How to win an election — Social Media Inception
The fictional conclusion to the non-fiction book Messing With The Enemy: Surviving In A Social Media World Of Hacker, Terrorists, Russians and Fake News
Vicky’s gift certificate from the new “Outagamie Savings App” arrived just after dinner. An email connected her with the new daily coupon app just yesterday. Her reward for signing up was a free book from the local Appleton, Wisconsin store The Page Turner. She quickly logs in to the Outagamie App hoping to cash in her certificate before it expires.
“Recommendations for you, Victoria” section rests atop the App and the second listing is from a familiar name: Find Your Freedom - Our Fight For The Future Of America by James Jones.Vicky pauses for a brief moment and remembers her friend Shelley posting a short video clip on her social media account.
It was this James Jones character discussing his approach to business and self-improvement. Vicky liked his ideas, but in the last few years, she’s seen too many Internet evangelists pushing self-help snake oil. She previously dismissed James Jones, only now remembering his face.
Skeptical but curious, she clicks on the link to the book and skims the summary, and slows down when she sees the word “Appleton”. Vicky’s born and bred Appleton, Wisconsin. So is James Jones, who now runs his own business outside Milwaukee.
“How ironic?” She thinks to herself. She and Jones share a similar background: suburban upbringing, two kids, Christian, married. She’d always dreamed of starting her own company like Jones. College, a boyfriend, a wedding then kids not long after; life took over and her dreams of being the CEO of a marketing company fell far down the list of life’s priorities.
“I never buy anything for myself!” Vicky mutters quietly, a bit resentful after using special offers like this many times to spoil her kids or surprise her ungrateful husband. She adds the Jones book to her cart and after picking up some household staples she checks out with two-day shipping. She’ll see what this book is all about.
The book arrives on a Tuesday. Busy with work and kids, she doesn’t have time look at it and drops it onto the coffee table in her living room. Two more days pass and the first layer of dust begins to settle on the book’s cover. Thursday night after the kids go to bed, “Vicky time” begins. She could read but she’s tired, and instead grabs the television remote and brings up a menu of streaming apps.
Vicky loves the new series of in depth documentaries put out by this midwestern media group called In A Flash. They’ve only been around for a year or two, but their content is excellent. They mix short interviews with Wisconsin locals alongside national news updates. Their investigative stings on immoral online predators and deep dives on urban crime in Detroit and Milwaukee scare her to death. She can’t avoid watching though. The stories provide shocking reminders of how dangerous the world is and offers the best ways to keep her kids safe.
She spots a new episode and immediately starts streaming it. This installment showcases women struggling to make it in corporate America because of competing demands — caring for kids and the pace of business just don’t mix. She can relate, having personally felt the setbacks from family sacrifices as she tried and failed to move up through middle management in a real estate firm. Two of those featured in the clip come from the same sorority Vicky joined at Marquette. Vicky feels as if she should have been featured in this film. And then, he appears.
James Jones makes a cameo, compassionately listening to the two women struggling in corporate America.
“Holy cow, I just bought this guy’s book,” Vicky shares her surprise with her sleeping husband parked in the recliner across the room with his phone laying on his chest. James Jones explains how his company helps women be competitive and productive in the workplace while juggling the demands of being a good parent. Not only is Jones articulate, he’s handsome, and Vicky finds it eerie how much this guy looks like a younger and fitter version of her snoring husband. She finishes the show a bit inspired and her eyes drift to the Jones book on the coffee table. Stimulated by the show, a little too exhilarated perhaps, she grabs the hardback and begins reading the introduction.
“I love this guy,” Vicky thinks as she pushes from one page to the next. She quickly moves to the second chapter which outlines Jones’s theory on perseverance in the modern age.
“With so many threats to our children, online predators, social media, foreign companies and terrorists, it’s up to everyone to stand up for themselves and their kids in their own way. You know what’s best for you. Don’t let anyone else convince you otherwise.”
Vicky’s struck by the passage. Only a few months earlier, she remembered hearing the same thing, or maybe thinking it. She couldn’t recall who said it, but she knew it was right.
The next morning, Vicky searches “James Jones” on her laptop and sits mesmerized by a talk he recently gave during a Washington, D.C. business summit.
There it is again, Jones spouted that memorable phrase from his book. Vicky’s inspired, so much so she shares the video clip on her social media page, a rare departure from her usual posting of cats and kids photos. In the post, she types, “Just bought this guy’s book, one of the best things I’ve done for myself in a long time. Lots of wisdom here and here’s one thing to always remember, “You know what’s best for you, don’t let anyone else convince you otherwise.”
She shares the same clip and phrase on her other social media accounts with the hashtag #MondayMotivation and #UKnowU — a hashtag associated with Jones’s online video and prominently printed on the stage where Jones presented.
Theresa, a real estate salesperson Vicky met at a conference and connected with on social media, immediately likes Vicky’s video share and comments, “Hey Vicky, so cool to see this James Jones, do you remember last year I said the same thing, ‘You know what’s best for you.’”
Vicky smiles and likes the comment. “I do Theresa, you were on to something, great minds think alike” she types back. She remembers Theresa saying something similar, but maybe her friend Dominic said it last year when they were at their kids soccer practice. Vicky’s James Jones post rapidly becomes the most engaged post she’s ever had on her account. People all over Wisconsin and surrounding states shared her post and commented. The friends and follower requests roll in on all of her social media accounts.
Vicky searches for more information on James Jones and finds a social media page promoting his book and several video talks, about one a month, where Jones discusses his work-life balance philosophy. She follows the page and requests to join a group promoting Jones book. Rick Sampson, Jones college roommate and longtime friend, leads the closed group. Over the next couple months, Vicky receives daily group updates and connects with Jones’s friends, neighbors, fellow church-goers, and employees. Group discussions don’t focus on Jones per se, but share news and insights supporting many of Jones points in his book with a mix of concern about the current decline in moral values and personal responsibility that plagues America.
Each day, Vicky’s social media friends grow and her followers expand. Friends, new and old, family and co-workers like and share her photos accompanied with the #UKnowU hashtag. Her real estate business has benefited too. She’s connected with others “Jonesing for Jones”, the moniker for the social media group, and they routinely pass referrals her way and promote her real estate advertisements in Jones private social media groups.
Months after buying James Jones book, Vicky has become a devoted groupie, listening to his podcast and purchasing a subscription to his daily news feed. She posts articles and quotes from Jones and his colleagues religiously. She sees nearly eye-to-eye with him on almost every issue. On points where she once disagreed with Jones, like his belief that paid family leave should be either reduced or not compensated by employers, Vicky has come to understand his viewpoint. He genuinely seems to support women in the workplace and by taking a shorter leave of absence after child birth, similar to paternity leave, women would be more equal to men in their commitment to employers and would have greater justification for equal pay in the workplace.
She knows this change in position doesn’t suit some of her feminist friends, but she “knows what’s best for her”. She also feels better about Jones’s take than the phony Lieutenant Governor. She’s seen in her news feeds the Lieutenant Governor suppressed a woman’s harassment claim at his business before he took public office. The slime ball publicly denied it of course, even though he was caught on tape how he would discredit a single mother. “Not surprising, these politicians are always hypocrites,” mutters as she skims the story. Vicky recalls all the scandals coming from the Governor’s office over the last few years, and this story lengthens an already long list.
Jones first stop on his book tour is Appleton, Wisconsin. Vicky receives a social media notification and personalized invite to attend the event. As a loyal Jones supporter, she’ll get front row seats and an opportunity to attend the reception afterwards. Vicky’s ecstatic. Gold level guests can bring three friends to the event. She’ll get to meet many of her new social media followers she collected now that she’s been “Jonesing for Jones.”
Vicky arrives early to the Appleton town center. Sadly, fewer people than expected from her new social network make it to the event. Many of her social media friends from the “Jonesing for Jones” social media group cancelled at the last minute. Sick kids, bad traffic, and last minute work trips — She’ll have to meet them next time. The absences don’t seem to be slowing the Jones train down though. Nearly every seat in the hall appears filled with enthusiastic supporters.
Rick Sampson, head of the social media group, greets Vicky at the door with a wide smile. Her husband and her two closest girlfriends from work, new to James Jones, receive a VIP escort to the front of the room.
“Vicky, I didn’t realize you had so much pull, check out these seats and how about all this swag in the gift bag,” remarks Rachel, Vicky’s longtime partner in Appleton real estate.
“I didn’t either!”, Vicky exclaims, proud of her new notoriety and slowly inspecting her “Jonesing for Jones” accessory kit. She loves the modern style of this gift bag. No bumper stickers or pins. Instead a mobile phone cover emblazoned with the #UKnowU hashtag and a free fitness tracker.
“How cool, I’ve always wanted one of these fitness trackers, but they are pricey.” Vicky hope to break open the plastic and get the wristband operating as soon as she gets home.
Vicky loves the crowd’s energy; she’s never experienced a movement with such positive vibes. Vicky posts pictures and videos on her social media feeds with the hashtag #JamesJones and #UKnowU.
Jones takes the stage and delivers a rousing, inspiring talk and concludes with a big thanks to everyone for attending. Jones concludes:
“My first goal since writing this book has been to connect with the audience that has powered the book, and now I’m looking for the next challenge, the next step in advancing our cause.”
Jones opens the floor up for questions. Vicky vigorously raises her hand and Rick Sampson, leader of the “Jonesing for Jones” social media group, delivers the microphone directly to her.
Vicky, a bit nervous as she realizes all eyes are on her, poses her question, “For your next challenge James, how about you run for Governor of our great state of Wisconsin?”. The crowd erupts with applause and cheers. James Jones lightly laughs, humbly grins and says,
“Thank you so much for thinking of me in that way. But, I’ve never thought of myself as a politician. I don’t know that I’m qualified, I don’t know how I’d finance a campaign, and I’d be concerned that a challenge like that might take me away from my family. But I’m honored you’d say such a thing and that you’d even think of me in that way. One thing I do know, is that we all want what’s best for our great state of Wisconsin, because we know what’s best for us.”
The next person taking the microphone is one of Vicky’s favorite new social media friends and Jones supporter, Larry Smith, who echoes Vicky’s call for Jones to run for political office. Rather than pose a question, Larry states, “I’ll back you for Governor, whatever you need.” Cheers and applause again fill the room, even louder than after Vicky’s proclamation. Jones seems surprised by the support, but doesn’t turn down the offer outright.
Jones appears flattered, earnest on stage, and a graphic flashs onto the screen behind him.
“We’ve started a new chapter in Wisconsin, and now let’s write the next book for the Badger state. My team created this mobile app to help keep the momentum going for the #UKnowU movement. Visit your mobile app store and you’ll find our new #UKnowU platform which allows each of you to contribute and help build on what we’ve started. Share your thoughts and opinions and our team will work together, even when we are not together, to make our communities safer and more prosperous for our children.”
Attendees immediately begin downloading the UKnowU app and Vicky relays to her colleague Rachel, “This app is a great idea, it’s so much easier than trying to go to all the different groups on different social media platforms.” A prayer for service members stationed around the world concludes the ceremony.
Vicky, husband in tow and girlfriends by her side, heads to the exit closest to the stage. Her Facebook group nominated her for a backstage pass to meet the star of the show. Rick Sampson idles by the door and when Vicky walks in she’s ushered to the front of the line to meet James Jones. James, smiling just like he does in his Facebook ads and YouTube videos, gently grasps Vicky’s hand. Vicky in turn, takes Jones’s hand, leans in and grabs Jones for a deep hug.
Jones looks her in the eye and says, “Vicky, I’ve seen you online and it’s great to meet you here. I can’t thank you enough for all your support. I’m flattered by your challenge to me tonight, to lead our great state. To be honest, I’ve never really considered it before. I’ve been so focused on taking care of my family and growing my business, it’s never really crossed my mind.”
Vicky, nearly out of breath, practically cuts James Jones off mid-sentence. “There’s no doubt in my mind Mr. Jones, you not only have what it takes, you’re the one for the job.” Vicky’s so over the moon for Jones, her husband, standing just behind and to the side of her, feels a bit embarrassed at his wife’s fawning.
Jones grins and chuckles a second before answering, “Vicky, first off, please call me Jim, and second, I’ve never seriously considered running for Governor, but if for some crazy reason I do run for Governor, you’ll be one of the first people I call, as I’ll need the support of some great Badgers like yourself.”
Jones shakes Vicky and her family’s hands again and moves to greet the next “Jonesing for Jones” groupie.
As she watches and admires how Jones connects with his supporters, a man approaches Vicky from the curtains dividing the front and back stages. She’s never seen him before, and without stating his name, he calmly says, “Vicky, thank you so much for saying James would make an excellent public servant. I think all of us who’ve had the opportunity to get to know James and his work know he’d be a great public leader. Some of us have been thinking he should move onto something bigger, but you were the first to realize it and to say it, and now I think we all know what his next big challenge should be — leading the great state of Wisconsin.”
“You were the first to realize it and to say it, and now I think we all know what his next big challenge should be — leading the great state of Wisconsin.” Chris holds back a smirk and internally giggles with delight as the words leave his mouth. He’s worked two years to get to this moment. His project is now complete.
Chris Branson didn’t start off as a political consultant, and he’s not really sure he is. He cut his teeth after college at one of the big social media companies in Silicon Valley. He got lucky. His computer science degree got him in the door, but his curiosity sat him apart. His specialty was dark marketing, and his mentor taught him the big data tricks to identify vulnerabilities people don’t realize they have to emotional, surgical advertising. She could boil down datasets for days until she realized what made women weep, men enraged and kids enthralled. Each click on a social media platform told her just what kind of visual, audio or meme content would strike the right blend of fear and pleasure in the minds of consumers, altering their mental state just a touch, leading them to buy some item they’d never conceived of purchasing and probably didn’t even need.
Chris mastered social media engineering in the 2000’s. While others in the Valley wasted away hours at hackathons attempting to write more code than their peers, Chris picked up a graduate degree in psychology. Anyone can code a new social media platform, but those that can market it, grow it, and build a brand through advertising revenues would lead the future. Soon after taking a new gig at a social media startup, Chris stumbled into a project unlike any other he’d done. Rather than selling a product, he was asked to sell a person and their ideas.
A political party wanted to try social media advertising as part of their 2010 Congressional campaign. Chris sought out the assignment. He’d always thought of himself as a bit of a puppet master, Machiavelli with a computer, and what could be more exciting than winning an election. The job lasted only three months, but Chris’s contributions were a measurable success. Using the dark marketing techniques he picked up after college, he infiltrated and nudged supporters on several different social media platforms. The campaign bosses were convinced Chris got the newly elected Congresswoman a win. “Chris, a guy with your skills could make a lot of money just doing political campaigns all day long.” A month later, Chris took the advice. He quit his job and started a public relations consulting firm on K Street in Washington, D.C.
Twelve years passed quickly, and in 2022 Chris operated not one but two companies. His original public relations consulting firm remained near DC, moving out to one of the nameless, ten story glass buildings lining the corridor to Dulles airport. But for global social media operations, he’d positioned a separate operation in Europe. Switzerland provided lots of advantages for social media influence operators — fast Internet, data protections, closeness to skilled personnel, and more secure, cloaked banking; in other words, everything someone in his line of work needed. Using three social media platforms, he’d just won an election in Tanzania on an extremely low budget with his new methodology. His backers, a global mining conglomerate based in Hong Kong and Dubai seeking access to Tanzania’s rare earth metals, preferred his cradle-to-grave election winning approach Chris called “Social Inception”.
“What would you like the outcome to be?,” Chris started every project by asking his clients this simple question. In Tanzania, the conglomerate sought a new president looking to liberalize mining operations and receptive to investment from Dubai. “No problem,” Chris replied in the secure chatroom, and then he described how using a sustained, social media campaign he would not only pick the candidate out for the client, but would ensure the current president resigned in shame, paving the way for a new leader willing to do global business. “You pick the outcome, we’ll pick the voters and the candidate that will champion them,” he typed. The campaign proved easier than Chris anticipated, with a young audience, weak public education and a growing dependence on social media for news, Tanzanians anointed Chris’s specially selected candidate without Chris setting foot in Africa.
The Super PAC saw an opportunity in Wisconsin, an important swing state where they could be competitive. In American political circles, Chris’s “Social Inception” caught the eye of a major donor seeking to roll back labor laws and unions where he owns and operates medical facilities in the Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Madison areas. Neither the political party nor the donor cared who the candidate was, as long as they won, and post victory, the victor turned the regulatory tide toward business and away from the workers. Chris knew if he claimed a victory in Wisconsin, his revenues thereafter would soar.
The “Social Inception” methodology would come to America for the first time in Wisconsin — staging, reconnaissance, targeting, mimicry, placement, amplification, promotion, and last but not least, inception. Political types still talk about the Obama team’s neighborhood mapping of voters in 2008 and the Trump team’s psychographic mumbo jumbo advertising in 2016. Both were child’s play. If “Social Inception” works in America like it did overseas, no one would ever know Chris orchestrated it. The media pundits will instead banter about the candidate’s “grass roots” appeal and “likeability”. They’ll heap praise on a beltway bandit campaign manager while piling up money on Chris’s doorstep.
Two years before the 2024 governor’s election, Chris set his teams to work. The social media team in Switzerland began staging accounts across nearly every social media platform popular in the United States — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, as well as few emerging outlets like MyTime and TrueAmerica. 4Chan, Reddit and 8Chan all got a few new handles as well. The Swiss-based team used American SIM cards and U.S.-based virtual proxy networks (VPNs) to make accounts look like they were physically based in the United States.
Each team member manages anywhere from 10 to 20 cell phones. Only Millennials can handle the multi-tasking, and they don’t have the morale qualms about duping people their parents’ age. It’s revenge mixed with power, a delicious dish for the young, and they won’t regret it till they are much older. On each platform, the accounts sit hollow and follow all the major news outlets, celebrities, media pundits, and each other, occasionally amplifying general news content adding the occasional “This is unbelievable!” comment. The team’s social bots, many dormant since the 2020 campaigns, reignite tweeting at high rates and conversing with the newly staged Wisconsin looking social media accounts. Avatars feature pets, flowers, standard stock photos, but some showcase the Green Bay Packers or Wisconsin Badgers logos and of course “Cheeseheads”, a few fans adorning cheese wedge headgear.
As the staged accounts churn, taking on the appearance of a real audience, the data analytics team, working through third party data providers, buys bulk copies of social media data from all the major platforms and advertising research and purchasing patterns for nearly every major online seller. Using Chris’s custom-built analytics package, his team ingests all of the social media data related to Wisconsin from the last five years. Chris’s proprietary software, some tailored artificial intelligence he bought from a broke PhD professor a couple years ago, can churn through an unprecedented amount of data providing the best reconnaissance of a voting base in all of political consulting.
Chris identifies the full political spectrum of Wisconsin, from liberals to conservatives, those steadfast in their views and those possibly amenable to turning their backs on labor unions and towards freer business practices. The labor union loving folks in Madison are a lost cause and will be the challengers. Chris spots several clusters he can count on to unwittingly hate on workers’ unions even if they are in a union. His base of support will be the usual — grumpy, middle-aged, gun toting, action movie watching, football loving, middle class white dudes. On the white board at corporate headquarters, Chris writes, “Challengers” on the left end of the board with the word “Unions” under it. On the right end of the board, he scribbles “Base” and below it jots down an acronym, “GOM” — short for “Grumpy Old Men.”
In the coming months, the “GOM” base will get the standard tried and true social media content stream of car chase videos, 2nd Amendment memes, National Anthem protest blasphemy and young, beautiful women talking conservative politics. Chris isn’t really worried about the challengers or the base. Chris worries about the 5%, that’s all that matters. That small margin that change their mind just before voting or decide not to show up on election day.
Chris’s team has push button social media packages to suppress turnout. A steady stream of news which are really ads. They will flow into fringe social media apps tailored to minority groups, threads on anonymous websites, become the strange click bait ads surrounding mainstream news and will even surface on old fashioned AM/FM radio shows. Police racial bias, election rigging, political party corruption, minorities being turned away at the polls for lack of state identification and potential violence against minorities at the polling place; these streams over the next year will yield a 1–2% depression in voter turnout. Depressed turnout helps, but it’s never enough.
“We always need to win somewhere we’ve never won before…victory is in the data, victory lies in the middle, find it!,” Chris tells his digital team. Chris must find those that will unexpectedly and unwittingly turn the tide for his client’s interests. His team descends on educated, working women. He dives deep into the working mom “preference bubble” and finds they admire hard work, select bits of progressive thinking, economic opportunity and inspiring role models. On the team’s shared discussion, Chris types “Victory = H.W.P.M. — Hard Working Progressive Mothers”. He plots “HWPM” in the middle of the dry erase board between “Challengers” and “Base” and above his new acronym writes in red marker “Victory”.
Chris needs the HWPM to be his champions, and they must believe the candidate they push across the finish line is one of their own making, not one pushed on them. Using machine learning, his team pours through all the content the HWPM access, like, share and discuss. He spots some phrases from this audience that he needs to coopt, own and cement in their minds.
“You know what’s best for you. Don’t let anyone else convince you otherwise.”
Somewhere in the Wisconsin social media storm, his algorithms spotted these two phrases as being prime click bait with the HWPM “preference bubble”. The phrase sums up HWPM and closely mirrors phrases he successfully field tested years ago for supermarket social media ads in Nebraska. The Swiss team’s confident from data and sentiment analysis that these champions will like, own and advance this message. “Remember team, if you are wrong, we are all unemployed,” Chris warns the team.
Chris’s geospatial team mapped down to the home where in Wisconsin the ground campaign must recruit a candidate to push this message and garner votes. Chris learned before the other social media manipulators, its best to find the winning message first, and then find the winning candidate to deliver it. If his social media reconnaissance is right, the rest is easy.
Targeting begins 21 months out typically and Chris is on pace. His political team outside Washington begins daily video calls with the social media savants in Bern. The first target is the political base, the GOM, which is easy. Historical campaign archives provide all the data for the usual digital and doorstep spam. Reporters and media outlets sympathetic to business and deregulation get logged and prepared for fueling of campaign narratives.
Soft stories on economic growth spurred by small businesses begin at the 18-month mark, and nine months out the hard negative content will land on the HWPM: corrupt unions, lazy workers, health insurance costs, federal regulation and “mandatory paid family leave killing Wisconsin’s small businesses and economic growth.”
The second target for Chris’s teams’ is the political opposition, which isn’t much harder to tackle than the base. The old hippies, Teamsters, ACLU donors, their preferred media outlets and reporters and any locals discussing labor protection will get the ire of the social media trolls. Whatever candidate these folks put up for election, those that report on that candidate and those that donate to their candidate will be put in “the queue”. Their email addresses, physical addresses, social media handles, bank accounts, law firms; all gather in an excel spreadsheet posted to an anonymous file transfer site.
Starting on the 15-month before election day, some of Chris’s Swiss envoys turn the tap on a BitCoin transfer to the dark web. He thinks they’re in Bulgaria, or maybe it’s Romania, Chris gets those places confused, but he doesn’t care who does the hacking and he doesn’t want to know. Plausible deniability, that’s the best way to play this game. These hackers have never let him down, and they’ll rifle through the hard drives and cloud folders of the opposition. Over a couple months, the hackers will return everything Chris’s team needs to sink the political opposition.
Chris needs a messenger to deliver the message. There isn’t a candidate yet, but big data Chris compiled will find the best one both physically and mentally. The political base needs a man, but what kind of man will the HWPM go for. Liked social media photos, romance novels purchased online, most watched movies and television shows on streaming services, aggregated swipes of Wisconsin divorcee’s ondating sites; every social media facet where the HWPM views and approves of a man are compiled to determine the preferred physical composition of the candidate.
The HWPM prefers a man between 5’11” to 6’2”, average build, no “Dad-bod” but not a body builder either, white skin like a lumber jack, good smile, hair browner than black, and no gray hair whatsoever. The candidate should be no younger than 38 and no older than 48. The books, movies, videos, and social media discussions the HWPM view suggest they prefer someone who is caring more than funny, happy, and not brooding. Married, dependable, working, and willing to take care of the kids if his wife has a late night at the office.
Chris dispatches his political team to locate potential gubernatorial candidates. The social media analytics team generates a list of potential Wisconsin men. Chris’s former spooks, CIA and FBI types, do ground work casually assessing candidates for cultivation. Of the initial eight coming from or living in HWPM heavy areas, three men have potential. But Chris really likes one more than the other finalists: James Jones.
James Jones is a small business owner, devout Christian, married, no detectable dirty secrets. Chris deploys Jay, a former intelligence officer leading his political intelligence team, to Wisconsin the next day posing as a business consultant, “helping small businesses ramp up marketing, connecting investor capital with great entrepreneurs.”
Chris’s team and Jay know Jones’s business could use some cash and within two weeks Jay pushes the first of several installments into Jones’s company accounts. More importantly, Jones has taken the hook on writing a book to promote his brand and articulate his personal and professional philosophy for success. Jones doesn’t know these will match with the topics and themes the political base needs to hear and the HWPM wants to believe.
Jay found this awesome team of ghost writers in Brooklyn. “They write nearly all of the celebrity self help books and those 10 step business improvement guides you see at the airport,” Jay tells Chris over beers at Dulles airport. “When they’re done, our boy in Wisconsin’s book will be like a televangelist, a late afternoon talk show therapist and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur all rolled into one.” The book will be ready in three months and out in five months, with a supporting speaking tour to launch locally in Wisconsin.
Before launch, Jay tells James Jones, “You might be nervous about promoting the book, and giving good speeches, but I’ll help with the roll out.” Jay texts to to Chris, “Jones = all in, $ in place, Book ->target, Tour is a go.”
The Wisconsin dataset has been winnowed down, and analysts tabulate the social media profiles of 150 HWPM key influencers. The final HWPM recruitment spreadsheet displays on the screen in the conference room. These will be Jones’s champions in the coming months. They’ll receive targeted advertisements for Jones’s business, surprising shares on their social media feeds, news about Jones upcoming book and will see his pictures casually surface on every mobile app they use.
These select citizens also just received an email offer for a new coupon app which requires a social media account login. When they click on the link, install the app and accept the terms of service (those terms nobody reads), they’ll be given coupons and free gifts to Wisconsin businesses all of which Chris’s team funded. What the HWPM doesn’t realize is they’ll also share their social media data and that of their friends with Chris’s digital team in Switzerland. His social media savants will harvest all their information and begin building an even more robust mapping and distribution mechanism of Wisconsin voters in 2024.
These women and a handful of entrepreneur men will also be inundated with stories and themes Jones will later discuss on the speaking tour. Every news story promoting small business and shaming lazy workers will be boosted through paid advertising from newly emerging Super PAC’s. Most importantly, each of these 150 key influencers will have their social media personas put on steroids: new followers and friends every day, explosive likes and retweets and expansive dialogue on every future campaign theme. The HWPM won’t know why they spend so much time discussing “all the problems in Madison.” It’ll just happen in small nudges.
The social media team in Switzerland has a message and a messenger now, a candidate to promote. But first they need to mimic the HWPM. The accounts staged months before take on the profile pictures of things, places and people similar to what the HWPM prefer. Their bios transform into hard working moms devoted to faith and family. Each account hosts a few hashtags and emojis mirroring the HWPM, tags corresponding to Jones future presentations and book manuscript. The key HWPM members slowly gather these staged accounts as followers over the next few weeks and social bots retweet stories and share posts in volumes that echo everything the HWPM post.
Over a month or so, the 150 HWPM key influencers receive more and more followers and in return start following the social bot accounts. Common comments and posts by the HWPM are quoted by the bots and amplified. The key influencers will think that they are forerunners and leading a movement of followers. But it’s really the design of Chris’s social media team.
Once two-thirds of the HWPM key network engage with Chris’s social bots the placement of James Jones begins. Facebook ads start promoting his company which is coordinated with Jay, Chris’s “startup consultant”, shadowing Jones every step of the way. James’s business development team initiates some sales leads where HWPM key influencers work. Staged encounters between James Jones and his new admirers provide a physical ignition with the larger groups. Above all, specially selected negative news stories about the current Governor and labor issues swirl in the HWPM social media storm created by Chris’s digital team.
James Jones also films a promotional talk about his new strategy, and during a D.C. small business forum Jones “surprisingly” gets a prime speaking slot. Chris’s ground man Jay helps write and rehearse Jones’s big speech and placed inside the speech is the key phrase “You know what’s best for you, don’t let anyone else convince you otherwise.”
Chris buys a ticket to watch his man from the crowd, it’s the only time he’ll ever see James Jones in the flesh. Jones does fine, nothing spectacular but the needed hook comes out perfect. The social media team splices and enhances the key phrase, highlights the talk, and a couple days later the pitch surfaces on a video sharing site. Social bots pump the video into social media feeds and just a few hours later Chris notices a HWPM supporter, Vicky, naturally sharing it for the first time on her social media page. “Thanks Vicky,” Chris whispers to himself. Placement complete, and amplification begins.
Chris’s social media team amplifies James Jones into Wisconsin’s social media stratosphere. Jones, energized by new business and new fame, dives into the recommended speaking tour and business promotion offered by Chris’s ground man Jay. This spin is old hat for Chris’s team, publish some posts about Jones on social media, spot organic users content discussing Jones on social media, promote it, connect it with emerging HWPM champions and then subtly layer in political issues and social issues for later influence. Chris needs this group to see and believe the business advantages of curbing unions — “Right To Work” will become a phrase they know and love.
The Swiss digital operations remain ahead of any competitors thanks to a smart investment Chris made many years before. Chris’s social bots appear far more human than the clunky spam that’s proliferated social media platforms the past decade. Not only do they pass the Turing test, where a machine’s conversations are indistinguishable from humans, but his social bots conduct conversations with each other that is indistinguishable from real human social media communities. These enticing real looking conversations inflate the perceived size and passion for Chris’s specially selected candidates, enticing observers to join the digital tribe.
As Chris’s social media team amplifies Jones and connects him with supporters, the ground team puts together events in key locations Jones must win next year, that’s after Jones finds out he’s running for Governor. Appleton, Wisconsin will be the kickoff event, and Jones’s college roommate, Rick Sampson, has been instrumental since joining Jones’s firm. The two are like glue in the office, Jones trusts him more than any other. Chris’s start up consultant Jay starts discussing a transition in the months, shifting his duties to Sampson who will be running the promotional tour. Rick Sampson loves Jay’s endorsement, and Jay is “happy to help.” A couple weeks before the tour’s kickoff in Appleton, Jay plants a seed in Rick’s ear.
“Rick, James has really matured into something that’s bigger than this corporation. As you’ve seen with the social media groups you set up for him, people love his message. He’s doing a great service for the public, and maybe he should consider a role in government.” Rick agrees, and Jay points out, “Rick, no one would be a better chief of staff and campaign manager than you.” Rick grins, and Jay knows the flattery will create a reliable ally during a political campaign.
Chris calls a synchronization meeting one week before James public speaking tour kicks off. Both teams, Switzerland and Virginia, get on the call, a rare occurrence, and Chris leads final coordination for the Appleton event and follow on speeches, pairing on-the-ground action with online promotion. Key HWPM members appear excited about free seats and backstage passes. The false Jones social media supporters will let the key influencers down slowly about not being able to make it at the last-minute due to family conflicts, emergencies, and a host of other plausible excuses.
Chris’s team will distract the HWPM evangelists on arrival with gift bags filled with coupon codes, tech trinkets and most importantly fitness monitors. Jones’s most enthusiastic backers won’t realize it, but when they put the fitness tracker on their wrist, they’ll begin “voluntarily” sharing their personal, health and activity data with Chris’s tech team. In the coming months, their bio-data will be paired with their social media activity helping the political team determine just the right time to drop tailored social media ads and conspiracies for each supporter. Jones’s future voters will be driven into a sustained, passionate fury right up until they drop their ballots on election day.
“What’s up with the app, what’s the status?,” Chris’s concern tightens up everyone on the call. Julie, head of digital operation’s in Bern, chimes in, “It’s ready, when Jones finishes his speech in Appleton, attendees can immediately begin installing it. Once installed, unless they modify the default settings, we’ll be able to scrape their friends and followers from the social media platforms they are on, harvest their contacts and even send out promotional social media shares from their accounts. We’ll own their minds and their social media feeds once they download.”
Chris nods approvingly and remarks, “the social media companies thought they’d shut us out after 2016. They can change their terms of service all they want, we’ll find a way to dominate their platforms. They can’t shut down our app, without shutting down all apps. It would kill their business model.”
In the smear campaign business, the advantage goes to the offense. It’s easier to make a social media conspiracy than to dispel one. Chris must pave the way for James Jones move into political life. The Bitcoin loving hackers returned a couple months’ worth of stolen information connected to Wisconsin’s current Lieutenant Governor — the presumed leader for next year’s governor race. They never hacked the Lieutenant Governor directly, but they did gather all the human resources files of his former company before taking office. Buried in those files was an HR complaint against the Lieutenant Governor. The claim was nothing, quickly shot down for being baseless. But that was before Chris’s social media team got a hold of it.
Chris pulls the trigger on the discrediting campaign, and the next day select pieces of the complaint appear anonymously amongst threads on a social media discussion board. A secondary set of liberal looking social bots promote the anonymous post. For passive observers, these accounts look like transparency advocates from Madison, a few grumpy Americans complaining about corruption with a sprinkle of the global Wikileaks conspiracy theorists. But digital team in Bern has operated these accounts for years, repurposing them from time to time to compromise adversaries.
Media outlets around Wisconsin get immediate tips on the anonymous disclosure and a range of bots begin promoting a narrative where the Lieutenant Governor, as a businessman, wrongly terminated a young mother and then conspired with a union leader, the same one that donated to his campaign four years ago, to suppress the woman’s claim. The story is complicated, confusing and bogus, but there’s a kernel of truth, and that’s all that’s needed to spread a conspiracy. The leaked materials generate media reports leading to investigative news pieces assisted by anonymous tips from Chris’s team.
Few things in political influence prove more valuable than a computer science doctoral candidate drop out. Skilled, curious, unaware of the unintended consequences of their scientific advances, driven by a competitive ego; Chris enlisted one such savant named Elena after watching her presentation at a Helsinki tech conference. She understood video and audio editing far beyond her peers and her mentors. For three years she filled her dissertation advisor’s journal papers with insights he’d never come up with on his own. He kept delaying her dissertation, hoping to keep her as his academic slave labor, but she eventually figured it out and quit the program. Now she sells ‘deep fakes’ on the dark web— false audio and video recordings built from samples of real human voices and images. Chris convinced Elena, through a lucrative monthly Bitcoin stipend, to stay underground and exclusively manufacture digital forgeries specifically for his operations.
The Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin made the natural mistake of making too many public appearances that ultimately posted to the Internet. Elena harvested the Lieutenant Governor’s voice and over a week crafted a recording, one-side of a phone call between the future gubernatorial candidate and his union leader donor. The call implied they’d work together to suppress a HR claim made against him. Of course, this recorded phone call never took place.
Articles laced with allegations against the Lieutenant Governor pipe into the HWPM by social bot friends who reinforce the narrative that corrupt unions suppressed the working woman’s attempts at justice. The HWPM seems disgusted. News stories and commentaries suggest next year’s governor’s race may be up for grabs. The Lieutenant Governor’s denials of the harassment claims seemed plausible at first, but two days later, Elena’s masterful audio forgery appears on an anonymous posting site and gets piped to the most zealous reporter in Madison, Wisconsin. The Lieutenant Governor’s voice instructing an aide over the phone to target a single mother employee quickly sank any chances he had for a promotion to Wisconsin’s top seat in 2024. He might be able to disprove the allegations over time, but not before his paniced political party replaces him with an inferior candidate.
Rick Sampson mentions one of these headlines to James Jones, “Have you seen this? It could be an opportunity?” James Jones shrugs, grins and says, “Let’s focus on Appleton for now.”
Chris’s handshake with Vicky is a victory. She performed her role perfectly, inception, the final step in Chris’s methodology had come to fruition in Appleton. Vicky and her fellow members of HWPM believe they picked Jones to be a gubernatorial candidate, and for that reason, they’ll advocate for him, donate to him and champion him across the finish line. Jones also thinks he’s being asked to run for Governor, and he’ll take on the messages coaxed to him, never realizing where the message originated.
Chris checks his alternate phone and sees two text messages. The first says nothing, just two emojis, a smiley face and a thumbs up sign. The clients are happy.
The second text is a deposit confirmation. Chris has been paid in full. The next day Chris’s ground team transfers operations to Rick for Jones’s public tour and the bots, they continue, but get handed off to an anonymous operator. From here on out, the political party will step in and take the reins. The “Jonesing for Jones” campaign for the Governor of Wisconsin is underway.