Once again, Robert Mueller’s probe of possible Trump campaign Russia connections has ensnared one of our digital politics compatriots. Last summer’s party of interest was Trump digital director Brad Parscale; according to Reuters, this time the subpoena went to Roger Stone’s social media guy, Jason Sullivan.
Stone himself is no stranger to the Russia investigation, as Reuters notes:
According to sources familiar with the ongoing investigation, Mueller also has been probing whether anyone associated with the Trump campaign may have helped Assange or the Russians time or target the release of hacked emails and other social media promoting Trump or critical of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Setting aside the chance that social media consultant Sullivan may have helped serve as a conduit between the Trump campaign and the Russians, it looks as though he’s quite familiar with questionable online tactics in the political space:
“Welcome To The Age of Weaponized Social Media,” said a strategy document Sullivan prepared for Stone and seen by Reuters. He described a “system” he devised for creating Twitter “swarms” as “an army of sophisticated, hyper-targeted direct tweet automation systems driven by outcomes-based strategies derived from REAL-TIME actionable insights.”
For example, at 6:43 a.m. local time on Election Day in 2016, Trump tweeted, “TODAY WE MAKE AMERICAN GREAT AGAIN”. Trump’s message soon was retweeted more than 343,000 times, and in an interview last year, Sullivan told Reuters that the swarm helped overcome a surge in pro-Clinton social media postings and boost voter turnout for Trump.
Botnets to the rescue! I.e., the fakest form of social media outreach on the planet, and a tool much-loved by the Russian groups who’ve tried to influence elections (and public opinion more broadly) across the world. Also note the Mighty Bold Claim that these bot-retweets helped boost voter turnout, something that honest practitioners would be reluctant to say without solid data.
Of course, we have no idea if Sullivan acted illegally — that question is for Mueller and other prosecutors to consider. Choosing to work for Roger Stone? That’s an ethical question…and someone whose instinct is to create or hire botnets to try to manipulate public opinion has already shown us where he stands. Lie down with the pigs, and you’ll likely wake up dirty.