Dark Influence: Winning Wars, Ruining Reputations, Fixing Elections, and Making Money
Winning Wars, Ruining Reputations,
Fixing Elections, and Making Money
U N G A G G E D L A S V E G A S
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Who We Are
» Started out in SEO back in the
golden age – 2002
» I now build cool shit, and
oversee SEO on some of the
largest brands on the web.
(they weren’t cool with me
telling you the name of the
company due to the content of
» Once a spammer, probably still
Who We Are
» Involved in search industry
» Have managed several
thousand domains and
hundreds of clients
» I’ve been fortunate enough to
play in all facets of online
marketing, providing a broad
» I handle a variety of ORM/dark
ORM campaigns for clients at
What is Influence?
» Simply put, influence is the
ability to get others to listen to
» Edward Bernays called it
Propaganda - he wasn’t wrong.
He believed that news, not
advertising was the best
medium to carry advertising.
Primer on Influencer Marketing
» 1. Identify people with influence within niches
I. Look at reach / follower audience
II. Look at topical relevance of your ‘thing’
III. Look at engagement. the gold standard. lots of popular people with poor
influence (no engagement)
» 2. Get them to post about your product in their authentic, natural
I. Let the influencer write the copy
II. Let the influencer use the product (if possible)
III. Try for a genuine recommendation (gift basket!)
IV. Test this! Sometimes it’s good to quote another influencer in
original influencers post…
What is Dark Influence?
» Simplest definition: Dark influence is
influence that you aren’t aware is part of
an influence campaign
» The intent on dark influence is not
necessarily malicious, though it is easier
to be malicious
» In our estimates the dark influencer
ecosystem is much larger than its
cleaner counterpart – you’ll be able to
see why in some of the case studies,
where the amounts of money thrown
around are enormous
What’s the Big Difference?
» Disclosure. By withholding disclosure one cannot see the possible
incentive for someone to post. It is important because...
» Lack of disclosure implies increased authenticity. Though the reverse is
actually true, if you don’t know something is paid, you are more likely to
treat as an honest recommendation
» Effectiveness. Organic engagement exceed paid engagement on all
Case Study 1: Making Money
» Microsoft, via Machinima, paid YouTubers to include Xbox One footage in
videos, paying $3 CPM for 30 seconds of Xbox One footage. The FTC and
Machinima reached an agreement, but how much of the low CPM payment
resulted in the 19 million Xbox One units sold in that 2015 time period?
» Kim Kardashian gets around on social networks – she earns a minimum of
$200,000 per #ad disclosed Instagram posts and more for long format
videos, so how much does she earn for this undisclosed beauty? Per Radar
Online, probably close to $500,000 given the timeframe of the video.
Case Study 1: Making Money
» Kylie Jenner learned nothing apparently
» Even after FTC action, Jenner was posting
full reviews without proper ad disclosure;
with a smaller audience she doesn’t earn as
much as Kim, but it is still very significant.
How is FitTea doing by the way, since this is
their primary awareness channel?
This stuff works.
Manipulating Social Network Graphs:
A How To
» Find targets - We all know the influencers in our niche… or use
something like Buzzsumo to look at sharers of similar content
» Look at who they follow + engage w/ content from - Who do they
retweet? Who do they reply to? Go upstream
» Look for triangulation between targets, identify sources - Do you
have more than 1 target? Great, find the upstream sources that cover
them in one fell swoop. These are often specific newsletters or content
» Identify types of content the seeders engage with - What kind of
content do they like? Memes? Research pieces w/ stats? Infographics?
Interviews w/ themselves or colleagues / associations they belong to?
Case Study 2: Fixing Elections
» We decided to speak on this topic months before Wikileaks became an
election driver. Who hacked the emails and provided to Wikileaks? What was
the agenda? Did it have an impact? Note: this slide is being created prior to
Nov 8th, so I’ll just say It was a difference from a 85/15 probability to a 65/35
probability today… A 20% probabilistic spread is immense
» Fake ads designed to suppress valid votes by suggesting invalid alternatives
Case Study 2: Fixing Elections
» Not a huge concern? The 2014 presidential
race in Indonesia in accounted for mass misuse
for disinformation spreading and claims of
fraud so significant that the previous ruling
party refused to acknowledge defeat after the
votes were counted. With politicians taking the
route of purchasing media outlets and equity
stakes in social apps to drown out alternative
voices, the rhetoric of fraud is in a pitched fever
even still. In 2019, Indonesians will be voting for
their next president electronically.
More Case Study 2: I’m Not Fucking
» Need more examples of where dark influence comes into play in elections?
Movie time, with Russian shit posting
» This isn’t a right or left issue.
Surrogates from both our
major parties here in the U.S.
have asked me to assist on
matters relating to ORM and
dark ORM; make no mistake
on what the intended goal of
this actually is, no matter how
pure the initial intent is
Using Native Amplification to Spread
» Authority /Aspirational Influence + Peer Influence + Repetition =
» The power of memes is that with enough repetition one begins to assume
it must be true
» Easiest way to do this is to take a few shit posts and amplify them to
lookalike audiences. For politics, one might take a registration email list and
load it as a retargeting list and blast to them, feeding them into low CPM
ad networks with uptake to the same retargeting list. If the goal is to get
those participants to spread your rumor, it is very very effective…
Case study 3: Ruining reputations
» Assume identities and run amok online,
pissing people off as you go
» It’s unlikely influencers will share content
about individuals, but they don’t ‘have to.
301, 302, cloak
» Hit pieces do well when oriented as
insider information… what heinous things
do your competitors do?
» Claim a page for a biz and treat
customers poorly, obscene msgs, political
msgs to fuel your hit pieces
Taken to an Extreme, with Unlimited
Funds, What is Possible? How Great a
» Twitter has 313m monthly active users
» Instagram claims 500m monthly
» YouTube has over 1b users
» How much reach? Too much :)
Get Really Nasty
» Clone a Facebook person’s profile
Add their friends
Hijack account posting w/ an app to
leverage their friends
Case Study 4: Winning Wars
» Think of this as the next evolution of winning over elections, and it is
currently underway. Disinformation campaigns to designed to change
public opinions on Sweden joining NATO; Russia’s intervention in this
example sways possible military response times and attack vectors.
» Russia is the master at this. In 2014 it used social media disinformation
campaigns to obfuscate deployed forced which were used to seize Crimea.
» ISIS, using consistent Anti-Western sentiment over Facebook via false
stories and dark influence to incite violence, such as was in the case of Syed
Farook and Tashfeen Malik in San Bernardino California. This is the real
danger; in a distributed and guerilla war that is fighting against ideologies
across borders. This isn’t just an Islamic issue; we are all prone to living in
our own bubbles and can be convinced of doing a variety of horrible things
if we believe it is the only choice in changing something we care deeply
» Dark influence isn’t only real, it is very powerful and growing ever more
» Be aware what you read and how you interact with content; is it truly
authentic? We’re now in a world lacking critical thinkers where ads are
possibly the most authentic form of content available
» If any three letter agencies want Terry and Joe to speak to them on this
subject, we’re happy to do so