Net Hides Tangled Web Campaigns Weave When They Plot to Deceive

Wednesday, 28 Mar 2012 02:09 PM

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Political campaigns are turning increasingly to technological tricks and social media sleight of hand to undermine their opponents. Republican presidential New Gingrich is among those who have been targeted, reported the Los Angeles Times.

For example, “decoy” Internet pages similar to Gingrich’s official website during the exploratory stage of his nomination bid sent readers to articles that were critical of him. Such redirection is just one example of how smear websites, phony social media accounts, and attack videos are “rapidly becoming staples of political campaigning,” the newspaper reported.

Though negative campaigning is nothing new, digital media makes it easier for activists to launch attacks anonymously and are more difficult for targets to combat.

Tim Groeling, chairman of UCLA’s Communication Studies Department and an expert on political communication and new media, told the Times: “Campaigns have used surrogates, 'whisper campaigns,' leaks, 'independent' advertising and opposition research to attack the opposing candidates without leaving any fingerprints on the knife. People can literally edit video on their phone these days."

Among those concerned is Richard Alarcon, a Los Angeles city councilman who is seeking election to the state Assembly. A website featuring a Monopoly-style board game highlights Alarcon’s legal troubles: He and his wife have been indicted on 18 felony counts related to alleged lies about where they lived and fraudulent voting.

But the website does not say that the Alacorns have pleaded not guilty on all counts, which have yet to be heard, reported the Times.

"What bothers me is that people can hide in a digital disguise and not accept responsibility for what they say," said Alarcon, who has more than 30 years in politics.

"Where I grew up, when you had something to say to someone, you said it to their face," he said. “I've always put my name behind any statement that I've ever made."

Similarly, Ian Calderon’s bid to win the California Assembly seat that his father, Democratic Assemblyman Charles Calderon, is vacating has been set back by a website featuring postings from Ian’s previous Facebook page. It includes some apparently flippant comments that may upset voters, said the Times.

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