Trolls descend on online poll to declare Yang, Williamson second night debate winners
He may have gotten less speaking time than any other presidential candidate on the stage Thursday night, but according to a Drudge Report poll, there was only one clear winner of Thursday’s Democratic primary debate: former tech executive Andrew Yang.
Following the first primary debate Wednesday night, polls on The Washington Examiner website, Heavy.com, and, again, Drudge also yielded surprising results: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) were declared the winners of the evening.
None of the aforementioned polls were accurate or scientific. Rather, the fringe results were the work of trolls from Trump-friendly spaces of the internet, such as Reddit’s r/The_Donald and 4chan’s /pol/, attempting to game the surveys in order to spread low-level misinformation.
As Mother Jones noted, during Thursday night’s debate, trolls from /pol/ attempted to inflate Yang’s numbers — as well as those of author Marianne Williamson, who came in second in the Drudge survey — in post-debate polls about which candidate had performed best.
“VOTE FOR YANG IN THIS POLL. HE NEEDS TO WIN IN EVERY POLL WE CAN FIND,” one user wrote.
MSNBC noted on Wednesday that trolls were similarly eager to “blow the polls out” for Gabbard.
Both The Hill and The Daily Mail picked up those manipulated polls, spreading the misinformation further.
Since he began his campaign, Yang has been a firm favorite among more internet-centric voters. His proposal to give each American $1,000 a month — part of his Universal Basic Income policy, which he calls a “Freedom Dividend” — coupled with digitally-savvy campaigning have made him a firm favorite among parts of the internet which previously lent their support to Trump, including far-right and white nationalist communities.
Yang, the child of Taiwanese immigrants, has made sure to firmly distance himself from this subsection of support.
“I disavowed any of that [white nationalist] support,” he said at a CNN presidential town hall in April. “I don’t want anyone that has an agenda different than that of this campaign. We’re trying to solve the problem.”
He added that he found the support somewhat confusing because he “doesn’t look much like a white nationalist.”
Gabbard is another Democratic candidate who has unintentionally cultivated a following among both conservatives and the more extreme far-right.
Former KKK leader David Duke “endorsed” Gabbard back in February. Gabbard swiftly denounced him, but her frequent criticisms of the Obama administration’s foreign policy — including questioning whether Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people — have made her a favorite guest of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.
When asked about this week’s Drudge Report poll showing her as the winner of Wednesday’s debate, Gabbard made no effort to push back on it.
The concept of trolls and pranksters gaming online surveys is not particularly new. 4chan has a long and extensive history of manipulating online polls for its own amusement.
The manipulation efforts also prove that the threat of misinformation continues to loom large over the 2020 election, considering how the Drudge poll in particular was able to make its way into more mainstream media outlets.
The 2016 election was rife with online misinformation, and experts warn that foreign actors and trolls responsible for it last time around are already engaged for 2020. According to Poynter, disinformation efforts were immediately spotted, for example, “after Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s (D-Hawaii) announcement of her 2020 plans, with users on 4chan and 8chan urging people to promote her in a gambit to divide the Democrats.”