WATCH: 5 Things To Know About How Right-Wing Critics Used Online ‘Botnets’ To Exaggerate Common Core Backlash

WATCH: 5 Things to Know About How Right-Wing Critics Used Online ‘Botnets’ to Exaggerate Common Core Backlash

In order to grasp the backlash against the Common Core state standards on the internet, particularly how it has been manipulated using advanced social media tactics called "botnets", it is necessary to understand the workings of the for-profit Patriot Journalist Network.

As previously reported by , the Patriot Journalist Network (PJN) was highly successful in manipulating its Twitter echo chamber to the extent that it was responsible for a significant portion of all Common Core-related tweets online. By saturating its botnet with negative commentary, which was repeatedly tweeted and retweeted, pro-Common Core tweeters found themselves increasingly marginalized and drowned out.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Consortium for Policy Research in Education conducted an in-depth study that uncovered this tactic and measured its effectiveness. They published their findings through a comprehensive website called the #CommonCoreProject.

To better understand the #CommonCoreProject, watch this brief video explainer:

5 Key Points about "Botnets":

1. A fabricated backlash: In 2013, Education Next’s annual survey on Americans’ education attitudes revealed that 83 percent of respondents had a favorable view of the Common Core, including 82 percent of Republicans. However, by the summer of 2016, support had dwindled significantly to only 50 percent and 39 percent, respectively. The public outcry seemed to be a spontaneous uprising against the prominent education reform of the decade, but the consortium’s researchers argue otherwise. Their study, released this month, suggests that the animosity towards the Common Core was manipulated and exaggerated by organized online communities using an innovative social media strategy called a "botnet".

2. The "botnet" strategy: Tallahassee, Florida-based Patriot Journalist Network effectively employed the botnet strategy to amplify their message. This strategy involves one tweet being copied, scheduled, and published by thousands of Twitter accounts, all owned by network members who have given prior permission. The group entices its members by promising them the opportunity to promote the conservative cause on Twitter, flooding the platform with prepackaged content that appears to originate from independent sources.

(74 FLASHCARD: 20 things you should know about what the Common Core is – and what it is not)

3. Major victories for the Patriot Journalist Network: The Patriot Journalist Network was behind the most successful and coordinated botnet campaigns related to the Common Core. This for-profit group was linked to nearly a quarter of all Twitter activity surrounding the issue, with their hashtag #PJNET appearing in 69 percent of Common Core-related tweets on certain days. Initially, when the Common Core gained attention, its defenders had a strong presence on Twitter, accounting for 27 percent of the most active tweeters and 31 percent of those who were most retweeted. However, by the spring of last year, these numbers plummeted to 6 percent and 11 percent, respectively. They were almost completely drowned out by new anti-Common Core users. Even educators and experts within the education field who opposed the standards found themselves overshadowed by passionate outsiders who rarely tweeted about educational issues before.

4. How researchers discovered the astroturfing: The team of researchers analyzed nearly a million tweets sent during four six-month periods between September 2013 and April 2016. They studied how the online conversation about the Common Core evolved, noting a growth of over 50 percent from the first period (September 2013 to February 2014) to the third period (May 2015 to October 2015). They also observed how the participants in the conversation changed over time. Jonathan Supovitz, the lead researcher of the project at the University of Pennsylvania, expressed surprise that prominent players in the education advocacy field did not dominate the digital space.

5. Potential manipulation in other political debates: These tactics are not exclusive to the education realm. Similar botnet campaigns, also known as "cyborg" methods due to their combination of a Twitterbot template and human creativity, have been employed to support various right-wing causes over the past few years. Hashtags such as "UnbornLivesMatter," "TeaParty," and "MAGA" (short for "Make America Great Again") have been utilized. The Washington Post also reported that this strategy could be employed to shape the online discourse surrounding President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

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  • ewanpatel

    I'm a 29-year-old educational bloger and teacher. I have been writing about education for about six years, and I have a B.A. in English from UC Santa Cruz. I also have a M.A. in English from San Francisco State University. I teach high school English in the Bay Area.