Sunday, June 29, 2008

Obama smear email

I've seen the email and perhaps you have too. It's the one that attempts to smear Barack Obama in racist and theocratic tones. The email asserts that Obama is a Muslim "by birth" and then goes on to say many other things about the man that I won't re-print here. Of the many problems with the email is that it's filled with lies. In fact, while it sounds like it may be credible to some the entire email is filled with lie after lie. The media has reported on it, Snopes has debunked the lies, and yet it still spreads.

Well, today the Washington Post has a fascinating article on how such an email starts and spreads. This is good stuff as it points to how these types of attacks have affected McCain and Kerry as well as Obama, but also how the Internet has now become a major battleground for unfounded accusations and lies. The lack of a central distribution network is nothing new. I recall reading William S. Burroughs discussing the advantages of such networks though admittedly he was discussing rebels and assassins. Then again, what else is this if not character assassination? From the article:
"What I've come to realize is, the labor of generating an e-mail smear is divided and distributed amongst parties whose identities are secret even to each other," she says. A first group of people published articles that created the basis for the attack. A second group recirculated the claims from those articles without ever having been asked to do so. "No one coordinates the roles," Allen said. Instead the participants swim toward their goal like a school of fish -- moving on their own, but also in unison.
FWIW, the origins of the Obama smear cannot be located due to this technique. However, some of the roots traced in the article are in Illinois (a political rival), Boston, and, alas, Washington State.

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