Deborah Dupré’s article pages have been hacked recently in a highly sophisticated manner, according to Before Its News (BIN) technicians, particularly, it seems, her reports on the historic protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) for fracked oil, blacked-out by corporate media. A front group, Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now (MAIN) that supports the controversial DAPL, might be involved, according to an investigation. Not long before BIN had begun investigating the recent hacking on its news site, it appears tha MAIN paid DCI Group public relations firm to covertly hit internet users to beat down DAPL facts. DCI created fake Twitter sock puppets — profiles to convey pro-pipeline messages, according to DeSmog investigators. Specializing in dirty digital tricks, such as astroturfing and creating grassroots fronts for mega-corporations, DCI has strong ties to one of America’s main political parties.
Fake People, Fake Claims: Big Oil’s Big Money Funding Sock Puppets, Astroturfing
At least 16 questionable Twitter accounts had begun making fraudulent claims about opposition to the DAPL such as: the opposition kills jobs and protesters against the pipeline at Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s encampment use violence. Tweets claimed the pipeline poses no risk to water sources and it does not cross tribal land, according to a DeSmog investigation. To fool the public and ensure their messages are seen by people following the Standing Rock protest event, the fraudsters’ Twitter accounts infiltrated the protesters by using their #NoDAP Twitter hashtag campaign. Some estimate that in the US, as many as one in ten protesters are infiltrators, paid operatives working against best interest of the public.
On September 13, people suspecting those accounts were fake called them out on Twitter. By Sept.14, most of the accounts no longer existed, according to DeSmog investigators. Similar digital attacks were happening on Before Its News, according to BIN staffer Mike Roach working with its tech team.
“It’s very noticeable, Roach told Dupré. “We are tracking avenues that could be causing this right now, but it appears it’s very sophisticated.”
Roach had said posts that would normally gain 10,000 to 20,000 viewers were getting 800. Who has the kind of money it takes to hack websites in such a sophisticated manner? Small change to Big Oil. View counters on Dupre’s articles about DAPL and related issues remained low, regardless of how well marketed by BIN and her, in contrast to other articles by the same author.
The DAPL is set to carry mega dollars worth of Big OIl’s hydraulic fractured (“fracked”) oil from the Bakken Shale basin in North Dakota, across the Dakotas, Iowa, and Illinois. The pipeline owner, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), says it plans to talk to the Obama administration and “reiterate [its] commitment to bring the Dakota Access Pipeline into operation” — despite the administration requesting that the company halt construction “voluntarily — particularly around the contested sacred tribal sites located 20 miles east and west of Lake Oahe and the Missouri River — until further notice.”
When ETP CEO Kelcy Warren wrote a memorandum announcing those company plans, espousing many of the exact same arguments deployed by the Twitter sock puppets’ campaign, DeSmog investigators hopped onto it. “This calls into question whether his company helped spearhead the anti-protest social media campaign behind the scenes to create an appearance of grassroots support, a technique known as ‘astroturfing’,” DeSmog investigators said.
Warren had said in his memo his company planned to engage more aggressively in the PR sphere: “It has not been my preference to engage in a media/PR battle. However, misinformation has dominated the news, so we will work to communicate with the government and media more clearly in the days to come.”
Company spokesperson Vicki Granado failed to respond to DeSmog’s request for comment.
Meanwhile, stakeholders on both sides of the pipeline debate await a definitive next move from the Obama administration. Protests on-site and nationwide are mounting. A militarized police presence at the Sacred Stone Camp is intensifying.
Read and see photos: Army Backs Dakota Access Chemical Mafia to Brazenly Target Protesters
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) spoke at a September 13 Washington, DC protest against the pipeline. U.S. Representatives Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Raul Ruiz (D-CA) that same day called for a congressional oversight investigation of the permitting issues that have arisen.
“With that backdrop, in came the ‘sock puppets’ for their own September 13 day of action on Twitter — and with MAIN likely pulling the strings,” DeSmog wrote.
Naming Sock Puppet Names
The sock puppet profiles had names such as Ashley Lovinggood, Garnett Vreeken, Yong Fetner, and Ying Baars, and all of the profile pictures featured women. Besides tweets promoting the Dakota Access Pipeline, what links all of the bogus profiles together is that they all “follow” (similar to “liking” a page on Facebook) the company Hootsuite.
Image Credit: Twitter
Hootsuite serves as a social media platform management tool which allows an administrator for many different social media accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter, to toggle quickly between accounts and send out posts in the form of tweets and other status updates. One of those accounts, that of Angla Dullea, formerly followed MAIN — and like all of the other pages — also followed Hootsuite; that is, until the account became suspended.
Dullea’s profile photo bore an identical resemblance to the Twitter profile for Palma Mackerl, another bare-bones Twitter account.
Image Credit: Twitter
Dullea also retweeted a tweet from a group called Standing Rock Fact Checker, describing itself on its website as a project of MAIN and stating it is “dedicated to promoting the truth” and battling “misinformation about the approved — and nearly complete — Dakota Access project.” Five other suspicious Twitter profiles also shared Fact Checker tweets.
MAIN members include South Dakota Petroleum and Propane Marketers Association, North Dakota Petroleum Council, Petroleum Marketers, Convenience Stores of Iowa, and others.
Reverse photo searches on Google revealed that pictures used for other sock puppet profiles also appeared on a dermatologist website, a mail order bride website, and a hairstyle website featuring a photo of Eva Longoria, as well as images of Chinese model Crystal Wang Xi Ran, singer Keri Hilson, and the late singer Amy Winehouse.
Eva Longoria doppelgänger; Photo Credit: Twitter | Oliver Keyes
“Using political bots and sock puppets is nothing new and in fact, has become normalized by political factions worldwide, explained Norah Abokhodair of Political Bots research program at University of Washington and Oxford University,” write DeSmog.
Abokhadair says there are many ways social bots can disrupt or influence online discourse: spamming, phishing, distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS), and “other nefarious activities.” He pointed to Syrian Civil War bots and bots used in Turkey. “They can also be deployed for sophisticated activities like astroturfing, misdirection (botnet that tries to get the audience to attend to other content by spamming the hashtag) and smoke screening (serves to hide or provide cover for or obscure some type of activity).” Is that also happening at Before Its News to authors airing opposing views to that of corporate-government’s status quo? Is that how view counters are controlled?
MAIN AND DCI
MAIN was the only industry group to issue a press release in response to the Obama administration’s Sept. 9 announcement halting construction on a portion of the pipeline. Its contained a statement attributed to spokesperson Craig Stevens, also recently interviewed by KVLY-TV, the NBC and CBS affiliate for Fargo, North Dakota. On TV, however, DeSmog notes that he was introduced as the “spokesperson for a pipeline sort of group, if you will” by segment host Chris Berg.
Despite the lack of disclosure by KVLY and Berg, it turns out that Craig Stevens actually works for DCI — as Media Affairs and Crisis Management Lead. His DCI Group contact information is listed for MAIN’s profile page on the website PR Newswire, deSmog reveals:
Image Credit: PR Newswire
DCI PR firm has roots in creating front groups on behalf of Big Tobacco, spearheading the Tea Party movement, and representing oppressive dictatorial regimes such as that of Burma and oil- and gas-soaked Azerbaijan. Wikipedia says about DCI that it has been described as a ‘Republican public relations firm’. Oil company ExxonMobil is a confirmed client and DCI Group has engaged in climate change denial campaigns, paying skeptical scientists to write editorial pieces. Other notable clients of the firm have included military contractors Boeing, General Motors Corporation, Microsoft, U.S. Telecom Association and the military dictatorship of Myanmar.
Stevens worked for G.W. Bush’s presidential campaign, served as spokesperson for U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman for the Bush Administration, and worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 Republican Party presidential campaign. DeSmog writes that Jim Murphy, political director for Donald Trump’s Republican Party presidential campaign, formerly served as DCI’s President and Managing Partner. Beyond the DCI Group connection, Continental Resources — whose founder and CEO Harold Hamm is one of Donald Trump’s top energy advisers and a potential candidate for U.S. Secretary of Energy under a Trump presidency — said in a recent investor statement that a significant chunk of the company’s Bakken oil will flow through Dakota Access.
Before DCI Group began working on Standing Rock-related projects for MAIN, it appears the PR firm LS2Group maintained the PR account for Dakota Access. A MAIN press release from November 2015 lists LS2′s Kayla Day as its contact person and her LS2 work number is listed, while metadata for the press release’s PDF shows the document was last saved by former LS2 staffer Alex Shaner. As DeSmog previously revealed, LS2 had also done PR work supporting the Keystone XL pipeline. Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement published emails from 2014 (via a public records request) show LS2 doing advocacy work in support of Dakota Access.
LS2′s Day told DeSmog that LS2 still does some work on behalf of MAIN, but declined to comment on how the work is divvied between LS2 and DCI. Stevens was first listed as a spokesperson for MAIN in a Sept. 6 press release, two days after the now-infamous dog-biting incident at the protesting Standing Rock Siuox Tribe’s Sacred Stone Camp. The Standing Rock Fact Checker website was registered the day before, and it also sent out its first tweet that same day.
Image Credit: WhoIs.net
“Stevens declined to comment on who funds MAIN, referring to the membership list and confirming he was brought on in the past couple weeks to do PR work on behalf of the coalition, ‘as the whole public discussion has increased and been elevated” surrounding the pipeline. He also confirmed he runs the Fact Checker portal,’ DeSmog reported. Asked if his firm or MAIN had anything to do with the sock-puppet tweets, Stevens denied both.
“It’s frustrating to me because we’re working to be respectful in tone and fact-based and any tactics like these are a distraction for what we’re trying to do and that’s to bring facts and contexts to this discussion,” Stevens said. “I don’t know about the tactics themselves and I don’t know who or what is behind it, but as someone who’s trying to get facts out and trying to be respectful in tone, it was incredibly frustrating that this was going on. As far as I know, and think I know, the MAIN Coalition had nothing to do with them.”
Nothing but BS, according to noted environmental advocate and co-founder of 350.org climate group Bill McKibben. He doubts Stevens’ claims from PR firms with a record like DCI, saying:
“There’s a word for this kind of thing, and that word is: lying. The invention of fake people to make fake arguments perfectly exemplifies the tactics Big Oil has been reduced to. They can’t win an argument on merits, so they’ve given up trying. Instead, they literally make things up. The contrast with the steadfast straightforwardness of the tribes, and of the climate scientists, couldn’t be more stark.”
As for hacking BIN, It is yet to be seen whether hacking Dupré’s view counter on stories about DAPL and related issues will end. It might seem unimaginable considering Dupré being odd-ball out in BIN’s right-wing featured writers’ arena. BIN owner Chris Kitze, however, says he’s committed to keeping a close eye on the hacking and to getting to the bottom of it.
Main Image: Twitter
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