A significant portion of online support for Hillary Clinton is manufactured by paid “astroturf” trolls: a large team of supporters who spend long hours responding to negative news on the internet about her. The Clinton SuperPAC Correct the Record, which is affiliated with her campaign, acknowledged in an April press release that it was spending $1 million on project “Breaking Barriers” to pay people to respond to negative information about Clinton on social media sites like Facebook, Reddit, Instagram and Twitter. That amount has since increased to over $6 million. The trolls create a false impression that Clinton has more support than she really does, because one supporter will frequently create multiple anonymous accounts.
Libby Watson of The Sunlight Foundation observed that the astroturf effort goes far beyond merely defending Clinton, to targeting and intimidating those who criticize her. She told The Daily Beast, “This seems to be going after essentially random individuals online.”
Brian Donahue, chief executive of the consulting firm Craft Media/Digital, explained the troll operation to The Los Angeles Times, “It is meant to appear to be coming organically from people and their social media networks in a groundswell of activism, when in fact it is highly paid and highly tactical.” He went on, “That is what the Clinton campaign has always been about. It runs the risk of being exactly what their opponents accuse them of being: a campaign that appears to be populist but is a smokescreen that is paid and brought to you by lifetime political operatives and high-level consultants.”