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

by Karoli on February 25, 2013 · 27 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?

  • http://www.osborneink.com OsborneInk

    Thanks, Karoli. JWT is the perfect example of why progressives need to exercise some social media intelligence and stop being so quick to join things that sound too good to be true. UniteBlue is sketchy as hell and I don’t trust Zach Green as far as I can throw him.

  • http://potbateman.tumblr.com/ Pat Bateman

    As a casual leftist observer of both sides, who cares? Who has been hurt? Who is the victim? Whether or not anyone wrongfully took a mailing list, said person put a lot of effort into creating a Twitter presence and is (apparently) not trying to screw anyone out of money. Whoopty doo. He tells people to follow each other back and they feel happy about gaining followers. In the mean time, the nefarious semi-criminal behind UniteBlue might overtake Justin Bieber in followers, THEN WHAT? 

    A lot of theories and hurt feelings over hashtags. Don’t indulge in this kind of drama. Todd Kincannon and Brooks Bayne are going to pleasure themselves reading this post.

  • http://www.drumsnwhistles.com/ Karoli

    I leave a decision over this up to individual discretion. But it’s not a question of who HAS been hurt. It is more a question of who MIGHT be hurt in the future, and how it could possibly actually work to the detriment of progressives.

  • Meashrew

    I don’t see #UniteBlue asking for $$ to be sent to a GMail account…where #TDGN is. Who’s being harmed by #UniteBlue?
    Your article takes the stance that all Lefties are “Sheeple”…which cldnt be further from the truth.
    Get ovr urself n practice what u preach. Bow out n stay silent if u don’t like it.

  • http://twitter.com/jodotcom Jodi

    Thanks for this eye-opening article, Karoli.  As usual, I’m entirely too trusting when it comes to following people that I think share my views on life and politics.  I have corrected my gullible “joining” of #UniteBlue and will be more careful in the future.

  • http://twitter.com/Schnitzerella Schnitzerella

    Interesting.  I had avoided the #StopRush hashtag because of the shenanigans on both the parts of righties and lefties.  That dump of lefties’ identifying info, of which you were one of the victims, and all the drama that followed left me with a very bad taste in my mouth. 

    T D G N was real, and I got spam blocked on two occasions, just for stating my opinion in a civil way to a right-wing account.  I won’t do that again. #UniteBlue seemed a logical and helpful response, as a way to insulate my account from bad faith gaming of the Twitter system by the right-wing posters.

    So far, I like what they’ve been doing. I agree with the topics of the Tweet campaigns it’s initiated.  Could it be one huge RW ratfucking operation? Maybe.  The story behind the transfer of access to the CTL account needs more fleshing out. Who was it given to?  Why did that person grant access to Zach Green?  As w/StopRush, leaders of left wing campaigns are again, being awfully sloppy in their management of membership account data.
    I still review the tweets of every account I follow — and not just on that first page.  It’s laborious, but the ribbon on the leader of one the founder of T D G N was warning enough to me that a blue ribbon alone is not an adequate sign of safety.

    Interesting food for thought.  I’ll be interested to hear what Zach Green has to say about all this, and it behooves members of UB to hold him accountable and give him an opportunity to respond to the points offered here.  Thank you for that, Karoli.

  • http://www.drumsnwhistles.com/ Karoli

    Cool…and I’m glad you read through and understand I’m not in the business of telling folks how they should use twitter. It’s a personal choice. I’m just not a fan of silos.

  • http://www.drumsnwhistles.com/ Karoli

    Actually, I take the opposite stance. I say quite clearly that choosing to be involved in it is a personal decision which should at least be accompanied by a full airing of facts and allegations around it. As you can see, I have posted a link to Simon’s refutation of EileenLeft’s allegations, and I will post hers when and if she rebuts him.

  • http://twitter.com/BrindaStar Brinda Estrella

    Interesting. I added the twibbon and retweeted something to the affect of a “join Unite Blue” tweet and was added to a list without asking to be added. I’ve slowly moved from list #1 to list #9 and while I get new “unite blue” followers daily I generally get just as many unfollowers. *shrugs* I don’t blindly follow anyone back ever, which is why I didn’t ask to be listed. 

    I’ll be removing my twibbon. I’m disappointed we can’t have a real, effective “club.”

  • http://twitter.com/GregortheMendel Gregor Mendel

    Excellent. I have been a little baffled by this and feel a bit silly. I don’t have many followers (you!), but I have good ones. I’m not good at herd mentality, anyway. Too ornery.

  • jayinatlanta

    I really expected better from you, Karoli. A pathetically lazy piece which accepted and echoed absolute falsehoods as fact.

    The worst thing about this sudden slander is that UniteBlue had been an excellent progressive tool for months prior to the November 2012 election, and has only gotten better since then. Neither Zach Green nor the shoddily impugned “caretaker” deserved the negativity directed at them.

    And let’s be clear: I have no skin in this game at all. I have zero interest in a war of “Twitter ‘friends’ I trust” versus “Twitter ‘friends’ you trust,” but you’re also damn wrong in your statement that “clearly leaning left wasn’t a requirement [for 140elect] in 2012.” 140elect’s mission was stone-solid since I first heard about it on Internet/Satellite radio and on Twitter, and certainly since I used UniteBlue.

    And therefore, Zach’s clear explanation of why he worked with Buddy Roemer — whose support of OWS and other commendable causes intrigued not only Rachel Maddow, but plenty of others — is unimpeachable:

    “[Roemer] was also a Democrat for 8 years in the House of Representatives and as Governor of Louisiana. In the end he joined NoLabels, and we agreed to jump on board to push an issue firmly on the Left. We don’t agree with everything Governor Roemer believes, but we agree our government is being bought.”

  • jayinatlanta

    This is just so sad. Apparently these are now the intelligent progressive’s steps to “not taking a side” ::

    1. Publish a hack piece full of lies and assumptions stated as fact.

    2. Post a “he claims” mention that takes a whole paragraph (i.e. devoting perhaps 1/25th to an attempt to balance the perspective).
    3. Claim objectivity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sam-Harris/100002705801016 Sam Harris

    I knew whatever Zach or Simon said, it was not going to be enough for Shoq and his harem of emotionally disturbed enablers. Please stop enabling Shoq and his quest to be twitters biggest bully.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sam-Harris/100002705801016 Sam Harris

    Karoli wrote: “This is simply not true and you should amend this.”

    Yet, she has amended NOTHING. Her entire OP is full of lies and smears. Yet, she has amended nothing but DEMANDS that Zach should amend something.

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

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sam-Harris/100002705801016 Sam Harris

    Individual discretion? Is that why you wrote the OP to begin with? You got snookered by Eileen, Karoli. Just admit that so we can move on.

  • http://www.drumsnwhistles.com/ Karoli

    Sorry, JayinAtlanta, but I gave my reasons for why NoLabels is not just an inappropriate group through which to make that point, but THE most inappropriate group. Do you think the hedge fund dudes funded that so we could tell the world our politics is being bought?

  • http://www.drumsnwhistles.com/ Karoli

    You just posted all over the place that I didn’t acknowledge Simon’s response when I did, and I linked to it, AND I annotated the paragraph about Eileen’s allegations with a pointer to the update.

    You’ve got some nerve telling me to admit stuff when you’re out there bullshitting everyone.

  • http://twitter.com/USMCBoonieRat USMCBoonieRat

    The motives of UniteBlue are simply to Unite Blue. 140.com did wonders for the Dem party during elections, but obviously you are stuck on Elleen’s hip of whine.

  • Bill Cole

    On the Twitter posting thing: that is partially a misfeature of the Twitter API and partially a consequence of how the web and Twitter operate. There’s very little granularity to what authorizations can be granted to a 3rd party in the Twitter API, and in this case there’s no space in principle to slice the rights more finely. For a user to be able to tweet through a website seamlessly a site MUST have authorization to tweet as the user. The alternatives are to toss the user a pop-up window that may demand auth or to outsource tweetable stuff like comments to services like Disqus that users have to authorize to tweet for them. There are very sound reasons for a site to get the authorization for themselves, as I expect John Amato can explain in full…

    With that said, I think it is clear that Zach Green is a political grifter. Probably not a saboteur like JWT, just another guy trying to sweep together a list someone will pay for. Anyone who made the mistake of giving an email address to Chris Bowers in 2008 has experience with where such lists end up. (I’m glad the one I gave was disposable…)

  • Prezzie

    Thank you for this information, Karoli. I started following UniteBlue recently but didn’t join their list, yet I still received a strange amount of followers in a short time despite not having tweeted in a long time. I look for quality (not quantity) in who I follow and those who followed me started tweeting at me to follow them back just because they were from UniteBlue. I didn’t care for that so much. It’s not for everybody, I suppose.

  • http://twitter.com/HenryCorp Henry Incorporated

    Thank you for all that research, Karoli. I’ve already been following/listing you and EileenLeft for a long time while I had never heard of, followed, or listed SayethSimon, ToddKincannon, UniteBlue, or 140elect. I do know who Roemer, Paul, and Romney are, and people who unite with them are not united with progressives, whether branded as the left or blue.

    Why is BoldProgessive Adam Green tagged here? Mixup with him and 140elect Zach Green?

    I like your 5 points of operation, through I would have simply summarized #3 as reply and RT only if “it’s worth your attention”. Or: “RTs and replies are endorsements no matter what you put in your description.” Twitter is a dangerous place for conversations to get taken out of context and there are a lot of people like the 140elect/SayethSimons out there who employ it to gain the trust and publicity that comes with getting someone to bother mentioning your name. There have been articles on how some get paid based purely on the number of responses and search engines measure quantity, not negativity or irony. Even the name of this article is deceptive in that my first perception was that you were recommending the uniteblue hashtag. It would have been a good place to apply your StopRush/StopBeck principle.

  • http://www.drumsnwhistles.com/ Karoli

    Don’t confuse Bold Progressives Adam Green with Zach Green’s dad. They’re two different people entirely.

  • http://twitter.com/toddqm Todd Miller

    My take is I detect a lack of progressive infrastructure. If someone can swoop in and claim the audience that suggests to me there was an existing problem. For example, I’ve never seen good blog directories like the right has.

    So right now UniteBlue is a place for people to find other liberal people but you would like them to stop doing that because Green is a businessman and not a Democrat. He could sell the list and the negative consequences of that would be exactly what? I’m new so I don’t understand. I guess the other potential problem could be that he could potentially attempt to control things but in order to do that he would have to start promoting some sort of political agenda which so far he hasn’t done.

    I would add uniteblue is a group of businesses. Not just 140elect.

    You said you’re not going to follow us either until the right kind of people are following us. I’m new so maybe I don’t understand but that system doesn’t sound like much of an improvement to me. What does one have to do to get followed by the right kind of people?

    As far as connect the left goes, I hadn’t heard about Eileen before. Are you suggesting that we should join EilleenLeft? Since she is asking that we find out more about Zach that sort of begs the question as to who is she? Does she have a reason for not sharing her name with us? In order to join her connect the left you’re supposed to tell her about yourself as I understand it. I agree that being a Democrat is a good qualification for running things but shouldn’t there be some selling points?

  • http://www.drumsnwhistles.com/ Karoli

    Um, where did I say anything about the “right kind of people” following you? I quite clearly said my follow decisions are based on engagement, not number of followers or affiliations. I think you misread something.

    ConnectTheLeft was the predecessor to UniteBlue. I am not making recommendations here. I’m simply working through the things that bug me about it. One of the reasons we have such problems articulating policy in our political discourse is because of the Ed Rendells (of NoLabels and FixTheDebt fame) of the world who call themselves Democrats and behave like Republicans. If the message gets muddled like that then what good is “unity”?

  • http://twitter.com/CJ_Politics Corey James

    It’s very clear who is being smeared here and it isn’t Zach Green. It’s Karoli. Why? Because people don’t want to look at the facts.

    This is what it is people. Get over it.

    I’ve seen many conversations asking “Who the hell is Zach Green?”. Now we have a little deeper understanding. There is nothing wrong with that.

    Great job Karoli. This needed to be done.

  • http://twitter.com/toddqm Todd Miller

    Sorry. You’re correct. I misinterpreted your point number 2. I apologize. Thanks for answering my questions.

    UniteBlue is based on a father and son team http://blog.programmableweb.com/2011/04/04/father-and-son-build-twitter-mashup-for-2012-elections/ that owns similar websites. For example, http://starling140.com/. The father’s website is http://140dev.com/adam-green-resume/ The father’s name “Adam Green” may confuse some progressives. The father, Adam Green, from [“140dev”:http://140dev.com/ Twitter @140dev is not the Adam Green of the Progressive Campaign for Change Coalition (PCCC).

    UniteBlue has a very good privacy policy IMO except for a line that says in the event of a reorganization, acquisition, sale of assets or transfer of assets you personally identifiable information could be sold.

    According to the website, they have plans to charge a fee for upgraded features. They also make money for custom versions for political campaigns and non-profits that are left leaning. They offer additional services for political campaigns and many examples they use are for Republican hashtags http://140elect.com/twitter-political-consulting/tracking-metrics/ Would they use the information from UniteBlue to help customers? My reading of their privacy policy would suggest to me they don’t intend to do that but I’m not an expert.

    Does this cause you to have more or fewer concerns?

  • Pingback: Cleanup Over on Aisle #UniteBlue

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