Russia has been using social media for several years to sow discord among the American electorate, and now Democrats have their own army of social media specialists to fight back.
U.S. intelligence services have confirmed many times that the Russian attack on America was not done by just hacking systems, it also has been done through massive social media campaigns involving the use of “bots” and disinformation campaigns.
Although Twitter and Facebook have taken steps to protect against fake accounts and fake news, it is not enough. Democratic leaders are still afraid that Russian interference in this year’s elections will influence the results again in favor of their opponents.
Since they have been burned on social media, Democrats this year started a new program which they plan to use to win election battles on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is the group in charge of Democratic Party strategy for House races. The DCCC recently implemented new advanced software to identify suspected automated Twitter accounts, or bots.
These bots have been used extensively to make social media posts about key races, and they have been shown to have had significant impact on election outcomes. U.S. intelligence officials and technology firms have said that such automated account postings were a big part of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The Democrats’ new system also will provide a way for them to take charge and drive discussions on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. Historically Democrats have not done that, and have suffered because of it.
The DCCC has hired several dozen social media specialists whose job is to fight daily messaging battles online. By doing this they hope to counter the efforts already under way that are helping the Russians and the Republicans.
According to DCCC reports, their new effort employs over 40 “battle station organizers” and sets them to work in the most competitive districts in the country. They work full-time building grass-roots networks to spread pro-Democratic messages. They also post attacks on Republicans in local Facebook and Twitter communities.
“This is completely different from what we have done in past cycles,” said Dan Sena, the executive director of the DCCC.
Under the new social media strategy, Democratic workers paid by the national party recruit local volunteers to work as social media activists. They also recruit volunteers to knock on doors and work at phone banks, but the social media work has taken on new importance.
The new staff volunteers spend their time adding viral content in local Facebook groups just like they used to try to have a presence on the letter to the editor pages of local newspapers.
Republicans seem to have a more limited program of providing House candidates with digital training and support for campaign staff members, and are not employing their own social media army yet.
Perhaps that is because they have the Russian bots doing it for them.
“Whether it’s Russia or whether it is a bot network in Michigan, it’s all the same in terms of fighting against it,” said David Yanakovich, the digital director for the successful Senate campaign of Doug Jones (D-Ala.).
Now, at least, Democrats are fighting back, and it might make all the difference in this year’s elections.