Let’s break down the anatomy of a social media smear campaign.
The target is selected usually because they are to be silenced.
A seed gets planted, often by an anonymous or semi-anonymous account. The smear can be blatant, and other times is more insidious. The target is closely monitored, with words and actions taken out of context or presented in a false light.
This is historic methodology to create an attack on reputation. Its purpose can be to undermine credibility, raise doubt about intent, question integrity, or perpetrate any other kind of defamation designed to erode regard and trust.
Social media is fertile ground for smear campaigns, in part due to the prevalence of anonymous accounts.
Anonymous accounts have the most liberty to defame, if only because anonymity shields users from facing legal consequences. In most cases, the worst penalty a troll will suffer is being suspended or kicked off a social media platform after they have already inflicted the damage. Observed patterns show the more anonymous the account, the more extreme the character assassination. Some accounts exist for the sole purpose of generating outrage, peddling lies, and amplifying disinformation.
Anonymous accounts may pose as researchers, using an appeal to authority propaganda approach. “Research” is an operative cover for what amounts to stalking and harassing citizens– there is no real research being undertaken. The difference is visible when information is published on social media without context to create a narrative that gets shared and echoed through amplification networks. Proper research is disseminated professionally to respect individual privacy, as well as comply with ethical guidelines and the law.
When resistance to a designed narrative is encountered, plans kick in to intimidate affiliated or supportive individuals. This can even be extended to the target’s followers with the goal of discouraging engagement, including by spamming replies with ad hominem attacks or sending private messages to dissuade association with the target.
Messaging from these anonymous accounts then gets laundered through a seemingly credible organization. Whether by way of appearing in an online article or raised in a Twitter thread by one of the organization’s contributors, the smear is repeated in more sanitized terms.
Next, the information is disseminated through mainstream media. Perhaps a retweet from an influencer, or a quote from a representative of the organization that gets broadcast on a radio or television program. The smear comes that much closer to truth. Repeated often enough, it becomes fact in people’s minds.
Ordinary citizens may participate in the smear campaign at any stage, themselves becoming vectors of rage and half-truths. The use of bot and troll farms generates additional noise and confusion.
At any, or all, of these levels, money, clout, and favours flow freely. Some of it comes from public coffers. Some of it comes from private donations. There are many unknowns.
Enter the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAHN) appears to have its own pipeline from greasy anonymous accounts to the public consciousness. CAHN has received federal funding in the past and enjoys a close working relationship with government and media institutions.
There are elements of surveillance, censorship, and, of course, destroying reputations. I know, because it is happening to me.
Mine is a case study of a smear campaign in action, in real time.
Originally, CAHN attempted to recruit me as a contributor. I proved myself ungovernable by insisting on my right to interview a political adversary in a unique setting, and all hell broke loose. The organization seems protective of its perceived turf.
I have an affinity for truth and dialogue over pushing narratives. I am inquisitive by nature and seek to understand people even if we cannot agree. This nonpartisan approach is not conducive to sowing division in a polarized world. Empathy is not effective as a political wedge, nor does it drive traffic or revenue.
Bottom line, I was singled out to be silenced.
For nearly two years, I have been under attack. I am dehumanized and referred to as “Scooter” and “Fail Lawyer”. I am characterized as an unapologetic malignant narcissist, and inherently harmful in my public existence. My every tweet, retweet, reply, and like is analyzed and dissected with smears about me inserted gratuitously.
CAHN associates, affiliates and/or supporters make charts and spreadsheets about me and my online friends and followers. Within this framework a whole lexicon has developed around me: Sa’dist. Lolyer. Camera-spouse. Coveted retweetsTM. Scooterstans. #CarymaNgo. Anything to get the narrative being pushed to stick.
Beyond the social media world, I have been physically blocked, jostled, and yelled at in public. This happens in spaces where I have a right to be. Accompanying these physical intimidation techniques, libelous flyers about me have been printed and circulated. My office was recently vandalized. At times, I have feared for my safety and contacted police.
Despite their purported work to stop hate, there are no observed instances where CAHN stepped in to curtail this troubling behaviour. Not even when it comes from people who are direct contributors or Board members. To the contrary, CAHN has issued quasi-violent directives to “ice out fake journalists” which its supporters interpret as open season on me.
🚨DRAG DEFENDERS NEEDED tomorrow in Peterborough!🚨
Saturday, February 25th, 9:30am
Peterborough Public Library
345 Aylmer St. pic.twitter.com/BD3PIaTTmV
— Canadian Anti-Hate Network (@antihateca) February 24, 2023
I am not sure whether to expect a similar reaction in Peterborough.
I have only ever gotten positive vibes from locals (apart from the Hold Fast gang) so let’s see how things go. pic.twitter.com/2gUXRwhryh
— Caryma Sa'd – Lawyer + Political Satirist (@CarymaRules) January 14, 2023
With no way of knowing for sure, at least as of yet, if everyone engaged in this harassment campaign is associated with CAHN, I remain vigilant. Many of the accounts who attack me appear, in my view, to be affiliated with CAHN or positioned a short degree of separation from them. I consider such accounts to be CAHN-adjacent.
This is disquieting but I am not deterred.
I want accountability from the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, specifically Bernie Farber, Richard Warman, and Evan Balgord.
Why is the leading “anti-hate” organization itself fomenting hate against a brown Muslim woman?
Bad news, boys:
I refuse to be iced out.
📸 Jan 14, 2023 pic.twitter.com/8JDGpQhTwy
— Caryma Sa'd – Lawyer + Political Satirist (@CarymaRules) February 26, 2023
The lack of action demands accountability. Names need naming and bad behaviour exposed. Let’s delve.’
Exploit my work and disparage my name, why dontcha.
March 18, 2023 was my third drag storytime in Peterborough. I woke up before sunrise to catch a rideshare. I spend my own time and money to document events and share my insights and analysis. That day, my efforts resulted in footage and an interview featuring lone anti-drag protester Kevin Goudreau, a local resident infamous for a large swastika tattooed on his chest.
Here, we have a man with a large swastika tattooed on his chest marching with a dehumanizing sign.
Where does his freedom of expression end, and the right of others to drown out hateful messaging begin?
What principles should apply to other situations?
Some lines are easier to…
— Caryma Sa'd – Lawyer + Political Satirist (@CarymaRules) March 18, 2023
Anonymous Twitter user Vancouverismism wasted no time jumping down my throat. Multiple times per day, this account plants false narratives about me that are malicious and spiteful in content and intent. Vancouverismism interacts closely with other CAHN-related or adjacent accounts. There are dozens of smears that make false, personal, degrading comments about me that are launched and amplified through the likes and retweets of CAHN-adjacent accounts.
Here, the smear is that I lack expertise, and that I am trying to soften the image of a neo-Nazi.
"His sign has no connection to drag storytime" yet her husband Lee's video shows him explicitly stating that he's "against the storytimes that are happening here and across the country".
So is #CarymaNgo a liar, a fool or both?
COPYRIGHT FAIR USE: PETTIFOGGERY pic.twitter.com/cgDm7PlD7P
— 🍑 Sharpen up, relax. Lighten up, get serious. 🍑 (@Vancouverismism) March 18, 2023
A less aggressive version of the narrative was repeated by a semi-anonymous account, CAHN contributor Dan Collen. His name appears elsewhere as “Cohen-Collier”, to which “Collen” is a portmanteau. When writing for CAHN or on Twitter he goes by Dan Collen. (Incidentally, there are several staff at CAHN who may use pseudonyms, such as Elizabeth Simons and Hazel Woodrow. These two voices are often quoted in mainstream media, but never with a face and credentials that can be independently verified.)
Dan Collen took a screenshot of my tweet, which featured one of my photographs and the accompanying caption. He cropped out my handle, stripping my work of attribution. He laid out his expertise (he allegedly “analyzed 1000s of pieces of far-right propaganda in the last two years for work”) and argued that Kevin Goudreau’s sign was, in fact, connected to drag storytime.
As someone who analyzed over 1000 pieces of far-right propaganda in the last two years for work: An infamous neo-Nazi wielding a sign with a Celtic Cross calling for a destruction of pedophiles outside of a Drag Story Time is kind of connected to the Drag Story Time, yeah. pic.twitter.com/94kssQmwrS
— Dan Collen (@SpinelessL) March 18, 2023
Dan Collen’s conclusion is no different than mine, just lacking nuance. Personally, I do not concede that anything occurring inside the library has to do with “paedo freaks”, regardless of what narrative the sign-bearer wishes to disseminate. The only connection between his sign and Betty Baker’s drag performance is one by offensive and hateful innuendo.
Still, Dan Collen’s framing invited commenters to mock and ridicule me, including former neo-Nazi and CAHN board member Elizabeth Moore.
As someone who speaks/writes about the dangers of hate groups, I believe that harm can be measured REALLY FLIPPING EASILY in this situation. Despite the counter-protester’s awesome Velma costume, there’s no Scooby-Doo mystery here. The hate is obvious, as is the harm. https://t.co/KYyaxBdWXL
— Elizabeth Moore (@onemooreliz) March 18, 2023
— Pastor Aunt E Phở 🟥⬛️ (@JaneQCitizen) March 18, 2023
Historical association of anything not heterodox, calling it "degenerate" or associating it with pedophilia is an age old tactic of bigots wishing for power to put the boot and extinguish those that they see as unfit to just be.
Anything less than calling it was it is enables. https://t.co/snlGK3qHCz
— Lookin' for a Spook'n' in all the wrong places. (@BikingVikingMan) March 18, 2023
I did not learn about this development on my own. I was tagged and received links by private message from supporters, alerting that my intellectual property was being appropriated. As a general rule, I try to minimize engagement on the merits with low-level smear merchants; it simply is not worth the effort.
A couple of days later, Dan Collen’s thread was retweeted by former Global News journalist Rachel Gilmore. She has appeared in photo-ops and at events with CAHN Chair Bernie Farber. Her coverage on political extremism relies heavily on direct quotes from CAHN, as well as tweets from seemingly adjacent anonymous accounts.
— BernieFarber (@BernieFarber) September 13, 2022
Rachel Gilmore made an insipid observation about Kevin Goudreau, three days after the news broke. She did not directly reference the substance of Dan Collen’s thread, nor did she provide attribution to my photograph or caption.
An infamous, self-described white nationalist Kevin Goudreau, who has a swastika tattooed on his chest, protesting in front of a drag story time event.
In Canada. https://t.co/3veR8d64E3
— Rachel Gilmore (@atRachelGilmore) March 21, 2023
I pointed out that I was not credited for my work.
Rachel Gilmore’s newfound status as an independent content creator is welcome in the industry.
But appropriating or misrepresenting other people’s work is not the way to go.
— Caryma Sa'd – Lawyer + Political Satirist (@CarymaRules) March 21, 2023
Rachel Gilmore did not acknowledge my concerns. But a lot of people found the subject interesting, and my name ended up trending. I made a wrestling joke about this unintended side effect, using a GIF of Roman Reigns whose catch phrase is “Acknowledge me.”
Rachel Gilmore should have just acknowledged me. pic.twitter.com/IXsCrB4tm6
— Caryma Sa'd – Lawyer + Political Satirist (@CarymaRules) March 22, 2023
The following day, Rachel Gilmore tearfully quote tweeted this lighthearted joke. She impugned my character based on incorrect facts about who I represent as a lawyer and why. At the end she asked, “Please leave me alone?” as though my statement was an unprovoked attack.
This disingenuous response summoned hundreds of accounts who took up the cudgels on Rachel Gilmore’s behalf. Many of them turned their defence of her into an attack on me, even though I am the originally aggrieved person.
You've travelled across provinces to provide legal assistance to someone who threatened and harassed me repeatedly, and you appear to correspond with multiple other people who have publicly threatened me.
Please leave me alone? https://t.co/vUgrhbe07m
— Rachel Gilmore (@atRachelGilmore) March 22, 2023
On the eve of Ramadan, memes were circulated about me, a brown Muslim woman, with my smiling face photoshopped onto Kyle Rittenhouse’s body, gun in hand, hunting down a white woman bearing Gilmore’s face, a depiction that perpetuates stereotypes that can incite contempt and hatred against Muslims, and likens my request to have my work acknowledged, to a violent action.
As I have said elsewhere and consistently, nobody should be harassed for doing their job and minding their business.
My name is my business.
It is the epitome of white privilege to appropriate my footage and use it to make deprecating comments about me based on misapprehending my analysis, and then for others to further spread that insult. To have that thread picked up by a popular content creator and widely shared is intolerable. To have my attempts to get credit for my work framed as “clickbait” in order to deflect from the clear lack of attribution, lacks journalistic ethics and borders on plagiarism. To be attacked as a bully for pointing it out is the cherry on top.
I independently create original content to inform and entertain people, the same as what Rachel Gilmore is doing after being let go from Global News. Like it or not, we are colleagues in this space. And it is poor form to take footage obtained through boots on the ground reporting by another independent journalist without crediting their efforts. It adds insult to injury amplify a message undermining that person’s expertise while relying on their work. This is grotesque.
The thing is, I am an expert. I have attended scores of rallies and given countless media interviews. My footage and commentary has been featured by every major national broadcaster, and several major international broadcasters as well. I earn credibility stemming from the quality of my work. And I am not just an expert in extremism and understanding people drawn to radical political movements, but an expert on the (anti)hate industry. I am an expert in being targeted by smear campaigns designed to ruin one’s reputation and destroy one’s career.
If this happened to anyone else, it could be life-altering or drive the individual to self-harm. Targeted harassment campaigns created, led, or amplified by so-called “researchers” are feasting on people’s misfortune or mistakes. Not politicians, just regular citizens who suffer the brunt of collective threats, harassment, and endless degradation carried out by political extremists who consider themselves morally-justified and self-righteous in their attacks.
I see no equivalence between far right (fascist) & left (antifascist) ideology.
Fascism posits the needs of an in-group over the rest of humanity, justifying wanton oppression; antifascism opposes this.
My issue is “antifascists” who prioritize role-play over principled action. pic.twitter.com/sM3jakyo0W
— Caryma Sa'd – Lawyer + Political Satirist (@CarymaRules) December 23, 2022
The cumulative effect of many months of attacks is draining. I am fortunate to receive support and guidance from some excellent, ride-or-die people and organizations. I am grateful to those who sacrifice to suffer along with me, simply for calling out the smear campaign. There is no reward for sticking one’s neck out apart from standing up for what’s right.
For my part, I try to behave in a principled way; I am not beyond reproach, but I am at least consistent, measured, and acting in good faith. All these attacks have managed to do successfully is get me trending on Twitter.
Make no mistake, this was a hit. This is how misinformation is laundered. This is how targets are expected to fold.
Here is the likely puppeteer, laughing at his handiwork.
Time to tweet this again. pic.twitter.com/oKgdq9FLS5
— Tony (@TonyYvce) March 18, 2023
I'll credit her, but I'll only refer to her as Fail Lawyer.
— Tony (@TonyYvce) March 21, 2023
The goal of harassment is to isolate the target, but I am not alone. I am willing to talk to anyone who has been targeted by the CAHN smear pipeline.
They know what they’re doing. But so do I. Or at least, I am learning.
Caryma Sa'd takes a no holds barred approach in her razor-sharp commentary; nothing and nobody is immune from criticism.