A pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC proudly announced that it will spend $1 million to dig into Facebook, Reddit, Instagram and Twitter to start setting people straight about Hillary Clinton. The project is called Barrier Breakers, and the money will fund a task force to "push back against attackers" and support those who support Clinton.
"Lessons learned from online engagement with 'Bernie Bros' during the Democratic primary will be applied to the rest of the primary season and general election — responding quickly and forcefully to negative attacks and false narratives," Correct the Record wrote on its site.
Each interest group has its own unique form of expressing disdain, and some are clearly more constructive than others. Sanders fans on Reddit supported a Twitter campaign called #CorrectThis that trolled the PAC with messages like "@HillaryClinton is a career criminal."
Fans on Trump subreddit /r/The_Donald took a more vulgar tone, posting lewd Monica Lewinsky memes in multiple threads. "We are being brigaded by Clinton super PAC shills," one Trump supporter wrote. "Quick, post pics upsetting to Hillary." The title of another conversation: "Post pictures that trigger the ole bitch!"
Drumming up artificial support meant to look like grassroots activism isn't unique to social media. There's an age-old term for it in political organizing: astroturfing. And this isn't the first time it's happened with a Clinton campaign: In 2007, paid staffers and volunteers of the Clinton campaign were caught creating accounts to spread pro-Clinton messages in progressive circles online (allegedly without Clinton's endorsement or knowledge).
Conspiracies abound: It's unclear what Correct the Record's online engagement will look like: who these paid supporters are, how many there will be or what kind of messages they're spreading. But some already think they have a pretty good idea.
"For months know we've already been the target of this kind of misinformation and attacks," the moderators of the Sanders subreddit /r/SandersForPresident wrote on Thursday, saying the concept of the "BernieBro" is the result of fake accounts created to "establish a narrative that Bernie's supporters are all racist, sexist young males who harass people online."
Whether or not the Sanders crowd is onto something, this is the kind of toxic paranoia engendered by knowing that some among us have a paid agenda when talking politics online. In Russia, these troll armies are a cottage industry. In America, we were apparently foolish to think our campaigns were beyond those tactics.