How an anti-trans, anti-immigrant troll built a pro-Trump Twitter army by duping ‘moron’ baby boomers
Trump supporters have seized upon one of Twitter’s little-used features to create a propaganda-pushing machine, but they were coached by a user who calls himself a “liberal” who thinks “most conservatives are morons.”
Politico said on Wednesday that the “group message” feature — which Twitter rolled out in January of 2015 — has enabled President Donald Trump’s small but vocal group of supporters to synchronize their message and strategically amplify the White House’s talking points on any given day.
One user — identified only as “Microchip” — was an early mover in optimizing Twitter rooms and gaming the site’s algorithms using a combination of bots and “retweet accounts.” He is actually not a typical right-wing conservative — he calls himself an “atheist liberal” — but saw a chance to mobilize Trump’s “moron” followers.
Microchip has been repeatedly banned from Twitter and from many of the rooms he helped promulgate for his “wild claims” and anti-Semitic remarks, but since November 2015, he has been remarkably successful at getting Trump supporters to retweet his content.
“Conservatives are generally morons,” he told Politico. “It’s like herding cats.”
A “die-hard” user of pro-Trump news quoted Microchip as saying, “You know how I know they’re spreading lies? Because I do the same thing, it’s fake news and spin.”
Trump’s social media army — aided by Russian propaganda bots — enables the embattled president’s fans to carry out attacks on public figures who cross the president, giving him a unique kind of clout.
“Other political leaders fear his ability to shape the news cycle and flog his critics before millions of voters who may not receive news from any other source,” wrote Politico’s Shawn Musgrave.
Analysts and media-watchers have been baffled for months as to how Trump’s angry online army seemed to pivot and maneuver on cue, which led to the discovery of the first automated phony accounts retweeting and reinforcing articles praising the president.
“My hypothesis was always that these accounts were organizing somewhere,” said data scientist Gilad Lotan to Politico. “They were clearly organizing in some private space. It makes so much sense that it’s within Twitter.”
It’s difficult, Lotan explained, to determine the overall size and reach of these private “rooms” — and users like it that way.
“As Trump’s presidency barrels forward, this network continues to evolve and even splinter. But its infrastructure, largely invisible, remains a powerful tool for the administration and its supporters to broadcast their messages and help dictate media coverage,” Musgrave said.
With names like “Trump Train” and “Patriots United,” many of the groups are invitation-only and include a wide range of slogan-chanting, Make America Great Again hat-wearing Trump supporters, from midwestern housewives to Florida businessmen.
“When he Salutes you…He means it. I never seen a President as Patriotic as Donald J. Trump! We Love him! I stand with my President!” wrote user “Debbie” in one tweet that fellow group members retweeted thousands of times after it was posted in a group called “Trumps WarRoom.”
Microchip told Politico that the types of memes and disinformation he spreads would previously be relegated to sites like 4chan, but given that he needed to net a number of older users, Twitter proved to be the optimal venue because “the boomers will not go to 4chan,” Lotan said.
“Most of this is contrived to force outrage and trigger new MSM journos to cover shit because they buy the meme,” Microchip said. “They should have already figured this out and stopped covering us.”