How to Manipulate Voters and (Possibly) Sway an Election

This is the story of a young woman named Cassandra Fairbanks. (Inspired by a thread on Twitter by JAM.) Fairbanks is 30-something who became active in politics while living in Pittsburgh. When the Steubenville rape case started making headlines, she joined other hackivists in Anonymous and started combing the net to look for evidence against the rapists. She helped organized “Occupy Steubenvile” protests in Ohio before the two boys were convicted and sentenced to juvenile detention.

Fairbanks took a job with Sputnik news and began reporting on protests in Ferguson, Missouri and anti-immigrant protests in Murrieta, California.

Since that time, Fairbanks has identified herself as a journalist and on her LinkedIn page she describes herself as an “audio engineer turned accidental journalist.” Stories that she posted on Alternet.org and AddictingInfo.com are heavy on viral videos and stories about police brutality. But I would probably not include her among journalists and classify her as a writer and commentator instead. I can find no information about her education or whether she actually trained as a journalist, especially the all-important part about ethics and maintaining the appearance of objectivity.

This is Fairbanks’ profile picture at Big League Politics

Fairbanks has made her opinions clear from the beginning and often openly supported one political candidate over another. That’s a big no-no for trained journalists. She also works for a news agency that’s controlled by the Russian government and has been used by the Kremlin to spread false information around the globe. That’s also taboo if you want to be taken seriously as a reporter.

But let’s go back to Fairbanks’ timeline. In 2015, she became a supporter of Bernie Sanders and viciously attacked Hillary Clinton on social media.

It’s impossible to determine anyone’s motivation. Some, like JAM, imply that her support for Bernie was a “sham.” But it’s possible she was sincere in her support, although many of her criticisms and claims about Clinton were dubious at best and wholly untrue at worst.

What’s important is that she became a somewhat significant voice in the lead-up to the election. Her Twitter followers rose by the tens of thousands and her posts were included in news reports on mainstream outlets.

And that’s what made the next development so shocking. In November of 2015, she described Trump as “highly racist and bigoted”. But in July of 2016, she posted a video explaining why she had decided to support Trump over Clinton. The change surprised so many that it earned headlines in outlets as respected as the BBC.

Her “reporting” was as partisan as it was in the past, but the tone and political bent had changed dramatically. Here’s the opening line of one report, posted at wearechange.org: “Half the nation’s voters who support president-elect Donald Trump have become targets of violence — as petulant Hillary Clinton supporters report fake hate crimes to feed their narrative.”

Fairbanks told the BBC that her conversion was motivated by horror over the shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. “The son of one of my mom’s really good friends was shot there,” Fairbanks said, “I heard this horrific story, and everyone’s like ‘blame guns’, and I was like, ‘no, we need to blame terrorism’. I was just offended. Then I started to look more seriously at Trump, and at people who have been pushing censorship on the left.”

Fairbanks is also friends with Alana Goodman, who writes for the hyper-partisan site Free Beacon. Goodman broke the story about Anthony Weiner’s laptop and Hillary Clinton’s emails. That story led to the letter from Comey saying the FBI was investigating and, many claim, cost Clinton the election.

I should note that, while she didn’t want to “blame guns” in October of 2016, nine months earlier she wrote a piece for Teen Vogue called “I Love Guns, but I Want Better Gun Control Laws.” At some point she underwent a radical change of heart, going from calling anti-immigrant protesters “bigot scum”

…to smiling beside Nigel Farage and calling him her “absolute favorite person.”

Apparently, she’s also a supporter of ultra-right nationalist Marine Le Pen in France.

Keep this story in mind as you now hear reports that some in the left in France are telling liberals not to vote in the upcoming run-off election.

In the end, Cassandra Fairbanks may end up being an obscure footnote in American political history. But the power of social media to sway voter’s opinions, possibly demonstrated by Russian hackers in 2016, is not an issue that will go away soon. It’s all too easy to create a persona, gain a following, and then encourage them to follow not just your thread, but your chosen ballot.

Regardless, voters should never stay home. 43% of non-voters now regret that choice. So, vote and save yourself from remorse.

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