‘Anonymous’ attacks Nova Scotia NDP over social media use during election

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter addresses supporters as on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013.Nova Scotia is in the midst of a provincial election campaign and, as is often the case, this is the prime time for mud to be thrown against walls.

We've got the governing New Democratic Party in a dogfight against the Liberals, but the party is now facing attacks from an anonymous adversary. Over the way the party is allegedly running its social media campaign.

A statement said to be from Anonymous, a group of cyber hackers, claims the NDP has been using unscrupulous campaign tactics on Twitter, employing automated accounts and paid commenters to boost their presence in social media.

"Anonymous has gathered conclusive evidence of widescale and organized manipulation of online discussion by your institution," the statement reads.

"Let us be clear, Anonymous takes no side in your election. But the internet is our home, and when it comes under attack the collective responds as one."

The group alleges the political party has employed "trolling tactics," disinformation campaigns, made false spam reports against Twitter users who oppose the part and created "250 Twitter accounts in government offices on the first weekend of the election."

[ Related: NDP tables motion to end muzzling of Canada’s scientists ]

The statement further reads:

Anonymous is cognisant (sic) of the fact that the release of this information could influence The Nova Scotian election. But understand this: if this conduct continues we will act. Anonymous hereby gives the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party 72 hours to dissasemble (sic) these mechanisms and forbid their use by all party operatives and officials. If a clear and demonstrable change in your actions does not occur additional information will be released.

The allegations were dismissed in a statement from the party.

Nova Scotia NDP President David Wallbridge said the party does not use bots and has no control of information once it has been posted from their three legitimate Twitter accounts – @NSNDP, @NSNDPHQ and @RealDealNS.

“Contrary to claims by an anonymous source, I have confirmed that our party did not set up 250 Twitter accounts from government offices," reads a statement attributed to Wallbridge.

"These accounts, if they exist at all, could have been set up from any government office, including either of the Opposition Caucus Offices. But they were not set up by the NDP."

The whole affair appears to have been prompted by a study conducted by Dalhousie University's Social Media Lab, which looked into political debate on the social media site.

[ Related: Nova Scotia Liberals re-tweet picture of Darrell Dexter likened to fictional serial killer ]

The group analyzed the use of the popular #NSpoli hash tag, used to mark conversation about the province's upcoming election, and found nearly 1,000 unique users posted more than 16,000 tweets between July 12 and Aug. 22.

The lab then analyzed the ten most frequent posters.

The most avid #NSpoli poster was found to be Brother Anonymous (@broanonymous). The lab writes: "The hacker group 'Anonymous' is known for their digitally enabled acts of political contention. This particular account tends to focus on a variety of topics and places within Canada and the US, Nova Scotia being a core topic among the 16,000+ tweets made."

The next most frequent commenter was believed to be a automated account that tweeted en mass about NDP MLA Percy Paris, who resigned this year after a physical confrontation with a Liberal counterpart. The third most frequent tweeter was determined to be an active and real account.

"Of the remaining 7 accounts which make up the top 10 posters, one is a re-tweet bot which re-tweets anything tagged with “#Halifax,” one is a left-leaning student, and all others are explicitly NDP affiliated," the reported states.

The use of social media has received more attention in recent elections, and the Nova Scotia campaign is no different. Already a Liberal staffer has been shamed for his decision to tweet out a picture of Premier Darrell Dexter in the likeness of Dexter, a fictional serial killer.

This whole saga comes to an end on Oct. 8, when the electorate will decide who should govern the province.