Twitter Trolls Are Mounting A Really Weak Astroturf Campaign In The Ontario PC Leadership Race

    @MikeHockey1234 may not be who he claims.

    Justin Tang / THE CANADIAN PRESS

    Christine Elliott speaks during an Ontario PC leadership debate.

    Twitter accounts purporting to be Ontario voters are in the midst of an underwhelming astroturf campaign smearing one of the four candidates running for leadership of the province's Progressive Conservative Party.

    Several accounts all started in the last month have been using the hashtag #crookedchristine to attack Christine Elliott, accusing her of corruption and tweeting supportively of her rival Doug Ford.

    The Twitter accounts all have generic names and regularly retweet one another to their handful of followers.

    Twitter

    While the profile photos suggest a grassroots movement of young, ethnically diverse Ontario voters invested in the Tory leadership race, they appear to be taken at random from other online sources.

    The photo for "Alyssa87801952" depicts Malaysian Instagrammer Chloe Leong. The profile of "EmmaPCParty" shows a model whose photo appears on the Flickr page of a photographer based in Barcelona. And the Twitter account for "MikeHockey1234" — whose entire Twitter bio consists of the words "Love Hockey" — appears to show the president of the Asian Business Association at the University of North Carolina.

    @1236 Hmm, @MikeHockey1234 bears a striking resemblance to the president of the University of North Carolina's Asian Business Association. https://t.co/0BkcwHJrUG https://t.co/SLOYZrI3VF

    It's unclear who exactly is behind this sad Twitter campaign.

    Reached via direct message on Twitter, "EmmaPCParty" claimed to be a 32-year-old woman named Jennifer who was only using a fake name and photo to protect her identity. The person running the account described themselves as a concerned citizen and said they were not being paid or directed to attack Elliott by anyone else, including the Ford campaign.

    "Im personally not even a ford fan. Im more of a Tanya fan but she has no chance of winning," the user said, referring to Tanya Allen Granic, the social-conservative best known for her opposition to the province's sexual education curriculum.

    "And between two evils I’d go with Ford."

    The person behind EmmaPCParty denied running any of the other accounts promoting the #crookedchristine hashtag. However, the same user previously told another journalist that they ran at least one other troll account, according to screenshots shared with BuzzFeed News. The user also gave the name Robert in that conversation.

    Voting in the PC leadership contest is already closed, and results will be announced at the party's convention on Saturday. According to a recent poll, Elliott and Ford are the two frontrunners in the race.

    In response to the troll accounts, the Elliott team said the candidate has been the subject of many personal attacks from other candidates' campaigns.

    "It’s not surprising those tactics extend to anonymous twitter attacks," a spokesperson said in an email.

    BuzzFeed News also reached out to the Doug Ford campaign for comment.

    UPDATE

    This article was updated to add comment from the EmmaPCParty account as well as the Christine Elliott campaign.

    Ishmael N. Daro is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto. PGP fingerprint: 5A1D 9099 3497 DA4B

    Contact Ishmael N. Daro at ishmael.daro@buzzfeed.com.

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