Bullies, Liars and Impostors: How Facebook and Go Daddy Shield Scott Walker's Online Guerillas
Photo Credit: Facebook/Operation Burn Notice
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In Wisconsin, as in states around the nation, Republican lawmakers claim to be concerned with the integrity of the voting process and with fighting fraud. At least that 's the rationale for the passage of a new voter ID law passed this spring.
But as hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites seek a recall election of Gov. Scott Walker, a spate of online disinformation, bullying and outright calls for the destruction of recall petitions by anonymous Web entities, possibly administered from out of state, raise a question: Who are the real impostors and fraudsters in Wisconsin's elections?
The answer: We may never know, thanks to the identity protection provided these potential felons by social media giant Facebook and the Web domain purveyor, Go Daddy.
Faking an Occupy Site
It happened in the blink of an eye. On a Sunday night, AlterNet learned from a tipster of a Web site, posing as the online presence of Occupy Madison, that featured a headline claiming that all of the 540,000 signatures required by petitioners for a special recall election of the governor had been collected. This, of course, was a lie.
While the number of signatures activists claim to have gathered in the course of the last two weeks has indeed been impressive, they still need to get at least 200,000 more people to sign onto the effort.
Using the URL, www.occupy-madison.com, the site featured a rotating banner of provocative images: a cop against a fiery background, a young couple kissing on the ground in the middle of a protest, a group of nearly naked young people holding protest signs. Except for the sensational images, the design of the site completely mimicked that of the legitimate Occupy Madison site, www.occupy-madison.org.
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A headline on the site read: "Walker Recall a success, all necessary signatures already collected." It was accompanied by a graphic featuring a Wisconsin map with the words "WALKER RECALL" on it, and then the word "SUCCESS" superimposed in yellow.
The text of the accompanying post read, in boldface, "The Committee to Recall Scott Walker and United Wisconsin have...succeeded in collecting all the necessary signatures to recall Governor Scott Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch."
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But apparently the owner of the fake Occupy Madison site was already trying to cover his or her tracks with a sort of disclaimer, posted above the story in brackets:
[It has been pointed out that some idiots think some other idiots actually believe the nonsense on this site. THIS SITE IS A PARODY, IT IS A JOKE. I honestly can't believe anyone would really believe people would be so stupid. I WILL NOT BE POSTING THIS ON ALL THE STORIES. Just this one as it seems to have somehow made everyone lose their minds and logic!]
The "I' to whom the writer refers is never identified.
By the next morning, November 28, the imposter site was gone, replaced with a page saying the content had been removed because the site was "under review." But under whose review?
Whose site is it?
AlterNet's investigation revealed that the URL for the fake Occupy Web site was registered with Domains By Proxy, a service of the domain registration and Web-hosting company, Go Daddy, which shields the identities of site owners from public view.
Ben Butler, Go Daddy's director of network abuse, said he could not reveal the name of the site's proprietor, but he could assure us that it was not Go Daddy that removed the site. AlterNet's request for comment was the first he had heard of the site, he said.