Christiansen Patreon Call Transcript
Sun, 23 Dec 2018 05:07
TRANSCRIPT OF CALL BETWEEN MATT CHRISTIANSEN AND JACQUELINE HART OF PATREON, 12.20.2018
JACQUELINE: So I wanted to reach out to you - we've had a lot of creators on Patreon with concerns. And there was obviously a lot of concern last week, so I wanted to follow up with creators on the platform. So even though you didn't reach out to us, we had others that reached out, so I wanted to make sure that we heard directly from creators about what their concerns would be and so that's really the reason I set up this call.
MATT: Sure. I've definitely got a lot of notes and a lot of questions that I'd like to ask. I wanted to begin by just noting the scale of the loss on my account, if you're comfortable with that.
JACQUELINE: : Yes. Yes.
MATT: I did the numbers this morning. I am down 39% of my total patrons, 42% of the money on my account. I've been on Patreon 2 years and 3 months now, so over 2 years of work on Patreon at stake here. I don't know for sure - I'm estimating that roughly an entire year's gain has been wiped out. Everything that I was able to grow over 2018 is gone now. I just hope everyone at Patreon understands the scale of the damage that the decision that they made has caused to uninvolved creators. And I hope you would understand why almost half of my patronage would leave given the decision that you made.
JACQUELINE: Yes. And that's obviously one of the reasons that I wanted to set up this call, because - sorry, one small thing. I just wanted to make sure that we're not recording. Like, I'm not recording on my side.
MATT: Sure. Yeah.
JACQUELINE: Okay perfect. Just to confirm, like, you're not recording, I'm not recording, just to make sure that we're both okay with that.
MATT: I mean I live in a two-party consent state. I'd be breaking the law. And California is as well.
JACQUELINE: . Understood. I just wanted to make sure. I want to recognize that it's a huge loss, and I understand that we are a source of revenue for you, and that's obviously something we don't intend to have happen, but it has happened in this case, and it's something that we want to try to make sure does not happen in the future.
MATT: But do you understand why it happened? I understand you don't intend it, but do you understand why? If you had to explain why - if you had to take a crack at giving an explanation about why people are leaving in these massive numbers, what would you say?
JACQUELINE: I completely understand that you have a lot of audience overlap , and I've listened to some of your live stream where you discuss the fact that you yourself are a patron of sargon's. I understand the inter-connectivity. And I understand that people are unhappy with Patreon. They're unhappy with the decision and that it bleeds over into your following as well.
MATT: Is it just this particular area of Patreon though? Because I've seen people totally unrelated to Sargon, totally unrelated to politics, bigtime podcasters, for example, people who don't talk about social issues at all, necessarily, who are saying, if they haven't left the platform already, as soon as a competitor is available, they will be leaving.
JACQUELINE: And I very much understand that this all revolves around the definition of free speech and what you can do on a platform . I completely understand that there is interconnectivity, obviously, on this subject, and that there are a lot of people that that is something they feel very passionately about, and would be interested in not using Patreon.
MATT: Does patreon feel passionately about it though?
JACQUELINE: The problem is is patreon takes payments. And while we are obviously supportive of the first amendment, there are other things that we have to consider. Our mission is to fund the creative class. In order to accomplish that mission we have to build a community of creators that are comfortable sharing a platform, and if we allow certain types of speech that some people would call free speech , then only creators that use patreon that don't mind their branding associated with that kind of speech would be those who use patreon and we fail at our mission. But secondly as a membership platform, payment processing is one of the core value propositions that we have. Payment processing depends on our ability to use the global payment network, and they have rules for what they will process.
MATT: Are you telling me that this was Patreon's decision then, or someone pressured you into this?
JACQUELINE: No - this was entirely Patreon's decision.
MATT: Well then I don't understand passing the buck off to somebody else.
JACQUELINE: No, I'm not passing the buck off. The thing is we have guidelines, but I'm trying to explain, #1 it is our mission to fund the creative class and obviously some people may not want to be associated.
MATT: Well if it's your mission, then payment processors are irrelevant. It's your mission. That's what you're pursuing.
JACQUELINE: We're not visa and mastercard ourselves - we can't just make the rules. That's what I'm saying - there is an extra layer there.
MATT: Right, but that extra layer is not necessarily relevant if your own goals that you're pursuing are already doing that anyway.
JACQUELINE: I don't necessarily see it that way. I sort of see it along two lines - so if we said, we want this to just be a free speech platform - we're 100% dedicated to free speech - then that isn't really true to our mission.
MATT: What percent dedicated are you to free speech?
JACQUELINE: I don't really know how to answer that question. What I'm trying to say is we want to fund the most creators we possibly can, and we believe in free speech, and there are different perspectives on what is free speech.
MATT: And your perspective is what?
JACQUELINE: My personal perspective?
MATT: No, Patreon's.
JACQUELINE: So for Patreon, we can have free speech up to a point. And that's why we have guidelines where the line is drawn.
MATT: To summarize my perspective on this entire thing, I think you guys have an untenable standard, these guidelines that you're referencing. I think those are untenable and I think you're enforcing them through an unfair process. And so I have several questions related to both the standard and the process that I was hoping to ask you.
JACQUELINE: Okay. Let's go for that.
MATT: So as far as the standard, and I've read through your statement, I've read through the guidelines, I'm familiar generally with what the website says. I'll admit to you freely - I use language that is banned by your terms all the time . Jokingly in conversation with friends, text messages, on skype, all the time. If a text message of mine were to leak, or someone got ahold of my skype communication and sent it to patreon would I be subject to banning ?
JACQUELINE: It's a case-by-case basis . You'd have to be much more specific on the details.
MATT: Let's say that I wrote what Sargon wrote in a Skype chat - in a private conversation.
JACQUELINE: So again, I would have to look at the context.
MATT: Exactly the same. Same context as Sargon.
JACQUELINE: I don't see how it's exactly the same.
MATT: I'm saying if everything was the same but Sargon said it in a Skype chat, instead of on a stream.
JACQUELINE: So the thing about Sargon and the thing about your case that you're giving me is that we do an entire review where we look at your body of work and determine is this what you - and have you done this multiple times. We have to look at this as your body of work and as you as a creator.
MATT: So you're saying it's individual treatment.
MATT: How is that possibly a viable standard? Shouldn't it be a uniform treatment for everybody?
JACQUELINE: That is a really great question. And yes, we would love for it to be a uniform standard for everyone, but as you might imagine, it's quite difficult to make something so granular. And I actually don't know if we want to go that direction because it takes the human element out of it . Right now today, we have humans that review and reach out to our creators, and so of course there are problems with a human process, but we don't this to be about bots or taking you down because you said 3 words that were over the threshold. We want this to be a holistic review.
MATT: Do you understand how that's inherently subjective?
JACQUELINE: Yes, I do.
MATT: Okay. And do you understand how that would make creators like myself and everybody who's leaving very nervous and untrusting of your platform?
JACQUELINE: So, the thing that we try to do here is have the most diverse team that we can possibly have so that we have transparency and so that we have multiple views on this. Not that we're operating in some kind of an echochamber - we like to have a process that we have a lot of differing opinions on when we review creators.
MATT: Okay. I do have questions about that process and I'll get to those in a minute. And I appreciate you listening to my questions here as well, and giving me the time. Given the scale of what you're talking about, what is potentially ban-able, do you honestly believe that this can be uniformly and fairly enforced and if you do, I'm wondering and many people are wondering why are there countless terms of service violations on your own site right now? Specifically I'm talking about people raising money for explicitly violent purposes, and if I search the N word on Patreon right now it yields more than 10 pages of results. People posting that same type of content on your platform no less that aren't being dealt with with the system.
JACQUELINE: Yes. To explain our process a little bit - because it is inherently manual - we have human beings that deal with this on a case-to-case basis. We rely on user reports to our system. And so this has actually been one of the best ways to receive a lot of user reports is that people are reporting things like what you just mentioned. We don't go and proactively review the site. We rely on people to report things. We obviously review our site, but it's not - like I said, we don't have an algorithm that's trolling our site for us.
MATT: Okay. So just to be clear, what we're talking about then is user reports - we're empowering the mob to notify you, and then you are going to make a subjective decision as you've described about what is and is not allowed.
JACQUELINE: No. What I'm saying is when users report things like some of the things you just mentioned - we have received user reports in the last week of that. And we're very grateful to have those reports of, ya know, hate groups here or there, that maybe are using our platform. But we are 170 people and 10% of that is our trust and safety team today . So we do have a fair amount -
MATT: Right. So what I'm understanding here is the scale of the issue is much broader than the trust and safety team can manage, therefore there will uneven targeting and uneven punishment .
JACQUELINE: No. No - that's not at all what I'm saying. I'm saying that it's not an overnight fix.
MATT: So people are going to get their justice later.
JACQUELINE: No. What I'm saying is it's not an overnight fix. When I saw the tweet about the N word appearing on Patreon, it was a situation where we said great, now we need to dig into these complaints.
MATT: How many days does it take to review that? Because this is a week plus old now. Still out. I looked last night.
JACQUELINE: Right. So the thing is we're working through those, page by page. Obviously that's not the only report that we've received. And again, we're grateful for all the reports that we've received. But now we're sifting through those.
MATT: Okay. Last question about the standard here - I saw Milo Yiannopoulos was banned for 'association with the Proud Boys' and in the email Maria from the trust and safety team had sent out, she said even though he has disavowed - so it was acknowledged in the email it was disavowed - it's still grounds for termination. My questions would be what does association mean in Patreon's eyes, and if not for disavowal, how would one sever an association ?
JACQUELINE: Again, it's a case-by-case basis. Every creator is allowed a chance to appeal. I want to make sure that that's perfectly clear. Whenever we take action on someone's account, they can always appeal. And so that offer was given to Milo, of course. But the thing with the disavowal is it has to be creators who make that choice and it's not just - l ike if you look at the disavowal, it was a situation where I think a lot of people said this wasn't really a disavowal.
MATT: Okay so it's a subjective judgment about whether the disavowal is good enough?
JACQUELINE: Basically, you can discuss groups on Patreon, but any creator who is praising or actively supporting these groups won't be allowed on Patreon.
MATT: I praise Milo, and I enjoy Milo - I've got his picture right back there, actually. Does that make me an associate of a banned person? Am I ban-able for that association? I'll tell you right now - I like the guy. I think he's great .
JACQUELINE: No, of course. And the thing is, like, my personal feelings have nothing to do with it. But the thing is, it's not Milo that you're being associated with. That's more about a group that you're praising.
MATT: Well I'm praising him, and he is not allowed on Patreon. Why would that not be a similar association?
JACQUELINE: Praising Milo is not equal to hate speech or something of that nature .
MATT: What did he do that's equal to hate speech or something of that nature?
JACQUELINE: I don't want to get into specific cases - I really -
MATT: You emailed me with reference to a specific case. That's the nature of this conversation. The origin of it.
JACQUELINE: Absolutely. So, I really wanted to get your feedback. And I heard some really good feedback on your livestream last night where you talked about the fact that when Patreon got rid of Sargon's account, you were a Patron of his and that you never even received a notification that your patronage was cancelled. And I thought that was very thoughtful, great feedback, because I agree - that's yet another place that we can improve our process and I wanted to hear if you had other thoughts on ways we can improve our process.
MATT: I do have a lot of thoughts about the process, or questions, because quite frankly, I am not just fearful I am going to be a target of your trust and safety team, I think it's a matter of time. I don't see a meaningful distinction between myself and the people that you are targeting with your enforcement, I believe subjectively and unfairly. So the process is of particular importance to me if I have any likelihood of remaining on this platform at all. So about the process - how did Patreon become aware of the Sargon stream in question?
JACQUELINE: Again, we take user reports.
MATT: So someone emailed Patreon and said this guy said a bad word on this stream?
JACQUELINE: N o, not at all. So user reports is basically where you can submit information. So you have a tweet, or a live stream , something that has to do with someone, you can submit it on our site.
MATT: Okay so tweets count, too. So if I tweet hate speech tomorrow, that would be considered.
JACQUELINE: So if your entire basis as a creator, if you're funding that through Patreon, but just to be a little more specific, we're talking about, ya know, you, and the case for you - if you have any questions about something you might be saying, is that you can always contact us. This is one of the things that we do with creators is if they say, hey, I'm about to go and do this thing, we say don't link that to Patreon, or don't say this or this -
MATT: Okay so I have to consult you for communication advice.
JACQUELINE: What I'm talking about is that we've had people that have had photos that are quite controversial and they've contacted us before and said - is there going to be a problem if I post this on my Patreon?
MATT: But do you see how you've inserted yourself unnecessarily here? What makes Patreon succeed, what makes people like me succeed on Patreon, is the relationship between people who enjoy my content and me. And it's really up to them whether they decide if it's too controversial or not, and if it is, they'll support me or not, and all you have to do is sit back and allow the market to function. Instead you've inserted yourself and you're now trying to influence that content. Do you see how that's a problem?
JACQUELINE: We're not a free market. Again, this goes back to -
MATT: Okay. I'm glad you admit that.
JACQUELINE: This goes back to what I was saying about that we are a payment processor and that is one of our core value propositions that we have, is that payment processing depends on our ability to use payment networks and we have to abide by those rules.
MATT: But that is not what you've been telling me repeatedly. You go back and forth between telling me we have to uphold our ideal, and then passing the buck off to payment processors who are holding you to this standard, begrudgingly I suppose. Either you agree with that standard or you don't.
JACQUELINE: What I'm saying is we have to have policies whether or not I personally believe in something or-or.
MATT: When I say 'you,' I mean Patreon, obviously.
JACQUELINE: The problem though is that Patreon itself has to base their guidelines on the people that they work with and that they share information with and so-
MATT: But you have been telling me this whole time that you support those guidelines.
JACQUELINE: I do support those guidelines.
MATT: Okay. So -
JACQUELINE: But you have to base those on something so this is what I'm saying. Even if I personally came into Patreon and said, you know, 'I believe 100% in absolute free speech' I-I will not be able to make that the guidelines even if that's what I personally believe. We have a lot of people here who believe that, but -
MATT: Well let me ask you this - has there ever been a case where a payment processor has come to Patreon and said 'you guys are enabling too much hate speech, we're gonna cut you off?'
JACQUELINE: As in Patreon?
MATT: Yeah - is there a reason you have to bend the knee to these payment processors? Have they made you bend the knee before?
JACQUELINE: I- I'm not going to get into a discussion about our payment partners specifically .
MATT: Well, you brought up the payment partners . You initiated that conversation, not me.
JACQUELINE: What I'm saying is, we exist in a world where we want to give payment to creators. We are an intermediary -
MATT: Not with'...with lots of asterisks. Right?
JACQUELINE: Well what I'm saying is that you could, yourself, go and get a merchant account. You could absolutely go to a bank and set up a merchant account and you would be dealing one to one with the bank, whereas, Patreon has set up that relationship with the bank in order to pay you and other creators and potentially, you know, get you critical mass of a better rate or, you know, give you a home on a platform. But, at the end of the day, it's about us paying creators - that's our mission is what I'm trying to say.
MATT: Is it? Or is it upholding your ideology - because that seems to be of primary importance - paying creators is secondary.
JACQUELINE: No..what..the main mission is paying creators everything else is..is..seconda-
MATT: To the extent that they fit the ideology - to the extent that they have behaved within your terms, if you want to phrase it that way.
JACQUELINE: You do have to abide with the guidelines in order to process payments through Patreon, yes.
MATT: Okay. So you had mentioned, because Jack Conte had mentioned this last year around the Lauren Southern banning - and maybe it's just because I didn't see discussion of this that I was under the impression it didn't happen - but Jack Conte mentioned last year that there would be a system of warning and appeal on Patreon - you mentioned appeal previously - is there warning? Why did Sargon not receive a warning? 'Hey you've kind of crossed a line here, let's talk about it?'
JACQUELINE: So, with a warning system, um..any creator is free to submit an appeal as I mentioned. You know - Milo, Sargon, anyone who has been removed from or taken down from our platform is allowed to appeal. The process of a warning system is very difficult because then it goes back to the thing that I said before of - what do you have? You know, do you have two words that fall into a 'tier 1' category, you had three that fall into 'tier 2' , like - it's very difficult to write a policy like that - and I think that's what you're saying as well. So, for us, what we feel works the best is more of having an appeals process. So if we take a creator down and we say to that creator, 'You can appeal this process and reform.' that is wildly successful in the majority of cases that we have - where the creator is back up on the site and taking payments again.
MATT: I guess I'm a little bit confused. If the system is all about individuals and case by case basis and humans operating with humans - why would the initial reaction not be to reach out to that person instead of just hitting the delete button and letting them find out through their friends realizing that this has happened?
JACQUELINE: And again - it depends on the situation because we do have situations where it's some small thing. Or, like I said, you posted something to your Patreon page that's not suitable for all ages, we reach out to you and say you need to take it down or make it patron only. We do have situations where that happens.
MATT: So why didn't Sargon get that? What was the distinction in the Sargon situation?
JACQUELINE: This is a much different situation than you having a small thing on your Patreon page .
MATT: Okay, so what's the difference between a small thing and a big thing?
JACQUELINE: ...They're'... so.. it's it's.. it... *sigh* again it's subjective - as you've already mentioned.
JACQUELINE: (Inaudible) is actually reviewing Sargon - so it's also a case that we were public about in 2017 - so that, to us, counts as basically he understood where the line was..and we -
MATT: So is there X amount of strikes, is that how it works? You get three strikes and you're out? Or is that subjective too?
JACQUELINE: No - no. We do not have a strike policy. But the fact that in 2017 we talked about his case publicly - that to me would indicated that, yes, this creator has been given a warning. And again -
MATT: Okay, so can I feel confident? Because I have not been given a warning by Patreon at all. So I can feel confident that I would be given that warning if I did something that you find to be egregious and against your terms?
JACQUELINE: So, you and I are having a conversation right now. If you're concerned about something that you may be saying or want to say in the future -
MATT: Yeah, I've got a ton of text messages in here that have N words and F words and all kinds of bad stuff. If I were to show them to you, would that be a warning for me?
JACQUELINE: Okay, again, I would really appreciate if you do have something - we'll take context into account - that you would reach out to us if you ha-
MATT: I'll confess all my sins right now. I said bad words to my Dad in a text last night if you want me to read them to you.
JACQUELINE: No, it's not, I feel like it's not germane to our discussion - but again, if there is something that like..er..you know, you really want to go out and say and do - then please, reach out to us!
MATT: Well I'm glad you mentioned that in the future, because that's different from what happened here. Sargon of course was punished for something that's well in the past at this point. Is there any statute of limitations on how far back you are willing to go? Let's say I did something 10 years ago - that considered?
JACQUELINE: It's interesting that you mentioned it being so far in the past because I think you're talking about the main video from the spring - but there was another video that goes with it that was from..November? Where he doubles down on what he was saying in the spring and so that, to me, feels very relevant.
MATT: Okay so what - is the implication that I'm to take there that there is a statute of limitations of how far back you're willing to go?
JACQUELINE: Again, it's a case-by-case basis.
MATT: Okay - so there's no line.
JACQUELINE: Well this is what I'm trying to say - that we do take context into account - so it's not like we're sorting through your entire history and trying to look for something that you've ever said. That's not what this is about at all. But, if there's something that's relevant and - you know - it seems fair to say that the older something is, you know, the less relevant it is.
MATT: Okay. In offering Sargon appeal, you asked him to prove a negative. You asked him to provide evidence that it's not hate speech. What would that evidence possible look like and how does one prove the negative? Could you give me an example of evidence Sargon could have provided that would have exonerated him?
JACQUELINE: You know, to be perfectly frank, if Sargon had come with a full-throated apology - and I'm not saying an apology to the group that he was, you know... trying to offend because I understand that's not a savory group - I'... I - I understand who Sargon is and - and, you know, what he was trying to say - but, you know, to say something like 'hey guys, you know, things got away from me and that-that's not how I intended it - that's not how I normally speak' there are many -
MATT: But you know how he intended it, he has spoken out about it at length. You know he didn't intend to demean black people in the way you described in your statement.
JACQUELINE: No, no. That's not what the statement said. So, what I'm saying is - uh - especially if you take into consideration the second video where he doubled down on the statement - if he came out and repudiated and said 'This is not what I'm about and it was a poor choice of words' you know, something to the effect of what Joe Rogan was saying about it. You know - 'Thats not how I usually operate, I'm usually very articulate, I was tired, I was sick..' You know, something that would help us - but there has been nothing. Nothing even like that.
MATT: Okay, so they have to satisfy your subjective expectations of whether or not there's enough atonement, enough apology, enough sensitivity.
MATT: That's the evidence you're describing? Because the request was for evidence.
JACQUELINE: That's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is I'm happy - I'm happy to look at each case individually and I'm just giving you an off the cuff place to start. But um -
MATT: Okay. But again, this standard - everything is individual, everything is subjective, everything is off the cuff and I'm supposed to have confidence in this system? Are you kidding me?
JACQUELINE: Again, like I, this is why I'm reaching out to you because - uh - I-I'm happy to-to take your feedback I-I'm it's very helpful feedback and I want to make this process - uh - a good one in the future, I'd love to stay in contact with you. I've only been here a few months so I'm trying to reach out to our creator community and understand what the perception is, where we can make improvements. Um, I would really love to, you know, continue this conversation and have additional feedback -
MATT: Okay - that is helpful. Thank you for that because I'm guessing at some level you've been thrown into quite the difficult spot here - and I can sympathize with that because I can understand that you've been tasked with defending something that, quite honestly, is very difficult to defend. I would not want to be in your position and have to defend this policy and this particular action because I find them both to be fundamentally indefensible - as the market reaction has demonstrated. So, nothing I'm saying is to be taken as any, you know, shot at you personally or anything and I'm glad you explained that context to me because that is helpful for me to understand the perspective you're coming from.
JACQUELINE: Absolutely. Yeah, I don't want this to be in a vacuum. So I know that our time is running out - but um, why don't we have a check in in the next couple months? I'd really like to keep this dialogue open if you're comfortable with that.
MATT: I cannot commit to that because I cannot commit to your platform. But I will say that - I'll give you one final question if you are willing to entertain it - and it's sort of to that spirit. Because given the uncertainty that Patreon has created for people like me, creators like me - huge hitters who are creating their own alternatives - who have built their name on your platform, quite frankly. The market reality - you have prompted serious competition coming your way eminently. What would be the top reasons you would give me to stay on Patreon and not jump ship?
JACQUELINE: That's a really good question. So, in my experience, this is one of the only companies that I've worked for where the people who work here genuinely care about creators. We're the only platform that would engage with creators like this that I've experienced. We understand the payment space and that it's critical to the success of a platform. So, those are my personal, um, reasons that I would'... that I would stay. And - and as I said, you know, I - I would like to keep this dialogue going and if I can give you my email address. Or, I mean, I understand that's working with Patreon so if it's that, I could connect with you on Linkedin or something. But just so that, you know, genuinely I would like to keep this conversation going. I've appreciated your comments and I've appreciated listening to your comments on your podcast as well.
MATT: Sure. And I - despite the reality that I have massive disagreements with the policy and the implementation of it - I do appreciate that you're willing to discuss these sorts of things. You're welcome to email me anytime. My email is in all of my videos - it's linked in all of them if you need to grab it. So, I'd be happy to take an email from you whenever. Unfortunately, I just don't know if I'll have an ongoing communication with Patreon per se - there's just so much uncertainty that has been thrown into my relationship with Patreon at this point that I just can't be confident in it. So I can't make any commitments to the future because it doesn't seem like Patreon is willing to make a serious commitment to people like me. I-I don't like the precedent - that I'm having to constantly consider whether a mob is going to take something 'damning' I've done or said to Patreon - and then I'm going to be forced to bend the knee to Patreon or surrender my income. I'm not comfortable with that standard and I don't think anyone really would be. So, I don't know what's going to happen with me and Patreon. I wish I had a firm answer and I wish I could give you a firmer answer on your request to further communicate. I appreciate that sentiment and request sincerely and I hope the best for you. It seems like you're open to the criticism and the thoughts here so I appreciate that - and I hope everybody all the way up to Jack at Patreon is considering this seriously. I think as these competitors rise up, the worst hit to Patreon is yet to come. I think it's going to get worse from here, unfortunately.
JACQUELINE: Yeah - and I appreciate all your comments. They're fair. It's fair feedback and I appreciate you being open in your comments and if you are on Patreon in a few months my ask stands and I would love to hear more.
MATT: Alright, well I appreciate it. Thanks for taking the time.
JACQUELINE: Absolutely, thank you.
MATT: Yeah - Merry Christmas, Happy New Year - all that.
JACQUELINE: Yes, you as well. Thanks Matt. Bye bye.
Report: Democrats Spent As Much On Fake Russian Bots As The Russians Did On Real Ones
Sun, 23 Dec 2018 02:30
The ''elaborate 'false flag' operation'' sought to ''enrage and energize Democrats'' and ''depress turnout'' among Republicans
The Democrats have been wailing about the Russian influence on the 2016 election, but it turns out, as Mary blogged earlier this week, that they are implicated in creating their own army of fake Russian bots to influence the 2017 Alabama Special Election.
According to reports, Democrats spent the same amount of money on fake Russian bots intended to spread disinformation and fake news as the Russians spent on real Russian bots.
The Daily Caller reports:
While the debate rages on over how much Russia really influenced the results of the 2016 presidential elections, one detail put the entire controversy in perspective: Democratic operatives spent an identical amount of money on their project to create a Russian bot ''false flag'' campaign during the Alabama 2017 special election.
Multiple reports detailed the Russian government-backed Internet Research Agency spent up to $100,000 on Facebook advertisements throughout their entire disinformation operation. As The Daily Caller News Foundation reported Wednesday, billionaire-backed Democrats ''created more than a thousand Russian-language accounts that followed [Roy] Moore's Twitter account overnight.''
The group of Democrats behind the ''elaborate 'false flag' operation,'' as described in an internal report obtained by The New York Times, also created fake conservative Facebook accounts for the purpose of convincing voters not to support Republican candidate Roy Moore.
The cost of the effort totaled $100,000 '-- the identical amount Facebook says the Russian IRA spent during the last presidential election.
The New York Times has more details about the Democrats' false-flag operation.
An internal report on the Alabama effort, obtained by The New York Times, says explicitly that it ''experimented with many of the tactics now understood to have influenced the 2016 elections.''
The project's operators created a Facebook page on which they posed as conservative Alabamians, using it to try to divide Republicans and even to endorse a write-in candidate to draw votes from Mr. Moore. It involved a scheme to link the Moore campaign to thousands of Russian accounts that suddenly began following the Republican candidate on Twitter, a development that drew national media attention.
''We orchestrated an elaborate 'false flag' operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet,'' the report says.
Mr. Morgan said in an interview that the Russian botnet ruse ''does not ring a bell,'' adding that others had worked on the effort and had written the report. He said he saw the project as ''a small experiment'' designed to explore how certain online tactics worked, not to affect the election.
Mr. Morgan said he could not account for the claims in the report that the project sought to ''enrage and energize Democrats'' and ''depress turnout'' among Republicans, partly by emphasizing accusations that Mr. Moore had pursued teenage girls when he was a prosecutor in his 30s.
The NYT describes the connections between power brokers in the ''world of political technology'' who were ''brought together'' by this allegedly small, relatively inexpensive effort.
Despite its small size, the Alabama project brought together some prominent names in the world of political technology. The funding came from Reid Hoffman, the billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn, who has sought to help Democrats catch up with Republicans in their use of online technology.
The money passed through American Engagement Technologies, run by Mikey Dickerson, the founding director of the United States Digital Service, which was created during the Obama administration to try to upgrade the federal government's use of technology. Sara K. Hudson, a former Justice Department fellow now with Investing in Us, a tech finance company partly funded by Mr. Hoffman, worked on the project, along with Mr. Morgan.
A close collaborator of Mr. Hoffman, Dmitri Mehlhorn, the founder of Investing in Us, said in a statement that ''our purpose in investing in politics and civic engagement is to strengthen American democracy'' and that while they do not ''micromanage'' the projects they fund, they are not aware of having financed projects that have used deception. Mr. Dickerson declined to comment and Ms. Hudson did not respond to queries.
The Alabama project got started as Democrats were coming to grips with the Russians' weaponizing of social media to undermine the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton and promote Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Morgan reached out at the time to Ren(C)e DiResta, who would later join New Knowledge and was lead author of the report on Russian social media operations released this week.
The NYT's description of the false-flag fake Russian bot operation reportedly includes a Facebook page and a number of sketchy-sounding characters who refused meetings and ''stayed in the shadows.''
The NYT continues:
Mr. Morgan confirmed that the project created a generic page to draw conservative Alabamians '-- he said he couldn't remember its name '-- and that Mac Watson, one of multiple write-in candidates, contacted the page. ''But we didn't do anything on his behalf,'' he said.
The report, however, says the Facebook page agreed to ''boost'' Mr. Watson's campaign and stayed in regular touch with him, and was ''treated as an advisor and the go-to media contact for the write-in candidate.'' The report claims the page got him interviews with The Montgomery Advertiser and The Washington Post.
Mr. Watson, who runs a patio supply company in Auburn, Ala., confirmed that he got some assistance from a Facebook page whose operators seemed determined to stay in the shadows.
Of dozens of conservative Alabamian-oriented pages on Facebook that he wrote to, only one replied. ''You are in a particularly interesting position and from what we have read of your politics, we would be inclined to endorse you,'' the unnamed operator of the page wrote. After Mr. Watson answered a single question about abortion rights as a sort of test, the page offered an endorsement, though no money.
''They never spent one red dime as far as I know on anything I did '-- they just kind of told their 400 followers, 'Hey, vote for this guy,''' Mr. Watson said.
Mr. Watson never spoke with the page's author or authors by phone, and they declined a request for meeting. But he did notice something unusual: his Twitter followers suddenly ballooned from about 100 to about 10,000. The Facebook page's operators asked Mr. Watson whether he trusted anyone to set up a super PAC that could receive funding and offered advice on how to sharpen his appeal to disenchanted Republican voters.
Shortly before the election, the page sent him a message, wishing him luck.
The report does not say whether the project purchased the Russian bot Twitter accounts that suddenly began to follow Mr. Moore. But it takes credit for ''radicalizing Democrats with a Russian bot scandal'' and points to stories on the phenomenon in the mainstream media. ''Roy Moore flooded with fake Russian Twitter followers,'' reported The New York Post.
Watch the report: