Daniel Sinclair @_DanielSinclair Building for young people. Not reading @danielsunread. Lurking behind likes and thinking about social media, communication, & China. Aug. 01, 2019 6 min read

The Yang campaign is still winning the meme war.

Here is a glimpse into what is happening behind the scenes when Andrew Yang is Trending. While traditional public interest is growing, so are these decentralized boost campaigns. The very online are still very much in this race, and motivation prevails.

If you're watching the 2020 race from the perspective of social media, this is what a lot of the evidence points to. The pink hats are great at what they do, and the second-pack newcomers are riding the YouTube algorithm. Add Gabbard too.

During this debate, Gabbard was the most searched candidate in every single state. The very online groups backing her operate very similarly to the yanggang, with heavy focus on targeted messaging and content dispersions. The memes and infographics spread rapidly. Overlap too.

Both Gabbard and Yang largely launched their campaigns through Joe Rogan. The Yang campaign has said they took every opportunity until they were recognized by the mainstream outlets. I think it was more deliberate, but it worked, well. They've come far.

Many of the same astroturfing tactics we now associate with 'Russian meddling' have been a part of the Internet for a long time. Whether Chronic Lyme, the Chlorine dioxide autism 'cures,' or anti-vaxx, the motivations to digitally spread still win.  https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/internet/moms-go-undercover-fight-fake-autism-cures-private-facebook-groups-n1007871 

I call it the IRA playbook. It wasn't an IRA creation, but the IRA succeeded in using that tool belt for the largest astroturfing and division campaign in politics. The concentrated, motivated, very-online win — and now we know they can be paid too.

Whether it was spreading and rebranding Pepe the Frog, red-pilling through Trump memes going into 2016, or trying to defeat ISIS, or rather, fabricating the idea of having called in an air-strike, 4chan's weaponized motivation to troll does, often, win.

In the days following Yang's interview on Joe Rogan, the campaign saw massive growth from what could be described as a centrist, libertarian, or right crowd. Rogan's audience is largest in audio form; he says many are blue collar workers, and truckers.

That's when the same tactics we now associate with foreign interference in politics, appeared again in politics. I have no reason or evidence to believe they aren't Americans. But the tactics are uncanny. The astroturf tool belt entered the Zeitgeist.

Almost overnight, we saw the explosion of unified pinkhat content among what was now the Yang Gang. A lot of it contained the tropes you expect from 4chan, with pepe, harambe, and doomers all advocating for a yang dynasty and securing the bag with a universal basic income.

A lot of the content targetted the talking points around the rise of tech and automation that are central to Yang's campaign. You can see Bezos crying as pinkhats raid Amazon warehouses to secure the bag, presumably representing more taxation for tech.

A lot of the memes also featured coded antisemitism, racism, and hateful tropes. It's truthfully hard to find the division lines, but my perception was that there were multiple actors at war during this time. More than one of them came from Reddit and 4chan, with different goals.

I would say the majority of the content was fairly tame. Even much of 4chan's traditional pink hats; it would seem they embraced NPCs or Pepe largely to signal themselves as outsiders. Other content farms hammered down on highly sharable content without baggage.

There is a spectrum of this grassroots, and astroturfing content distribution. Alt-right figures embraced it to pile on. As did 4chan; it was a meme to see if 4chan could elect a guy to give them $1000 a month. Traditional outsiders fought 4chan's blurry content with their own.

In those same Discords and Reddits where organizing is taking place, it became a fight to seize the memes of production. As press picked up on the alt-right sub-group, it became an information war between Yang's campaign, a hateful, pile-on, and supporters  https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/andrew-yang-s-campaign-supporters-struggle-push-away-extremist-support-n993241 

It would appear Yang won, or at least broke free from a blurry classification. In March and April, Pepe dominated Yang's replies, and coded hate was prevalent too. 4chan and others weaponized reply ranking to self-amplify. 4chan got bored. Accounts vanished. The tactics remained

But, the question remains: why did 4chan and Reddit universally weaponize memes to form a sophisticated political astroturfing campaign to back Andrew Yang? Why did the alt-right join? Why did many that backed Trump's meme army in 2016 create Drumpft and the crying MAGA doomer?

Put simply, this is where 4chan's takeover and support of the Yang Gang came from.

Firstly, I believe you need to recognize what the media landscape looks like going into 2020. More than ever, media is divided. Many candidates refused Fox appearances. The outsider accepted it. You need to recognize what Murdoch's goal is in introducing Andrew Yang to America.

Fox News likely sees the anti-establishment candidates and outsiders as a means to drive apart the electorate. It was the rural Sanders supporters that elected Trump — and that is why Sanders had a Fox News town hall in April. Yang is Ross Perot.

When you frame some of the pinkhat and yang gang wave attributed to 4chan and the alt-right, what you see is many division drivers with complex objectives. Maybe it is true many have disassociated from Trump — maybe he hasn't severed their interests. Or maybe they want to meddle.

This is more likely than not where Richard Spencer's tweet came from: the tweet that launched the narrative of singular facet of the yang gang, which was picked up by NBC & others. But it is truthfully more complex than that — and forming that infighting was probably an objective

For the one-time Trump memeing NEETs on 4chan, I think you have to recognize what some of them actually see in Andrew Yang as a candidate. For some, it had an objective. For others, it was a fun pile-on to confuse reporters. Maybe it was a reckoning too

I believe a lot of county was distraught going into 2016. The populist vote was burning down the house to rebuild. I believe the majority of the red-pill wave was merely the next airstrike: electing the reality TV host with memes. If it all sucks — why not have $1000 a month too?

Despite having a campaign seemingly hijacked by bored 4chan memers, alt-right figures, and the GOP's propaganda arm, the Yang campaign's polls are growing in a traditional grassroots sense. And it appears 4chans information war bombing created mainstream, progressive competitors.

With the IRA and Russian meddling in the open, it would appear that disparate, divided groups concentrated these new insights on 1 candidate. All of this appears to have been happening entirely separate from @AndrewYang, his deep platform, and his campaign. This is politics now.

With all of that said, I still have no idea if 4chan bombed an insurgent training camp, or how real any of this is at all. The words 'Russian meddling' now encapsulate the country. The platforms largely haven't evolved. And the threat has gone mainstream.


You can follow @_DanielSinclair.



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