Ron Paul is supposedly the right-wing answer to Howard Dean - a come-from-nowhere candidate who is taking the Internet faster than fire consumes Southern California. Only, it appears, he's not. Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birgmingham have determined that pro-Paul spam sent after the Republican debate Sunday was generated by a botnet.
And that, Gary Warner, UAB's director of research in computer forensics, says makes it a blatantly "criminal act," in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act. Wired quotes Warner:
"This is clearly a criminal act in support of a campaign, which has been committed with or without their knowledge. The question is, will we see more and more of this, or will this bring shame to the campaigns and will they make clear that this is not a form of acceptable behavior by their supporters?"
The spam messages boasted subject lines like:
Ron Paul Wins GOP Debate!
Ron Paul Eliminates the IRS!
Ron Paul Stops Iraq War!
Vote Ron Paul 2008!
Iraq Scam Exposed, Ron Paul
Government Wasteful Spending Eliminated By Ron Paul
Unlike generic spam messages from campaigns, these emails were fraudulently generated, showing they were from a Silicon Valley company or a Paul supporter in Houston, but in fact were generated from Brazil, El Salvador, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, and Nigeria.
From the UAB press release:
We've seen many previous emails reported as spam from other campaigns or parties, but when we've investigated them, they all were sent from the legitimate parties.
In addition, CNBC recently took down a post-debate poll that showed Paul winning the debate at 75% levels. In a message on the CNBC website,
political editor John Harwood managing editor Allen Wastler defended the decision to take down the poll:
The numbers grew ... 7,000-plus votes after a couple of hours ... and Ron Paul was at 75%.
Now Paul is a fine gentleman with some substantial backing and, by the way, was a dynamic presence throughout the debate , but I haven't seen him pull those kind of numbers in any "legit" poll. Our poll was either hacked or the target of a campaign. So we took the poll down.
The next day, our email basket was flooded with Ron Paul support messages. And the computer logs showed the poll had been hit with traffic from Ron Paul chat sites. I learned other Internet polls that night had been hit in similar fashion.
Given all this, it's an open question as to whether the campaign is involved in all this online ballot-stuffing. Warner says there's no reason to suspect the Paul campaign. And says Paul spokesman Jesse Benton:
"If it is true, it could be done by a well-intentioned yet misguided supporter or someone with bad intentions trying to embarrass the campaign. Either way, this is independent work, and we have no connection.