“Let’s troll Bernie and Hillary supporters systematically,” the 4Chan thread on a recent weekend in May read.
The plan was simple: get a bunch of people to create pro-Bernie Sanders and pro-Hillary Clinton accounts and go to war on Twitter. The sham accounts would use hashtags to slander the opposite candidate and try to rile up die-hard fans into saying accusatory things to the supporters on the other side. The goal was to create more divisions and somehow use it to help Donald Trump gain more support.
“We need to take advantage of this,” the author of the original post wrote. “This is Trump's gift. If we're serious about a Trump presidency we need to start infiltrating their conversations in order to sow more divison. I'm talking systematic and long-term /mischief/, not just a hew [sic] minutes trolling dumbass SJW's (social justice warriors).”
According to Greg Hughes—the name the author of the post provided to The Daily Beast—it didn’t pan out as well as intended, despite dozens of comments of approval on the post.
“If the thread and idea was successful it would've spawned a new thread- it didn't,” Hughes, a customer service representative for a logistics company, told The Daily Beast. “No momentum, it just didn't catch fire. Maybe we could still do it but the weekend is over. Nobody has time now.”
Hughes, who says he earnestly wants Trump to win the election, goes by the moniker John J. Miller on Twitter, a reference to the infamous pseudonym Trump used to speak with reporters years ago. He thinks the climate of anonymous liberal back-and-forths, as well as the inherent skepticism between supporters of the two Democratic candidates on Twitter is ripe for a hostile takeover.
“We could've gotten any anti-Bernie or anti-Hillary hashtag we wanted to trend and with nobody the wiser when the fights began,” he explained. Some hashtags Hughes proposed on 4chan were: #BernieSlanders, #BernBroSlanders, #BerniebroTears, #BerniebroSobStories and #PettyBernie.
While his initial efforts may have fallen short of his expectations, it did not go completely unanswered.
On Saturday for instance, someone in the original thread created the account “@1992DavidKelly” which made an effort to stoke animosity.
“It saddens me to see how delusional #BernieSanders supporters are. The numbers don't add up 4 Bernie. Come #imwithher so we can beat Trump,” the account tweeted. It got five retweets, which is considerable given that the account only has seven followers as of this writing.
On Wednesday, another user offered up a similar plan to Hughes’ idea.
“They are going all out to paint Bernie supporters as non-Democrats and selfish ‘white people,’” a new 4chan post read, referring to the media at large.
“This is an excellent wedge that you can exploit by finding Bernie supporters and calling them privileged and entitled white men from the point of view of a Hillary supporter,” the post continued. “Your main goal should be to mock and humiliate Bernie supporters while leaving subtle but unmistakable hints that you're voting for Clinton.”
The poster added, “Remember, if they hate you and you support Clinton, then they will hate Clinton.”
When Hughes began this project, he thought that the infrastructure was already in place to make stoking fights like this an easy process.
“Correct The Record is the greatest gift to Trump ever, let's use it to our advantage and make both sides lose credibility with each other,” he wrote in the original thread.
He’s referring to the pro-Clinton Super PAC which has already engaged in a kind of social media warfare to push back against negative attacks against Clinton, as first reported by The Daily Beast, only adding to the skepticism some Sanders supporters have about their efforts.
If the chaos Hughes hoped to incite would have really panned out, Correct the Record could have been on the offensive against what appeared to be pro-Sanders supporters that were in fact just trolls.
It’s unclear if the PAC’s “Breaking Barriers” project (its anti-negativity campaign) takes into account that certain people may not be forthright in their attacks—or if it’s even possible to assess this.
"Correct the Record's effort to push back on online harassment, Barrier Breakers, is dedicated to responding to any hateful, incendiary language,” communications director Elizabeth Shappell told The Daily Beast. “This is a general election-focused initiative, and currently, the Barrier Breakers content is exclusively positive.”
Hughes’ plan also may not have turned into a firestorm because some Sanders supporters caught wind of the idea before it could really get off the ground.
“Dear Admins (or whoever else wants to see what the other side is doing to troll us)... These idiots created a website on specific strategies to troll us,” Tam L. Cocar wrote, referring to the thread in the “Bernie Believers” Facebook group. “Unfortunately, a lot of it seems too familiar as of late. So if you have hours to waste to see how elaborate their trolling strategy has become (they seem deluded enough to fancy themselves as 007 types), please do. Why some moron would post this without the site being password protected I don't understand.”
Yet even the presence of the thread was enough to convince Cocar that Clinton supporters may have been behind it in what would be the double-cross of the century.
“I think it's paid Shillary trolls - posing as Trump trolls - in a slimy effort to somehow get us NOT to vote for him & align with her if she steals the nomination,” she commented on her own post. “She & her super pacs are THAT devious. They left this link hanging out there on one of their pages.”
Cocar did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Beast.
But other Sanders supporters, like Eric Varney who runs the “By Sanders Supporters, For Sanders Supporters” Facebook page said he doesn’t think people would fall for this.
“An attempt like this would only work with people who are uneducated about the political system and do not know how to debate civilly,” Varney told The Daily Beast. “Neither the majority of Clinton or Sanders supporters are stupid. There are ignorant people on both sides who would fight the wind if it whistled wrong. But that's the nature of social media.”
Yet he remained skeptical of Correct the Record and cited a debunked conspiracy that Clinton supporters got pro-Sanders Facebook pages taken down after reporting them for child pornography.
It’s this rift and mistrust that people like Hughes hope to exploit.
“It's not enough to troll for fun, you have to complete [sic] sever the ties that bind them for good -a pressure movement for Bernie to disavow HRC,” he wrote in his original thread.
“Even if you didn't get Bernie to do it, imagine thousands of Sanders supports [sic] chanting our hashtag at rallies, the news reporting on it. That would mean millions of Bernie supports would not vote for Hillary. Vote for Stein. Honestly I think them voting Trump is a non-starter.”
And maybe being outed was all part of the plan.
“Even if we're caught, it fucking makes them mistrust each other,” he wrote. “The wound is there, the limb just has to be severed.”