Pointing out the obvious, social media has become a powerful tool for effortlessly spreading information. Unfortunately, it has also become a powerful tool for spreading disinformation and misinformation. The comment sections of media websites, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds are filled with what seems like an infinite stream of information – some of it truthful and helpful, some of it contested and heated, and some of it straight dishonest and hurtful.
There are also a wide variety of people spreading the information. From the average person sharing information with their family and friends, to journalists sharing a news story, to government agencies, to corporations sharing information on their products, etc, etc. The people I would like to focus on in this article are what I like to call, smear merchants.
There are plenty of investigative journalists who have tried to uncover the web of smear merchants. For example: George Monibot has written numerous articles that uncovered how Monsanto, and their PR firm, used two fake accounts to falsely discredit findings by a scientist on their GMO corn. This example of smear mongering shows how powerful interests used anonymity and deceit to protect their interests.
The example of smear merchants I would like to use here is on a more local level, and one that can be witnessed on a daily basis in the Twitter hashtag – #copolitics and #coleg. These two hashtags are frequently used by Colorado politicians, media, citizens, and interests groups regarding Colorado’s political happenings.
If you spend a few days reading these hashtags you will quickly see the people who are open and transparent (i.e., this is who I am, and this is who I work for). But you will also see many accounts who use anonymity to spread disinformation. Who are these people? Who do they work for? Or are they just citizens who are afraid to post under their real names?
I can understand the last question. I used to post under an anonymous name because, well, quite honestly, social media can be a vicious little world, and I felt I was protecting myself by being anonymous. Whether you agree or disagree with politicians, or activists, or whomever, there is something to say about the courageousness of a person who publicly and transparently says, “This is who I am, this is what I believe, and this is what I am fighting for.”
However, there is no possible way I could concretely answer who the anonymous smear merchants are, or who they might work for. But what I can do is show you great example of them trying to spread misinformation and disinformation. The examples are from the Twitter-sphere the day after the tragedy of the Bailey shooting that took the lives of one Bailey police officer, Nate Carrigan, and the occupy activist, Martin Wirth.
I knew right away that I would be seeing the right-wing smear merchants in #copolitics trying to politicize this tragedy as soon as I heard the news. It started off with this benign, and truthful, tweet. Wirth was a far-left activist who engaged in extremist tactics. However, and as you will see below, he does not seem to fit neatly into a binary partisan category.
The next tweet came from a local rightwing blog called, Colorado Peak Politics. The article stated something that just is not true, and reveals how little they know of Occupy Denver and its activists – including Martin Wirth. So I replied with this tweet:
The first response came from an anonymous Republican smear merchant. If you read through this guys twitter feed you’ll see that his entire agenda, sun up to sun down, is to smear the Democrats. Critiquing the other party is all fine and well. However, the problem arises when the critiques are plain dishonesty. Thus, the term smear merchant is deserved.
Here is the response I got from the anonymous Republican smear merchant:
First, his “We are totally clueless” suggests that “Mr. T” is not just an individual “grassroots activist” who is working alone, as many of the rightwing anonymous trolls in #copolitics like to suggest. Maybe he’s a contributor of CO Peak Politics, I dunno.
Second, “Mr. T” pulled these two pictures from Wirth’s Facebook account in an attempt to “prove” that Wirth is a supporter of President Obama and the Democrats, and thus the violent act of Wirth was supposedly the result of the rhetoric of Democrats (remember, “Words Matter” as CO Peak Politics stated.) In other words, he thinks this response to me is game, set, and match.
Well, it’s not. This false assertion is predicated on him hoping that nobody else bothers to look through Wirth’s Facebook page. Furthermore, it reveals that he is either being completely dishonest or is incredibly dumb. Other interactions with him lead me to believe that it is a bit of both.
So, let’s look more closely at the two pictures that “Mr. T” used to try and prove me wrong and continue on with his false claim that Wirth and Occupy Denver “support Democrats.”
Notice the date on these Facebook posts. They are both from November of 2012. So Wirth shows that he supported President Obama and the Democrats in 2012.
However, the interesting thing here is that “Mr. T” had to dig through four years of Wirth’s post to pull these pictures. This is no small task, as I will show below. What of Wirth’s political positions for the past four years? And were there any shifts in his political stance since 2012? Yes, in fact, there was a massive shift in his stance.
If you go to Wirth’s Facebook page you will notice that he posted stuff on his political views almost daily. And if you read through these posts you will quickly discover that Wirth no longer supports the Democrats and President Obama. In fact, you’ll see he vehemently despises them and castigated them on nearly a daily basis. Ironically, he seems to despise the Democrats just as much as “Mr. T” and his Republican cohorts in #copolitics.
Let me show you some examples:
Here he is calling Democrats as “successful parasites” and that they are “far deadlier” of the two Party “parasites.”
Here is he explaining why “liberals are worse than conservatives.”
Here he is calling President Obama a “mass murderer.”
Here he is stating why he “refuse[s] to vote Democrat.”
Here he is explaining that he will “vote Republican” and for Trump over a Democrat, specifically Hillary, because of their “murderous immorality”
Here he is dissing liberal gun grabbers as hypocrites. (Wirth was a pro-gun advocate)
There are plenty more Facebook posts like this… but I hope you get the point by now: the Republican smear merchants were 100% wrong to claim that Wirth, Occupy Denver, and the “Democrat Party are in alignment,” as Mr. Viser falsely tried to assert (see below).
Furthermore, Wirth’s posts concretely show that his horrible act of violence was in no way influenced by the rhetoric of Democrats. Again, what it shows is that CO Peak Politics and the rightwing smear merchants are absolutely clueless about the driving ideologies of Occupy Denver activists and Wirth.
Does this sound like the rhetoric of “gun-grabbing” Democrats?
Or, does this sound like full on support for the policies and rhetoric of the Democrats?
What many right-wingers fail to understand (or blind themselves to in an attempt to smear “the other”) in their “critiques” of leftwing activism is that it is not one monolithic bloc of people with a centralized command and control center.
Anybody who has spent any amount of time within the leftwing activists circles, or who has studied leftwing activism, as I have, quickly sees that leftwing activism is composed of loose-knit groups of activists with various different types of leftist ideologies, pursuing various agendas. If you tried to state that all of these various leftist ideologies lead back to Karl Marx… you would be wrong.
This important reality and understanding of leftwing activism obliterates the simplistic black and white rightwing narrative that “there is no daylight between the Democrat Party and leftwing activism.” This false narrative, and lack of distinction, makes it much easier for the smear merchants to push the “progressives are all the same and President Obama, the Marxist, is their leader.”
Furthermore, one wonders how “Mr. T” was able to dig through FOUR YEARS of Wirth’s Facebook page and not manage to see the plethora of Wirth’s posts that contradict his attempted smear-mongering. I mean, partisans have a tendency to dumb themselves down to be “rah rah cheerleaders” for their party. But is he really that dumb? Or was he just hoping that nobody else would bother to research Wirth’s Facebook page to see that “Mr. T” was, in fact, spreading disinformation?
Either way, this kind of idiocy, or dishonesty, is why this country is drowning in a sea of misinformation and disinformation.
*** UPDATE – 5/16 ***
Just to show that the above example is not one isolated case, I’d like to add one more example of the smear merchants at work. The past week the GOP smear merchants have been pushing a crazy message written by a gun control supporter who wrote an inflammatory and threatening message to a gun rights advocate. By all means, the threatening message should be seen as an example of a person who is obviously messed up in the head. However, the GOP smear merchants want to take it a step further and blame all Democrats and gun control advocates for the acts of one individual (quite similar to what they did above with the Wirth example).
Here is James Viser’s tweet (and this same message in the tweet has been echoing in the halls of Twitter from the cabal of little GOP parrots).
How are the actions of one individual the responsibility of all? Did all of the gun control advocates (which to James is basically all of the “statists” Democrats) get together and help this lone individual pen this threatening message? Are there a plethora of other threatening messages like this from other gun control advocates? In other words, does this message seem to be a common thing among the messages coming from the gun control advocates?
The irony of the first question is that Mr. Viser is supposed to be a part of the “party of personal responsibility.” But here he is shifting the personal responsibility of the lone person with a threatening message onto all gun control advocates.
Mr. Viser is essentially trying to falsely state, “They are all like this!”
Then when a person pushes back against Mr. Viser’s attempt to smear all gun control advocates for the lone actions of one person, he pulls this move.
The tweeter (Willard M) is pointing out how Mr. Viser (albeit in a snarky way) is wrong to “conflate one unhinged asshole” with an entire group of people. Instead of seeing how it is wrong to conflate an entire group with the action of one individual, Mr. Viser throws out the “I’m being attacked.” No, Mr. Viser, you are being called out for falsely trying to conflate the lone actions of one person onto millions of other people.
It is a variation of the same ole schtick as the Wirth example above: Obliterate any important distinctions, which then makes it much easier for smear merchants, like Mr. Viser, to push their false narrative.
And if somebody calls the smear merchants out on their bullshit… play the “Poor me, I’m being attacked by the vicious Left!”
UPDATE II – 5/25
So these GOP smear merchants are just getting comically sadder by the day.
Here is a tweet from this morning (5/25/16) by Mr. T.
As stated above regarding Wirth, and can be easily viewed by simply reading through the various Occupy websites, this comment is patently false. But, here is Mr T., once again, peddling the same disinformation.
But here is where the comical farce goes off the charts. 12 hours later! Mr T. throws out this tweet about Wirth:
So……. what is it, Mr. T? Is Wirth, an Occupy activist, just a “Leftist Democrat” or is he a Bernie toting, Socialist?
Well… again… trying to understand Wirth’s political position only requires reading through his Facebook posts – like the post below — which shows that Wirth wasn’t actually a Bernie Sanders supporter, as Mr T, again!, falsely tries to push above… my god, this guy is just getting so fucking pathetic with his attempted smear mongering. Perhaps he should just drop this schtick and move along to the numerous other things that Democrats can rightly be accused for.