Information from the Federal Election Commission shows that Hillary Clinton’s super PAC spent over $1 million on a program dedicated to “correcting” online attacks against the presidential hopeful. This begs the question of whether or not paying for and intentionally planting positive endorsements on social media websites crosses the line between political promotion and propaganda.
Correct the Record itself asserts that Barrier Breakers 2016 is an online group of contributors that was created to respond “quickly and forcefully to negative attacks and false narratives” aimed at Hillary Clinton via social media. Essentially, Barrier Breakers 2016 consists of various individuals that respond to attacks on Clinton’s campaign with pro-Hillary content. The realm of the task force extends over Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit.
While many see the Clinton campaign’s coordination with Correct the Record as another reason to distrust her, others see it as a positive way to perpetuate a pro-Hillary message online, which could translate into votes. The Atlantic explains the potentially positive results as such:
“If the effort inspires supporters to express support for Clinton online, they may be more likely to volunteer, donate or help out the campaign in other ways. It could even help bring new converts into the fold: If people who lack deeply-held political beliefs see pro-Clinton messages shared by someone they know and trust on social media, they might be persuaded to give the candidate a second look.”
Although claiming legitimacy, some argue that this could be a form of modern media manipulation.
Is it Legal?
According to The Washington Post, the controversy stems from the initial partnership of Correct the Record with the Clinton campaign, saying that the coordination of the two groups:
“…befuddled many campaign finance experts, who noted that super PACs, by definition, are political committees that solely do independent expenditures, which cannot be coordinated with a candidate or political party. Several said the relationship between the campaign and the super PAC would test the legal limits.”
The Clinton campaign relied on an exception from a 2006 FEC regulation declaring that free online content like blogs were exempt from the regulation as long as they are being written by unpaid volunteers.
However, the Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the FEC last week accusing both major party candidates of illegally coordinating with super PACs. In a press release addressing the claim, the CLC argues:
“Correct the Record is not a volunteer blogging operation. It is a $6 million professional opposition research, surrogate training and messaging operation staffed with paid professional employees and operating out of a high-rise Washington, D.C. office building.”
It appears that neither of the presidential candidates are exempt from this violation as the complaint delineates accusations against both the Clinton and Trump campaign organizations for violating federal election law. Only time will tell if serious repercussions result from the complaint.
If nothing else, maybe it’ll prompt us to figure out where the line is drawn between a clever campaign strategy and modern media manipulation.