Politics always goes hand in hand with dirty tricks and below-the-belt tactics, and the internet is making it even easier for underhanded candidates to spread lies to impressionable voters. We've rounded up 12 political dirty tricks that have involved the internet and technology.
"You're no longer constrained to a geographical community to impact," says Tova Wang, vice president for research of Common Cause. "Now you can pick your communities by other types of profiles than just where people live."
Add to that previously unavailable level of access the anonymity permitted by the internet, and you have a situation where unethical (and in some cases illegal) behaviour seems likely to go unpunished. We‘ve rounded up the 12 direst political tricks pulled on the internet. Many of these are currently happening in the US in the build up to this week's election. But even if we haven't seen them over here yet, what happens in US politics tends to make its way across the pond sooner rather than later.
Five nasty methods to persuade voters not to vote
We start with five deceptive ways that political schemers are manipulating the web to discourage would-be voters from voting.
1. Inbox infestation
One of the internet's oldest tricks has acquired a new political spin. Scammers send mass emailings that appear to come from legitimate addresses - often ones belonging to campaign or election officials. The problem? The messages contain inaccurate information. This ploy was used against US candidate Mitt Romney and voter rights advocates fear that it could resurface as a way to steer citizens away from the polls.
"Some of the things we've seen in the primary and caucus processes indicate that deceptive attacks have happened, and that certainly similar types of attacks may be attempted for the general election," says Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).
2. Website wiles
Some scammers have adopted the strategy of orchestrating website-based attacks. These may take the form of actual hacks but more commonly they involve creating an independent site whose URL suggests affiliation with a candidate or organisation but whose content dishonestly promotes a hostile agenda.
"People get domain names that sound like they could be the official campaign names, and then have on there links to all sorts of misinformation and criticism of the candidate," Wang says.
"The potential is there... that someone could do the same thing with respect to a Secretary of State website or the website of a voting rights organisation."
3. Phony phoning
Perhaps the fastest growing form of web deception is in the use of voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) technology. Much as their predecessors did in the phone-bank campaigns of yesteryear, tricksters call unsuspecting voters - this time via the internet - to try to dissuade them from casting ballots. Unfortunately, VoIP makes these efforts easier, cheaper, and less traceable than ever.
"You can do it in a matter of minutes," Coney says. "The per-call cost is so low that it's minuscule compared to a typical telephone banking service."
4. Texting tricks
Mobile text messaging has made enormous headway as a campaign tool in this 21st century race, but hot on the heels of the benefits come the abuses. Take, for example, Barack Obama's plan to announce his pick for US Vice President via text. It didn't take long for fake revelations to reach the masses - and thanks to the slew of free web-based texting tools available, it probably didn't take much time or money, either. The same approach could reappear with a message calculated to cause polling-day confusion.
5. Social network stunts
Voters, particularly younger ones, spend lots of time on social networks such as Facebook, and the candidates know it - as do the scammers. Observers have already reported signs of misuse, ranging from fake profiles to mass postings of erroneous information.
NEXT PAGE: The seven most malicious political messages on the web
- Five nasty methods to persuade voters not to vote
- The seven most malicious political messages on the web
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