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An election year PSA

We start elections 24 months in advance in this country but I’d like to reiterate some things I’ve said before about the way these cycles have gone since the advent of social media. Specifically, I’m going to talk about how to protect yourself from undue influence.

Before we start, I highly recommend reviewing Stephen Hassan’s BITE model. This is how high control groups operate. A high control group exerts undue influence by controlling a target’s Behavior, Information, Thought and Emotions. Any group can use elements of these along a spectrum of influence. Just because it doesn’t look like a cult doesn’t mean you’re free from influence.

Additionally, here are some things I learned from DailyKos in 2007-2008 when the Obama campaign took over and flipped the site.

  1. Beware of sites where the comments are liked or scored. If your comments are liked or scored, that element can be used to influence your behavior. Why does this work? It works because people like to be liked. It’s positive reinforcement. So if your site has been infiltrated by people who want to turn sentiment a certain way, a good way to do it is to reward commenters who write things that are close to that sentiment. Unliking is also feedback. No one likes to be unliked. Gradually, a commenter can be nudged to parrot the party line or the candidate’s line. Similarly, if you get enough mojo to become a super user, you become an enforcer with status. If you buck the party line, loss of mojo means loss of status. In general, just stay away from rated comment sites.
  2. Beware of conversion stories. There’s nothing so heart warming as a voter who has seen the light after resisting for so long. They have an emotional “road to Damascus” moment and suddenly Bernie Sanders is the most reasonable, effective and hot 77 year old they’ve ever seen. Conversion stories are incredibly effective because they appeal to our emotions and bypass the rational parts of our brains.
  3. Beware of love bombing. Love bombing is similar to a rated comment system. The unsuspecting is showered with praise. All of the sudden, you are the sexiest, most intelligent person alive and you are part of the family. You might indeed be all of those things. You might also be susceptible to the attention and sense of belonging. Test your environment: disagree about something. If your new family still loves you, great! If you find that the love is conditioned on you not questioning, then you might be dealing with a high control group.
  4. Beware of swarming. I don’t think the media has adequately acknowledged or has planned to deal with swarming. I first noticed swarming on DailyKos among John Edwards’ supporters. How it works: an operative writes a diary. As soon as the diary is posted, it’s recommended by dozens, sometimes hundreds of people. It happens very quickly. Usually, the same recommenders are listed. The result is that the diary rockets to the top of the recommended diaries list. Lather, rinse, repeat. The reader gets the impression that there’s a huge wave of support behind a certain candidate. In 2007, after Edwards was found to be tainted, the phenomenon was repeated by the Obama fans. Obama diaries took over the recommended list in the exact same way. I’ve seen this repeated in online newspaper comment sections. As soon as an article was posted in 2016, hundreds of anti-Hillary commenters would flock to the comments and a particular talking point would be repeated and recommended until it looked like the entire Democratic voter coalition thought she was a corrupt, untrustworthy, unlikeable, calculating, inauthentic hack. I call it swarming because it’s like a hive of bees with the same motivation highjacking a public comment system. It’s very easy to see once you look for it. For all I know there are people at the NYTimes who shaped those swarms. It sure seemed that way. But I have no way to prove they were in on it. I only know that the technique exists.

More thoughts:

Any time you are on a site, like this one, remember that you are part of a unpaid focus group. We used to get a lot of operatives here in the 2008 campaign season. It was through a lot of vigilance by myself, Katiebird and a few others that we managed to keep this site free for the most part from provocative memes and psychological warfare. I used to think I was just being paranoid about these things but ever 2016’s Russian campaign, I’ve learned that I wasn’t paranoid enough.

There are reasons why your comment may end up in the moderation queue. It’s a holdover from 2008 when we had to carefully test certain words to make sure we weren’t being swarmed or converted. I think for the most part that it worked even if it is a bit annoying to those of you whose comments need to be vetted before they are approved.

I’ve always said that this site is where you can be free to be unpopular and to not get rolled by the great mass of Democrats who want an instant consensus for good or ill. In fact, we try to resist consensus reality. Reality is reality. It’s not what the popular group says it is. You should test your reality periodically. That’s why you might see a pain in the ass Republican here occasionally. Get to know what they are thinking. I hate to say “know your enemy” because not all Republicans are enemies but you can be sure that all Trumpers are. They were influenced at some point. We can learn from them, how they were compromised and how to defend ourselves. So, gird your loins and sharpen your snark. They cannot hurt you. They’re just little black pixels on a screen.

Right now, the bigger threat is coming from what appears to be our own side. There seems to be a concerted effort to get many Democrats to make a hard commitment to support one candidate. Yesterday, the pressure was intense to jump on the Biden bandwagon. I recognized the guilt tripping and conversion stories. Here’s the problem with that. We haven’t had even one single primary yet. No one has cast an official vote and we are already being stampeded into voting for a man who has run for president THREE times and has failed to secure the nomination all three times. He’s targeting a very narrow base, ignoring almost every other member of the vast Democratic coalition, especially women. That last bit of info should set off alarm bells. If there is going to be a brokered convention, you can bet that California is going to have a huge influence and that’s Kamala Harris territory. Does anyone here think Harris is going to take second place to Joe Biden? Didn’t think so. But you can see where this would get very dicey, very quickly.

So that’s one possible scenario. But there are many others that we can’t know until they actually happen.

What I don’t want to see happen is for Democrats to take a pledge today to support one particular candidate and then be held to that pledge on pain of social ostracism. That’s what I see happening here. If you’re going to take a pledge, pledge to vote for whoever the nominee is. Don’t pledge a particular candidate until he/she has shown they can compete.

One last thing, stay off of Facebook. Most of you know I have never been a Facebook fan and I’m less so now. To paraphrase JK Rowling, never trust anything where you can’t see it’s brain. We frequently don’t know where our friends and relatives are getting the news they are sending us. In 2016, I sat next to a woman at my nephew’s wedding. She told me that Hillary Clinton and her droogs we’re responsible for the deaths of dozens of political opponents. Imagine a sort of Westchester Ton Ton Macoute. The scary thing was this woman wasn’t kidding. She really believed it. Read it on Facebook.

That’s how we lost central PA. Lots of very vulnerable people who didn’t keep their guard up.

Don’t let it happen to you.

Always let your conscience be your guide. Your values may evolve over time but if you find yourself straying too far from your core beliefs, pull back and test your reality.