You’ve all probably heard the story that Trump’s Tulsa rally could have been undermined by trolls who pretended to reserve tickets and then didn’t show up. This ploy reportedly resulted in far fewer Trump supporters at the rally than organizers had expected. K-Pop fans, TikTok users and other anti-Trump group members were high-fiving each other at their success, while Trump rally organizers said these people “don’t know what they’re talking about or how our rallies work.” So who’s right and who’s wrong? Moreover, is it possible for organized trolls to undermine the plans of their opponents? And, more importantly, could such actions influence the final outcome of the 2020 election? So, what actually happened at the Tulsa rally.
Most investigators point to a video on TikTok by Iowan, Mary Jo Laupp, aka “TikTok Grandma”, for coming up with the idea of undermining the Trump rally by registering for free tickets and then not showing up. “I recommend all of those of us that want to see this 19,000-seat auditorium barely filled or completely empty go reserve tickets now, and leave him standing there alone on the stage.” This call to action was, indeed, picked up by many anti-Trump youth who did, in fact, reserve tickets.
Some worried about registering for the tickets because it would require giving out their personal information to the Republican organizers. But they found a way around this.
For those not familiar with the TikTok platform, ‘duet’ basically means splitting the screen so that two videos can be shown at the same time. But it’s true. Google Voice will allow you to hide behind a number that uses VOIP; however, you will need to have a Gmail account to use the app. Nonetheless, trolls will still get messages from the RNC unless they block them.
Trump campaign manager, Brad Pascale, claimed that “we constantly weed out bogus numbers, as we did with tens of thousands at the Tulsa rally, in calculating our possible attendee pool.” So how exactly did they do this? Is it possible to know that a person using Google Voice is reserving a ticket and, therefore, should be ignored? It is possible. If you use a site like, FreeCarrierLookup.com, it will give you information on whether or not a call is from a Google Voice site. Google Voice servers are located around the U.S. and are identified by the name, Bandwidth.com. If the site lookup finds Bandwidth.com as the carrier, it is a site associated with Google Voice. So, I took one of the free Google Voice numbers and plugged it into the FreeCarrierLookup search box and found this information.
In other words, if I had a program that would run every ticket request number through this algorithm, I could filter out all those using Google Voice. Sure, I may filter out some legitimate numbers but the odds would be in my favor.
However, there are other temporary phone sites that are simply online to allow people to receive an SMS code to verify their authenticity. In other words, trolls who wanted to buy tickets and needed to confirm them through an SMS code could do so without worrying about getting SMS messages from the Republican campaign in the future.
So, TikTok Grandma, with her 720,000 likes, no doubt contributed to a number of fake ticket requests. But others point to K-Pop fans as being the main impetus behind this prank. But what on Earth do Korean pop music fans have to do with politics? Apparently, quite a lot, especially fans of the boy group, BTS, who organize under the name, ‘BTS Army’. Actual Korean K-Pop fans aren’t always pleased with the BTS Army. The Army are fans in the original sense of the word. In short, they are fanatics who often operate more like a cult group than a fan base. God help those who dare say anything against BTS for they shall be the target of abuse. As one writer noted, “every mention of BTS must be glowing, every piece a uniform celebration.”
That said, they do work together as a group and willingly follow other members who promote causes that they may not even fully understand. In this sense, they remind me of an experiment performed on schools of herring to determine why they all seem to change direction at the same time. The researchers removed part of one herring’s brain so that it could only swim in one direction. They then returned it to the school. At once, all the other herring followed it as, apparently, it seemed to know where it was going.
So, when one K-Pop fan discovered the TikTok ploy, the entire K-Pop community followed along. So, yes, there was a concerted effort to undermine the Trump rally, and it is unlikely that the rally organizers were able to stop all of the fake requests. Add to this the fear of Corvid-19 ramped up by the media and together this went a long way to keeping crowds down.
The good news for the Trump campaign is that they’ve probably learned their lesson. They will now only admit people to their rallies on a first-come-first-serve basis. They will probably hire people to troll the Democrats and undermine any events they try to stage. But this will not end the TikTok gang’s attacks on Trump.
Recently, TikTok mobs have been trying to use the ‘shopping cart abandonment’ scam (also known as a Denial of Inventory attack) on the Trump store. The Tiktokkers would load their shopping carts with enormous amounts of merchandise from the Trump store and then abandon the cart at check out. The hope was that real shoppers would find nothing in stock when they went to the site.
Initially, the attackers gloated over their success. However, when others investigated the scam, they found that the site was still operating normally. Apparently, the site owners had taken precautions against such an attack.
We are now only a short distance away from a real cyberattack on the Trump campaign. If this group of trolls continues in the direction it’s going, the next step will be the launch of a full-fledged DDoS attack. A DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack simply overwhelms a targeted site with requests. Such an attack, usually employing a botnet, will cause the servers to ‘overheat’ and become inoperative. In effect, the site will be taken down as it cannot operate normally.
Now, you might think that this type of attack can only be performed by tech savvy hackers, but you would be wrong. You can buy or rent a botnet or hire a company to launch a DDoS attack for you. How is this legal? Of course, they don’t advertise as selling cyber attacks. They sell their services as ‘stressers’ and sell them, purportedly, to people who want to test the resilience of their own website or network… but they are really DDoS attacks for hire. Here’s an advertisement for one of the deluxe packages. Prices are as low as $10 a month.
If dedicated attackers want to bring down a political group’s website, they could combine a number of botnets to get the job done. The biggest botnets can attack a site at the rate of over a terabyte per second (a recent attack on Amazon reached 2.7 Tbps), and few sites can withstand such a barrage.
So, besides a constant assault by foreign adversaries meddling in both the Democrat and Republican campaigns, expect occasional attacks by angry groups trying to harass the opposition. They will likely be organized via social media. Will it influence the final result? Probably not. First of all, young people don’t usually turn up to vote and they are usually the ones participating in these attacks. Ex-Sanders supporters aren’t happy with either candidate and have vowed not to participate in the election, which they probably wouldn’t have participated in anyway. Attacks, such as that organized against the Trump rally, will only serve as an echo chamber for the anti-Trump contingent. It won’t change any minds on the right and may even make them more inclined to show up at future rallies.
So, in the end, all of this will probably end in a stalemate. Both ends of the political spectrum are too entrenched to change their minds. The battle is all for the small percentage of undecided in the middle. Will they look positively on such trolling or not? I guess we’ll find out when the final vote tallies are in.