Parkland, Al Franken and the Bot Army

A 16 year old student from Douglas High in Parkland in the gallery of the Florida House sees Representatives vote down a motion to hear a bill on banning assault weapons.

A week after  Parkland students who survived the attack as well as many others are learning a great deal about America and its current politics.  They are learning that they don’t matter.

Some 100 students boarded buses to the state capitol at Tallahassee to demand change in our gun laws.  They watched from the gallery as the State House voted two to one not to even discuss a bill banning assault weapons.  Welcome to reality kiddies.

That however is just the beginning.

Several days ago right wing media began labeling the high school students “tools of the left” arguing that they were being “played” by sinister left wing forces with an “agenda.”  It got worse.  Increasingly, from more mainstream voices like Rush Limbaugh and a commentator on CNN — the students are being portrayed not as grief-ridden survivors but as pawns and conspiracists intent on exploiting a tragedy to undermine the nation’s laws.

As the days went on the students were described as “crisis actors,” who travel to the sites of shootings to instigate fury against guns. Or they are called F.B.I. plants, defending the bureau for its failure to catch the shooter. They have been portrayed as puppets being coached and manipulated by the Democratic Party, gun control activists, the antifa movement and the left-wing billionaire George Soros.

The theories are far-fetched. But they are finding a broad and prominent audience online. On Tuesday, the president’s son Donald J. Trump Jr. liked a pair of tweets that accused David Hogg, a 17-year-old who is among the most outspoken of the Parkland students, of criticizing the Trump administration in an effort to protect his father, whom Mr. Hogg has described as a retired F.B.I. agent.

Mr. Hogg attracted the disdain of right-wing provocateurs like The Gateway Pundit, a fringe website that gained prominence in 2016 for pushing conspiracies about voter fraud and Hillary Clinton.

In written posts and YouTube videos — one of which had more than 100,000 views as of Tuesday night — Gateway Pundit has argued that Mr. Hogg had been coached on what to say during his interviews. The notion that Mr. Hogg is merely protecting his father dovetails with a broader right-wing trope, that liberal forces in the F.B.I. are trying to undermine President Trump and his pro-Second Amendment supporters.

Others offered more sweeping condemnations. Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist behind the site Infowars, suggested that the mass shooting was a “false flag” orchestrated by anti-gun groups. Mr. Limbaugh, on his radio program, said of the student activists on Monday: “Everything they’re doing is right out of the Democrat Party’s various playbooks. It has the same enemies: the N.R.A. and guns.”

By Tuesday, that argument had migrated to CNN. In an on-air appearance, Jack Kingston, a former United States representative from Georgia and a regular CNN commentator, asked, “Do we really think — and I say this sincerely — do we really think 17-year-olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally?”

Dinesh D’Souza, rightwing troll and convicted felon topped it off on his Twitter account:

“Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs,” he sneered at an image of distraught children.

Nice.  Now there are plenty of nationalist white guys on the right who would tell the brown Indian man to go back where he came from but not so long as he serves their purposes.

So yes, our kids are learning a lesson on social media.  They are learning that half the nation doesn’t give a rat’s ass that they were shot at by a military style weapon last week and that some of their friends died.  And they are learning what happens when you speak truth to power.

Now how does this right wing megaphone conspiracy bullshit happen.  How does it start this truly fake news with no basis in fact.  How does it spread and wind up being discussed on CNN as if it was even potentially true?  Who believes and spreads these lies?

This weekend I read an interesting article on the take-down of Al Franken.  As someone who has no social media contact -no Facebook page, no Twitter account, no Instagram – I learned quite a bit about the social media world.

“While everyone has been focused on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election to support Donald Trump, the Franken take-down originated in—and was propelled by—a strategic online campaign with digital tentacles reaching to, of all places, Japan. Analysts have now mapped out how the initial accusation against Franken by Hooters and lad-mag model Leeann Tweeden was turned into effective propaganda after first being hinted at by right wing black ops master Roger Stone.”

A pair of Japan-based websites, created the day before Tweeden came forward, and a swarm of related Twitter bots made the Tweeden story go viral—and then weaponized a liberal writer’s criticism of Franken. The bot army, in tandem with prominent real live human right-wingers with Twitter followers in the millions, such as Mike Cernovich, spewed thousands of posts, helping the #frankenfondles hashtag and the “Franken is a groper” meme effectively silence the testimonies of eight former female staffers who defended the Minnesota Democrat before he resigned last year.

The operation commenced on November 15, when Roger Stone— who is now banned from Twitter for racism and profanity—tweeted from one of his accounts “Roger Stone says it’s Al Franken’s ‘time in the barrel.’ Franken next in long list of Democrats accused of ‘grabby’ behavior.”

On the same day, a web domain called was registered in Japan by a developer named Atsufumi Otsuka. A fake-news website was then established at that web address, and then a second one was created a few days later, according to research shared with the voting rights research outfit “Unhack the Vote.”

Tweeden’s account of being groped by Franken was first amplified by a network of right wing media, including KABC in Los Angeles, where Tweeden has a radio show,  The Hill, Infowars and Breitbart, which mobilized within hours of Stone’s tweet and the release of a picture of a sleeping Tweeden on a military plane and Franken clowning like a frat boy, impish smirk and hands cupped over her breasts.  He was a comedian then and they were on their way to perform at a USO performance before he was a senator.

Five days later, on November 20, right-wing provocateur Charles Johnson tweeted, “Thinking of offering money to people who go on tv and say Al Frank is a predator.”

That same day, Otsuka registered a second domain in Japan, establishing a second fake news site. Both accounts used the same Google analytics account ID and Apple app ID, and the name servers and registration for both sites was virtually identical, researchers found.

On December 7, just before Democrats started calling for Franken to step down, the freshly minted Japan-based fake sites went to work, and re-published an article by Ijeoma Oluo, a liberal writer urging women and activists to stand down on support for Franken, which she’d posted on a much smaller website, with a reach of 10,000 followers, titled, “Dear Al Franken, I’ll Miss You But You Can’t Matter Anymore.”

Suddenly, thousands of apparently fake Twitter accounts were tweeting the title of the article—but linking back to one of the two Japanese-registered fake news sites created in conjunction with the right-wing anti-Franken campaign. The bot accounts normally tweeted about celebrities, Bitcoin and sports, but on that day, they were mobilized against Franken. Researchers have found that each bot account had 30 to 60 followers, all Japanese. The first follower for each account was either Japanese or Russian.

Investigators began to suspect that this legitimate opinion piece [by Iluo] had been weaponized for political gain by dozens of twitter accounts, all of them repeatedly tweeting links to the two domains registered in Japan in late November.  “Strong similarities between the accounts combined with clear connection to the two recently-established Japanese websites verified our suspicions.”

The researcher who discovered the botnet has nicknamed it “the Voty botnet” and it is still alive and kicking today, although currently not operating in service of any political propaganda. The researchers estimate that more than 400 accounts are in the botnet.  

“Twitter has suspended some spam accounts that follow our Voty bots,” the researcher told Newsweek. “This shows that Twitter is aware that these ‘follower’ accounts are not legitimate. But if you look at the “who to follow”  suggestion window when you are on a Voty botnet account, the suggestions are almost always other Voty Twitter bot accounts. This shows that Twitter is aware that these accounts are interrelated.”

Who is paying for this sophisticated operation? Who knows.  “Like targeted Facebook ads that Russian troll farms used in the 2016 election, Twitter bots have been around for years and were originally created for commercial purposes—to sell stuff. But since the 2016 election, arguably lost due to the right’s superior utilization of darker online strategies, the left is not known to have created or mobilized its own fake cyber army to amplify its viewpoint.”

Of course to use these strategies you have to be willing to rely on lies -or hate.  Or both.

And that is how we get to call the surviving students “actors” – plant the accusation somewhere and a bot army will create a “frenzy” on “social media” driving a “conversation” on a completely false narrative.

And those who want to believe this shit take up the call.

Wake up kids.  You are being turned into villains.


About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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5 Responses to Parkland, Al Franken and the Bot Army

  1. Lara/Trace says:

    It’s predictable – the bad guys have been using these tactics a very long time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. beetleypete says:

    I saw the students on the BBC tonight. They were outside the state capital building in Tallahassee, looking stunned that the debate on these weapons had not even been allowed. But they are young, and still have time to learn about big business, and power politics. Let’s hope they don’t all end up as cynical as me.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. greenpete58 says:

    Republicans and the gun lobby know that Parkland is just another blip in the radar screen. The news media will move on to the next hot story (early next week?), the Parkland shootings will be pushed to “yesterday’s news,” state and federal legislatures will continue to do nothing, more assault weapons will be sold… and young people will continue to play games and check their Facebook statuses on their smartphones.

    “Keep them doped with religion and sex and TV…” (John Lennon)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great post – I smell US intelligence involvement here – as in Russiagate. The CIA does fake right and fake left.

    Liked by 1 person

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