Congratulations To Tulsi Gabbard And Andrew Yang, Winners Of The Troll Polls
Trolls on 4chan successfully organized an effort to vote repeatedly in online polls following both of this week's Democratic primary debates, which isn't the least bit surprising. But a couple of legitimate-ish news sources went on to report on the results of the polls as if the completely meaningless results meant anything at all, and that is ... erm, also not very surprising. Ben Collins, the fringe politics expert at NBC News, has some of the details:
Users on 4chan's anonymous far-right /pol/message board repeatedly posted links to polls across the web, encouraging one another to "blow the polls out" for Gabbard, the congresswoman from Hawaii who has developed a substantial support base among many of its users.
The posts pointed users toward polls on national news websites like the Drudge Report, The Washington Examiner, and Heavy.com, but also polls from local news providers like NJ.com, which posts from several newspapers in the state.
"GIVE HER YOUR POWER," read one 4chan post from 1 a.m. Thursday, pointing to a screenshot of the still-active Drudge poll showing Gabbard leading.
Not surprisingly, after Wednesday's first debate, Gabbard led the Drudge Report poll, with 40 percent "support," even though she seldom breaks more than two percent in national polls that use reliable sampling and won't let you vote again and again. Rightwing sources reported that result uncritically, as they are contractually required to do. But then some semi-respectable outlets ran with the story as if the polls reflected some sort of reality. The Daily Mail (yes, we KNOW) headline trumpeted "First poll has Tulsi Gabbard as the shock winner of the first Democratic debate," and the text of the article was no better:
Surprisingly, nearly 40 per cent of those who took the survey chose the 38-year-old congresswoman from Hawaii as the runaway winner.
Not a single word about the surprising fact that users could vote again or again, making the results meaningless. Not much surprise that the Daily Mail didn't even try to do journalism, but just in case anyone thought The Hill is a useful source, that blog went with the Drudge poop too, with a headline saying Gabbard won "in a landslide" and a few paragraphs about her debate performance. At least that piece noted it was an "unscientific online poll," but it wasn't a story at all. Not surprisingly, more high-truth-value serious news blogs like the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wonkette didn't even touch it, and others only mentioned it as an example of how useless such "polling" is.
Last night, the game continued, with trolls flooding the Drudge poll to boost Andrew Yang as the OBVIOUS winner, with a strong gag-gift second place for Marianne Williamson, whom the /pol/ trolls also wanted to boost. (We also cannot discount the possibility that Williamson did so well after simply visualizing the results.) And again, the Wingnuttosphere dutifully reported Yang's "win," with no suggestion that the numbers were unscientific. Science is mostly fake anyway. Breitbart made a point of playing up what a huge shock the two results were, even.
Yang's surprising poll finish comes after Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) shocked the beltway with a first place finish in Drudge's Wednesday evening debate poll with roughly 35%.
Obviously, this is completely stupid and nobody in the Beltway was shocked, unless maybe their Tesla caught fire (this is a joke, not libel). But as Collins points out, this shit has worked before, or at least the trolls think so:
Poll brigading was an effective tactic for fans of then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016.
In the hours after general election debates, top posts on 4chan and Reddit's largest pro-Trump community implored users to swarm online polls from national websites and local news affiliates asking who won the debate. Those poll results were touted by Trump on Twitter in the hours after the end of the debates.
Also, Collins offers this really useful reminder from Nina Jankowicz, a thinky-tanky person with the Wilson Center, who said that while the Russian trolling is a real thing, we also shouldn't discount homegrown efforts at online infofuckery:
"It's absolutely important to report on the way domestic actors are influencing discourse," Jankowicz said. "We are spending too much time worrying about foreign actors while acting completely ignorant of the threats in our own backyard."
We'd love to offer some kind of answer to the plague of garbage information in elections, but the best we can think of is to yell and wave our hands and shout "THIS IS BULLSHIT!" while pointing at the bullshit and a diagram of how it came out of the cow. Will that accomplish anything? Probably not as much as getting non-trolls to the real polls. But to borrow a line from serial murderer and Space Alien endorsee Bill Clinton, we still believe in a place called Reality.
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