#UniteBlue: One Hashtag To Rule Them All? – Updated

by Karoli on February 25, 2013 · 517 comments

DD_256x256_bigSeveral weeks ago I noticed a new hashtag appended to StopRush accounts and other Twitter accounts who had been using the #CTL (ConnectTheLeft) hashtag in the past.

For the uninitiated, the #CTL hashtag was created by @EileenLeft, a longtime trusted Twitter friend of mine and many others. Her goal was to create a tribe within the larger Twitter realm through which key messages could echo through the Twittersphere.

I like and trust her, but I never participated in her effort, nor did I use the hashtag at all. Before I focus specifically on the UniteBlue effort, I should probably review my personal rules of Twitter engagement. These are just how I operate, and I offer them up as background, not recommendations.

  1. I probably won’t follow you back because you followed me. I explain my reasons for that here.
  2. It’s not who follows you; it’s who YOU follow This one is so misunderstood. The whole “Team FollowBack” idea is nonsense. I suppose marketers and PR firms think it’s a grand idea, but it’s not. Who wants to look at a twitter timeline filled with meaningless tweets of the same noise with no signal? Twitter followers aren’t trophies to be paraded around for the benefit of one’s ego, at least, not in my world. If you followed me, I assume it’s because I said something you liked or didn’t like, not so you could add a checkmark next to my name.
  3. 140 characters can be a powerful message or a spam bucket. I like using Twitter as a way to say something I’m thinking or to have a conversation. That doesn’t mean I won’t retweet something, but if I do, it’s because I think it’s worth your attention.
  4. Hashtags are generally polluted and useless within hours of their creation. This is why I shy away from Twitter bombs and hashtags in general. The only two hashtags I’ve ever seen with staying power are the #StopRush and the #StopBeck tags, which are uniquely positioned to avoid polluting factors. In both cases, they’re negative identifiers for right wing hashtag gamers, and they’re attached to a long-term effort by committed activists who are actually succeeding. Other than those exceptions, hashtags are generally a waste of the small space one has to compose something interesting.
  5. Quality rises.You don’t have to have a ton of followers to be noticed. Tweet quality and it gets noticed, and as it gets noticed, you get followed.

UniteBlue’s inauspicious beginning

UniteBlue is not something that came to life organically. It came into being and is gaining traction because of deliberate gaming efforts and a hijacked account.

*see update EileenLeft very carefully built her ConnectTheLeft list, based upon her own trust quotients and careful invitations. While I declined to be a part of the effort, I still respected it as one that had the best intentions behind it and was intended as a way to come to a place where many voices could become one. Because of health issues and family issues, Eileen says she placed the CTL account in the hands of a caretaker, who she thought she could trust.

Inexplicably, that caretaker gave access to that account to Zach Green, the creator of the UniteBlue “effort.” RMuse:

Whatever his motive, EileenLeft, who actually owns a trademark for ConnectTheLeft, was never consulted, and the caretaker has yet to respond to DMs, emails, or phone calls from her. She is understandably furious. But wait, there’s more. Eileen herself was only made aware of these people when someone asked if “ConnectTheLeft.com” was her website. It was not. Hers was connectTheLeft.org. When she went to ConnectTheLeft.com, it redirected to uniteblue.com.

I have no idea why anyone would hand over access to someone else’s account without even asking them first, but that happened.

Something else happened, too. The UniteBlue hashtag started showing up on every StopRush tweet I saw, so it would appear that UniteBlue’s handlers were using the StopRush list visibility to raise their own.

Manufacturing consent: TGDN and Fear Factors

While Zach Green was busy appropriating the ConnectTheLeft list, the right wing was busy claiming that there was a “Twitter Gulag” and so they desperately needed to create a “Twitter Gulag Defense Network” which they busily set about doing, fundraising and all.

The so-called Twitter Gulag is an invention. They claim that if enough people spam-block one’s account in a short period of time, they can trigger Twitter’s suspension algorithm. Duh. Of course they can. So what?

Here’s a hypothetical: Let’s say you really did want to shut lefties out this way. You figured out that if you had some sock puppet accounts and you used those, or worse, the odious teamfollowback bots to follow those people, and you were able to use social engineering to get them to follow you back by dropping a few pouty tweets about how you followed them but they haven’t followed you, you could then hit them with a group spam block event and trigger Twitter’s algorithm.

Brooks Bayne wrote a 5-part series on this back in September, projecting the “Gulag Trigger” onto liberals who he claimed were trying to squelch free speech.

Todd Kincannon then picked up that theme and ran with it, even trolling with overtly racist tweets in the hopes that he would be sent to the Gulag for a time-out. Instead he was mocked and ridiculed soundly. Still, no Gulag for Todd.

Praise be! Free speech is restored. Happy dance, right? In my view, it was just a way of perfecting the gaming tools and putting them in place. Kincannon routinely orders his minions to spamblock folks he doesn’t like. Here is one example:

Data gathering. No more, no less.

UniteBlue, White Knight or Ninja?

I have a theory. If you want to be targeted, gather in a big circle or a line along a wall, hand off your identity at the door, and invite in the assassins.

If you wanted to round up liberals on Twitter either for harassment or silencing purposes, what better way to do it than to round ‘em up with a nice website, a pretty logo, and the promise that you’ll “protect” them from the dastardly #TGDN crowd?

Which is exactly what UniteBlue did after they hijacked the core. StopRush folks, are you being targeted? No worries, UniteBlue is the answer.

From the pretty website’s “Join” page:

Conservatives on Twitter are getting progressives suspended by reporting them as Spam.

Accounts with few followers are particularly susceptible to attacks and likely to be suspended.

To protect yourself, it is important to have over 3000 followers. The quickest way to make this happen is through a mutual follow list, where all members agree to follow one another.

Join UniteBlue to gain followers, protect from spam-blocking, and connect with progressives on Twitter. Tweet I want to Join @UniteBlue 

How conveeeeenient. First we have an invented monster and then we have the easy solution! All you need is some followers, folks! That’s it, and then well, you’re safe from that bad old #TGDN crowd.

Too convenient. That was enough for me to look into Zach Green, who runs 140DEV aka 140Elect.

One of Zach Green’s prior clients was Buddy Roemer, the Republican from Louisiana who charmed Rachel Maddow and almost no one else. Roemer was, is, and will be a Republican. He put on the populist face and took the tack that he wouldn’t take any campaign contributions, but he’s a Republican today, yesterday and tomorrow and that’s not changing anytime soon. Maybe he’s not a wingnut Republican, but he isn’t a liberal either.

Before Roemer, there was a Republican Twitter debate. That happened because Green partnered with New Hampshire conservative Andrew Hemingway for an event which was sponsored by TheTeaParty.net.

Hemingway is also associated with the New Hampshire Liberty Caucus, a Republican Group with deep ties to the Ron Paul movement along with hardcore wingnuts like Glenn Beck.

Finally, there is this: As part of Green’s work for Roemer, he coordinated and worked with AmericansElect. Excitedly. This post is already long enough, but you should go read all about AmericansElect and how they expected to disrupt the electoral process here.

I’ll give you the two-word summary, but you should really read about it. Here’s the summary: Ungovernable. Divided. Those are the maxims that guided Americans Elect’s internet effort.

You should decide for yourself

At best, Green is a political agnostic pretending to be a liberal or simply building a brand from which to launch a business. From UniteBlue’s About Page:

This is really cool. Can you provide a custom version of these tools for my political campaign or non-profit?
We sure can. As long as your politics leans left, we’re eager to help out. You can find details about our campaign services on Zach’s blog, 140elect.com.

The “leaning left” part is new. Clearly leaning left wasn’t a requirement in 2012.

At worst, Green is part of a larger plan to round up some liberals and shut them up. Joining UniteBlue means submitting to his ranking algorithm and listing process. That is not in your control. His answer to gaining more followers, which shouldn’t be anyone’s goal ever anyway? Follow more people back.

Joining UniteBlue means agreeing to grant API access for posting, but they do promise never to post anything without your permission. And Jason Wade Taylor said he was a rich Texan who wanted to fund StopRush, too.

Ultimately, it’s up to you, but I don’t see the value in gaming social media by placing yourself in the hands of a guy who hasn’t done anything very liberal before, and launched his enterprise by taking an account from someone who had no business giving it away.

I opt out. No little ranking icon or list ladders for me. What I am, is here and on Twitter and on Crooks and Liars, pug and all. You decide and I will hope that Green is conducting an honest enterprise instead of setting you up.

Hope, after all, springs eternal.

Update: @SayethSimon, who is the person EileenLeft alleges handed off the ConnectTheLeft account to UniteBlue, has responded to her allegations here. He claims that it was he, not she, who created the Twitter accounts and bought the domain, that he did a lot of site development for it, and more. I will update this with her response when and if she chooses to rebut his allegations.

Update 2: Zach Green has posted a FAQ in response to some of the questions I raised here. I want to respond to several of his points very specifically and strongly:

Who is smearing you?
Everyone. The best part is: nobody tries to contact us or ask questions.

This is simply not true and you should amend this. Many people have asked you questions on Twitter and in some cases, you’ve answered. In others you’ve been vague. But it’s simply false to say you haven’t been asked questions when you have. Further, Simon was asked publicly as well. No one made assumptions without asking questions.

With regard to the NoLabels and AmericansElect references, I have researched and written about AmericansElect extensively already. With regard to NoLabels, they are founded by corporations and investment managers, including Mark Nunnelly and Josh Bekenstein, partners of Mitt Romney at Bain Capital. Forgive me if I don’t view that as particularly progressive, particularly when one’s message is anti-corporate but backed by corporate and hedge fund interests.

With that said, I will reiterate: I am not smearing anyone. I am simply trying to understand UniteBlue’s purpose and motives as well as why anyone sees a need to corral affinity groups in a silo. Who benefits from that?

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