In an address to the Green party convention, Julian Assange warned Jill Stein voters that Hillary’s online paid shills will be relentless in their attacks in the coming weeks.
“… let me tell you that I’ve just seen that the attacks have started to ramp up on Jill Stein. They are going to go through the roof. I’ve had attacks from what is effectively the Clinton threat machine. They’re now post-convention. You guys are going to be post-convention. Those attacks are going to be ferocious. But you’ll see from that and learn lessons from that about how the media works and how one can defend your principles and ideas in the face of that kind of media corruption.”
What does that even mean, though? It means that even if you’re a light user of social media, you will probably be trolled at some point. And you probably won’t even know it.
Most casual Facebook users have no idea how much their opinion is being manipulated by some simple but very clever techniques.
As someone who watched the Bernie campaign closely and observed how the Clinton correctors operate, I want you to be forewarned and forearmed. This is a guide to how a paid shill operates.
When you say “trolling,” people generally think of someone who just disagrees with them, in an upfront and aggressive manner. That’s not a troll; that’s just someone with a different opinion. There’s nothing dangerous about fighting someone who clearly has a different agenda to you. It’s someone who hides a hidden agenda that is the danger.
Here’s a how-to guide on how to spot a paid shill (and how to not become an unpaid one by unwittingly spreading their ideas around).
1. “I’m just like you!”
A really good troll sidles up beside you and gets your confidence first. They will be around for a while, making small talk. Their wall will have some pro-Green party stuff. They get a feel for the personalities making up the group. They become a part of their tribe, and their voice is given respect.
They don’t always have time to do that. At 30 cents per post, you need to make some noise reasonably early on in order to make a decent paycheck. So there are ways around becoming your friend first. Here are some.
2. Bait And Switch
The perfect shill post casts suspicion without arousing suspicion. They often start their sentences with a bait statement that seems to agree with you. Something friendly that shows they are on your side. Something that boils down to “I love Jill Stein too, but…”
And then comes the switch. The “but” will contain some potent information that is designed to make you feel a bit blah, make you question your support, or leads you to a negative article about your candidate that you might not have read otherwise.
3. “Someone told me this rumor about Jill, can you check it out for me?”
This is another way to arouse suspicion and get people feeling a bit uncertain and a bit less enthused about their candidate. Remember, the object is not to change your vote, it’s to change your narrative. If you’re blasting out wonderful, enthusiastic declarative statements about how awesome Jill Stein is on Facebook and Twitter, you are going to be doing serious damage to the Clinton campaign which does not have unpaid people enthusing about her. So the idea is just to get you to simmer down a bit. Play it a bit smaller. Maybe not be so confident in your grassroots endorsement.
4. Divide And Conquer
The Clinton correctors so far have used some wedges that only liberal voters would care about — they seeded out the ideas that Stein was anti-science, anti-vaccines, and anti-GMOs. Notice how specific these hits are? They speak to the proclivities of a very discrete group of individuals. For many people in the greater population, those three things would not be even noteworthy, let alone divisive issues. But among young liberals, this is a way of slicing and dicing the audience. Some will be pro these things, and some anti, even though they are essentially all the same liberal tribe. It’s a very particular divide-and-conquer issue. And it’s very clever.
Of course, none of these things are even remotely true. As a medical doctor, Jill Stein has a much broader education in science than most people, and her views are measured and nuanced.
But even knowing that the idea was out there could make you feel a little uneasy about gushing about her as enthusiastically as you had been, especially when you know some of your friends might be triggered by these issues. You might tone it down a bit.
And that’s all they want. Everyone with a marketing degree knows that there is nothing more powerful than a testimonial, and there is no sell better than word-of-mouth. Your average-Joe endorsement is way more effective than any ad campaign they throw money at. They know it, they saw how effective it was in the Sanders campaign, and they want you to stop it, or at least simmer down.
5. Self-Fulfilling Prophecies
In the Bernie campaign, it was the idea of “inevitability” that was used to puncture the enthusiasm of Berners. According to “Confessions of a Hillary Shill” on reddit, the hammering of the word “inevitable” in relation to Hillary was a totally deliberate construct of the PR firm employing the shills.
That’s not to say that everyone you know who called Hillary “inevitable” was getting paid. It was just that the idea stuck, and got circulated amongst normal people and became the dominant narrative, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. That’s where it gets tricky — the idea becomes a kind of mind virus that infects everyone and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s the genius of shilling. If enough people buy it, it can shape the future.
In shilling against Jill Stein, the Clinton correctors will be making a lot of use of the phrase “wasted vote.” Shaming people for wasting their vote on a third party is going to be a central tactic of this round of attacks. Look out for it.
6. Decoy Insults
Being triggered by an insult is an easy way of using someone’s emotions to distract them while bending the narrative in your favor.
For example, the idea of “privilege.” For liberals, this word triggers guilt, making you easier to manipulate.
Originally conceived as a meme by the crowd-sourced Bernie campaign, Bernie people said that if you could afford eight more years of more of the same, then you should check your privilege. It was a formidable message with some serious cut-through, especially as it was coming straight from grassroots campaigners, many of them struggling on minimum wage.
Like many of the Bernie campaign’s inspired ideas, it was co-opted by the Clinton correctors, and the line was warped to if you think you can afford a “protest” vote, then you’d better check your privilege. There is another variation going around that goes “a vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Trump, and if you think you can afford Trump then you’d better check your privilege.”
But of course, taken at face value, that’s ridiculous. A vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Jill Stein. It’s a vote for the elevation of the under-privileged. That’s literally her platform, so that is literally what you are voting for. In fact, the only way you can actually vote for someone whose stated agenda across the board is to better the lives of many under-privileged people is to vote for Jill Stein.
The only way the shill can make this sound true is if you swallow their hidden insinuation that a third party cannot win, or make a difference. You have to believe that first, and of course Jill Stein voters don’t believe that. Take away that assumption, and their statement doesn’t make sense. How can a vote for someone who champions the under-privileged be a vote for the privileged? If you take the inference away, it’s nonsensical.
It’s effective because the insult will trigger an emotional reaction, and will jump to defend the accusation of privilege.
You see, liberals are good people who would hate to use their privilege badly. That’s why they’re voting for Stein! It’s a triggering statement that gets people too wound up to defend vigorously, and thus they let the inference that a third party vote is a wasted vote lie unchallenged, over and over, until that unchallenged assumption becomes the dominant narrative.
This is when a group of people will be employed to enthuse about the candidate, creating a fake grassroots campaign — in other words, astroturfing. You can also buy followers, which Hillary Clinton has famously done. The Clinton campaign does this online, and in life, by paying or incentivizing people to fill seats at rallies.
8. Divide And Demoralize
This tactic is very clever, very effective, and possibly the most evil thing you can do to people, because it uses their good nature to manipulate them out of doing good things. What you do is you send in some of your people to pose as Jill Stein supporters, with instructions to be violent and abusive to Hillary Clinton supporters.
Remember — this is a Clinton corrector tactic, so why would they send people in to attack their own supporters?
Well, because they know that Green voters are genuinely lovely people who would never want to be associated with violence. If you have an audience of them watching one of their “own” going crazy at someone, they will instantly want to distance themselves from that. Already, without implying anything, you have them questioning their loyalty to this group that suddenly seems like it’s full of bullies and nasty people, when before there was just peaceful, like-minded souls.
Then, and this is the genius bit, you send in some more people posing as Jill Stein supporters, voicing concerns about this violence and how they don’t want to be associated with it, getting some of the genuine Stein supporters to join in.
Eventually, the story circulates that Stein supporters are violent etc, and that casts a pall of suspicion over the movement generally. And then Clinton correctors can go around “concern trolling” potential Green voters just by saying “I’ve heard they can get very violent” etc. It’s a fantastically effective strategy.
There are others, but these are the strategies you are most likely to encounter daily.
In the end, you can only make yourself aware that these things are going on, scroll past anyone who is obviously baiting, and keep your focus set on the positives of your candidate, and the future you want to create. Educate yourself about your candidate and her vision and enthuse about her relentlessly, and don’t engage anyone casting suspicion or trying to tell you your vote is being wasted. Just press “like”. That really confuses them.
You are aware, awake, and educated enough to know that your compass is set to true.
One foot after the other, moving forward, gently holding the vision of the future we want for our children with an open palm, moving harmoniously, and as one.
[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]