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Black hat politics


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A look at 5 dirty tricks politicians and their campaigns can run online.

Published in: News & Politics, Business

Black hat politics

  1. 1. Black hat politicsWILL CRITCHLOW
  2. 2. @willcritchlow All examples are made up unless explicitly linked to real events. None of the real examples in this presentation have opposing politicians behind them (as far as I know!). I’ve chosen to demonstrate examples from the perspective of the right attacking the left, but all examples could work in either direction.
  3. 3. @willcritchlow 1. Hidden attacks
  4. 4. @willcritchlow What it is: Attack ads run on platforms like Facebook that allow demographic targeting and make it possible for your base never to see your attack ads
  5. 5. @willcritchlow How?
  6. 6. @willcritchlowChoose demographic targeting to avoidyour own supporters
  7. 7. @willcritchlow Why it works Attack ads are often designed to reduce opposition turnout rather than make people vote differently. The biggest risk is the negative backlash of “going negative”.
  8. 8. @willcritchlow In some cases, it’s possible (by avoiding journalists and very political people in the targeting) for the opposition campaign not even to notice the campaign.
  9. 9. @willcritchlow How campaigns defend against it Use “honeypot” social media accounts with a variety of personas in order to see a wide range of marketing Can also be worth social media monitoring to find people discussing ads you never saw
  10. 10. @willcritchlow 2. Reattacks
  11. 11. @willcritchlow What it is: Retargeted attack ads designed to appear only to opposition supporters and only on their trusted websites
  12. 12. @willcritchlow How?
  13. 13. @willcritchlowStep 1: create a site designed to beshared by your opponents I’m not claiming this particular article ( is involved in anything like this
  14. 14. @willcritchlowStep 2: add re-targeting pixel Visit recorded with a cookie on the user’s machine
  15. 15. @willcritchlowStep 3: run attack ads that are seen onlyby opponents Your advert goes here, only for the visitors who saw your linkbait.
  16. 16. @willcritchlow Why it works To the target, it looks like their chosen publications are running attack ads against their candidate
  17. 17. @willcritchlow They can be made to appear everywhere for the target audience
  18. 18. @willcritchlow At the same time, they’re never seen by your own supporters
  19. 19. @willcritchlow And they can even be made to look like editorial if you wish
  20. 20. @willcritchlowNews websites have unsold inventory and don’t monitorthe ads placed on their site Print newspaper advertising revenue adjusted for inflation (
  21. 21. @willcritchlow How campaigns defend against it Monitor social media to hear about ads you never saw Source screenshots, details of platform Shut down campaigns through the platform and / or host website
  22. 22. @willcritchlow 3. Wiki-circularity
  23. 23. @willcritchlow What it is: Getting negative stories to stick on Wikipedia long enough to make it into mainstream press, at which point Wikipedia is updated with the mainstream press reference making it hard to rebut. See also:
  24. 24. @willcritchlowWhy it worksJournalists often trustWikipedia but don’t cite it(because they know theyshouldn’t trust it)Famous example:
  25. 25. @willcritchlow How campaigns defend against it Fast responses to defacement of Wikipedia Obtain rapid corrections from journalists and get them to update their original story so it can’t be used as a Wikipedia reference.
  26. 26. @willcritchlow 4. Rankslurs
  27. 27. @willcritchlow What it is: Creating websites designed to rank for opposition candidates’ names or policies
  28. 28. @willcritchlowWe know this can be dangerous Not suggesting Santorum’s issues were caused by an attack by opponents. Image source:
  29. 29. @willcritchlow Why it works People trust Google Done cleverly, it’s plausibly deniable
  30. 30. @willcritchlow How campaigns defend against it Pre-emptively creating a strong online reputation with a variety of your own sites ranking for the candidate’s name Close monitoring of the web and search results Crisis management
  31. 31. @willcritchlow 5. Impersonation
  32. 32. @willcritchlow What it is: Taking advantage of internet anonymity to impersonate candidates.
  33. 33. @willcritchlow How?
  34. 34. @willcritchlow Either: Express plausible but damaging opinions while impersonating a candidate or staffer. Bonus points for adding to the conspiracy by deleting public evidence as outcry begins.
  35. 35. @willcritchlow Or: Shoot for virality, sacrificing a degree of plausibility. For example, having a fake twitter account say something damaging and retweet it with strong “duped” genuine accounts.
  36. 36. @willcritchlowIt can even work as an obvious spoof
  37. 37. @willcritchlowOr as an attack on a staffer
  38. 38. @willcritchlow Why it works More people see the (often viral) fake opinion than the (very not-viral) denial.
  39. 39. @willcritchlow How campaigns defend against it Monitoring and rapid rebuttal on official sites or social media Direct approach to comment-bearing sites and to identity services (e.g. Gravatar)
  40. 40. @willcritchlow So?
  41. 41. @willcritchlowAttack ads are nothing new
  42. 42. @willcritchlowBut the web is changing politics Faster than many realise. I encourage anyone with an interest in politics or the web to read this story: This particular article is from 2009, but I think we’ll see even more eye-popping things in the next few years.
  43. 43. @willcritchlowWill CritchlowFounder – Distilled @willcritchlowWill co-founded Distilled in 2005.Although most of his work has been in online marketing, he’sseen plenty of reputation management issues and spentenough time with political operatives to get the inside scoop.Everything in this presentation is illustrative and none of theideas here are intended to represent specific campaigns.Will doesn’t recommend playing dirty political tricks.