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Why are the Republicans hiring, and then suspending, the likes of "consultants" Soren Dayton? Because they're desperate to catch up to the Democrats when it comes to building candidate support online, and will pay anyone armed with buzzwords, apparently. When lovable nutjob Ron Paul can pull a bigger audience of Web supporters than someone who might actually win the ticket, your party has problems. Don't worry, GOP! Valleywag is here to help with a handy guide on how to game social networks for political advantage without getting caught.

  • Hide behind anonymity: For chrissake, the Grand Old Party isn't about transparency, it's about shady dirty tricks organizations like C.R.E.E.P. and Vietnam Veterans for Truth! (The only thing different about the Democrats is that they haven't been caught (yet), and don't pick names that are nearly as catchy). The rules: Don't let your campaign staffers hold social network accounts in their own names unless they're doing nothing but disseminating thoroughly vetted talking points. Use online anonymity to your advantage. Create fake "sock puppet" accounts, and lots of 'em. There are certainly security consultants mercenary enough to teach you the finer points of spoofing IP addresses, emails and phone numbers to protect your schemes from being discovered.
  • Think alternate reality, not astroturfing: If you're going to game the Web to literally scare up votes, you need to start thinking like Alternate Reality Game (ARG) designers. Hire an army of twentysomethings to create an even larger army of fake Americans across the country and the demographic spectrum. Give them back stories with linked accounts on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, et al. The next step: figuring out their artfully fakes stance.
  • Moderate, not extremist: This army of sock puppets should all be moderate voters who claim to be undecided. Republicans already have the overtly racist right-wing extremist vote, and they're already blogging. What the GOP needs is moderate voices who will subtly tip voters in your direction by doing things like expressing fears about neighborhood safety while linking to local news reports of violent crimes which just happen to be committed by immigrants and people of color. Use nuance when pointing to the other party's extremist element by also linking to more reasoned articles criticising your opponent as a centrist.
  • Engage with the online audience: Once you've assembled hundreds of fleshed-out fakesters, start weighing in on debates — everywhere from blog comments to Wikipedia. And have your virtual voters pretend to fight amongst themselves over policy points. Only then do you use your real soldiers to weigh in with a reasonable compromise that agrees with party policy. A few fake Democrats who turn the debate in a less-than-civil direction might be handy to gain sympathy for your argument, but you can probably count on the Kossacks — fans of DailyKos — to do that work for you.

Yes, this is all incredibly evil. If your party isn't doing it you can bet the other party is.