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A pro-Clinton online task force could be changing conversations this election season




Even trying to discredit the idea that Hillary Clinton is in poor health may make the problem worse.
Even trying to discredit the idea that Hillary Clinton is in poor health may make the problem worse.
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Social media has played a pivotal part in this election cycle.

For Donald Trump, a burst of tweets can dominate headlines for days.

But if the Republican presidential nominee takes the scatter-shot approach, you might consider Hillary Clinton's strategy as a series of surgical strikes. The social media arm of her campaign has more than 100 staffers, and a Clinton super PAC, called Correct the Record, has been hard at work this season tackling online trolls. 

People working with the group use profiles to engage Clinton critics in digital dialogue. 

The Atlantic's Clare Foran has reported on this digital task force in the past and gave an update to Take Two. 

Who are the people on this digital taskforce? 

Correct the Record, which is a pro-Clinton super PAC, announced back during the primaries they're going to invest $1 million into this effort to fight online harassment. At the time, they didn't really specify exactly what that would mean, but in my reporting, I've come to realize that it means two things: one is that they'll have accounts that just post a lot of images that have pictures of Clinton with inspiration messages that are essentially there for the taking. They're hoping that people will come to them as a resource and share these images. 

On Twitter they're doing more direct engagement with people, and they probably have eight Twitter accounts set up -- they're not masquerading as a person -- but what these Twitter accounts will do is pop up and tweet at people who are tweeting very anti-Clinton messages, and most of the time they'll respond with an image that says something like, 'I'm with Her' or 'I trust Hillary Clinton.'

Looking back on the primaries, one of the major differences between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders was his enthusiasm and grassroots support online. Sanders supporters online might rival Beyonce's "Bey-hive." Do the CTR staffers play a role similar to Sanders volunteers? 

I do think that must have been on some level a response to the perception that Bernie Sanders supporters were more enthusiastic and more engaged online.

On the other side of things, Donald Trump seems to be a one-man band, at least when it comes to tweeting. Does he have anything similar to Clinton's Correct the Record? 

There's been no equivalent in terms of an effort like Correct the Record announced, but Adrian Chen, who is a writer now at the New Yorker, wrote a piece for New York Times magazine a while back and it was looking at Russian trolls who would often disseminate information and often disinformation on the internet, and he said in a follow-up conversation to his profile that he's noticed a lot of them have switched to tweeting pro-Trump content. To be clear, there's no reason to think that's connected with the campaign, but there are at least some reports that there may be some pro-Trump bots. 

Correct the Record announced that they'd spend $1 million on this task force back in May. So here's the million-dollar question: Is it actually influencing the conversations happening about Hillary Clinton online? 

I think that it's very, very unlikely that anything like this would change anybody's mind. When I was reporting this story, I even spoke to some online sociologists who suggested that this kind of an effort might even increase polarization, because if you're somebody with a deeply-held conviction that's anti-Clinton and all the sudden you feel like you're getting challenged, that might cause you to dig in and be resentful and dislike her more. So I don't think we're changing any minds here, but it is possible that this could be a way to get Hillary Clinton supporters to be more enthusiastic for her, and maybe if they see this kind of thing online, maybe they'll be more likely to donate to the campaign, maybe they'll be more likely to volunteer. It is possible it's having an impact there. 

Press the blue play button above to hear the full interview. 

(Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.)