Black hat politics: online dirty tricks

I’m fascinated by politics. As a marketer, I’m regularly intrigued by the sophistication of many political campaigns and simultaneously amazed at the crudeness of others. The more I see online marketing grow, the more scared I am of the potential for political manipulation. I put together this presentation on some of the dirty tricks politicians and their campaigns now have at their disposal:



It’s something of a different kind of post from me - both in style (this presentation was written to be read rather than presented) and in substance (I don’t talk about politics much). I’d love to hear your feedback and ideas in the comments.

Just to repeat the disclaimer in the presentation:

  • All examples are made up unless explicitly linked to real events
  • None of the real examples in this presentation have opposing politicians behind them (as far as I know!)
  • I’ve chosen to demonstrate examples from the perspective of the right attacking the left, but all examples could work in either direction

Finally - I’m not looking to start a political debate - there are plenty of fora for that on the internet. This is about tactics and defences rather than ideology.


Update: Emily wrote a counter-point over on the Evolve blog about some things politicians should be doing online.

Will Critchlow

Will Critchlow

Will founded Distilled with Duncan in 2005. Since then, he has consulted with some of the world’s largest organisations and most famous websites, spoken at most major industry events and regularly appeared in local and national press. Will is part...   read more

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7 Comments

  1. Dan Cutler

    Haha, good stuff here - this has been on my mind for sometime and it's cool to see it openly discussed.

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  2. Indeed, it is good to see light shed on these tactics. Wikipedia, when I was at The Boston Globe, was never used as a source or for fact-checking. I do wonder how much discussion or awareness there is in newsrooms about these tactics, or even living rooms for that matter.

    Another good discussion is a subplot in Page One, the documentary about the New York Times, as the staff discusses WikiLeaks videos and how they've been edited.

    Thanks so much Will.

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  3. Will Critchlow

    Thanks Suzanne.

    I know Wikipedia could never be used as an official source by a reputable publication, but the occasional sting (like the example I showed) highlights that it does unfortunately sometimes still serve as a reference for journalists and it's easy to forget that you shouldn't believe everything you read...

    I haven't seen Page One. I'll check it out.

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  4. its freaking good post will .. Hidden Attack is something that I personally experienced in last few months and I believe even I have suffered a bit .. I was just wondering why these adds were freaking coming on all ad networks no mater where I am .. and what I was browsing.. and I admit it worked in my case.. I was annoyed ..

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  5. Antoinette De Ridder

    I find it interesting that you say "I’ve chosen to demonstrate examples from the perspective of the right attacking the left, but all examples could work in either direction."

    If you were truly “scared …of the potential for political manipulation” you would give the same number of examples from left and right camps.

    The fact that you only give examples of the right attacking the left with the disclaimer that all examples could [my emphasis] work in either direction reveals your bias. Understanding our human tendency to accept whatever we see in print and the reality that we are all too busy to do our own research, how many people do you realistically think are going to look for examples of the left attacking the right?

    This is hypocrisy to the core.

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  6. Will Critchlow

    Interesting viewpoint Antoinette.

    Out of interest, what biases do you think I'm exposing? I suspect that my political views are not what you think they are...

    Are you saying that using examples in this direction gives ideas and ammunition to the right? Or are you saying that I must be on the left because I can only imagine the right running attack campaigns?

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  7. One of our clients came under a massive negative SEO attack in October with 1000's of back links being ploughed into the back link profile over the course of a few days. Luckily for us we caught onto it very early and we able to utilise Google's disavow tool to save the rankings and keep traffic high.

    Its a dirty world we live in, where sadly the techniques that we all have learnt over time to avoid still have a place and unfortunately still work.

    My colleague made a great post on Google+ concerning this blackhat resurgence of late with some troubling findings.

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