, well-funded “campaigns,” let’s put it in perspective. If the Russians do it, I guess that’s bad. If the Republicans or Democrats do it, I guess it’s OK.

One thing I can verify: A few million dollars spent on Facebook, Twitter and Google can certainly leave a mark.

Johnson served as governor of New Mexico from 1995-2003. He was the 2016 Libertarian Party nominee for president.