Vile, racist 'Frame Game' exposed as Republican cyber 'expert'

Promoted by Elon Musk and others, Mike Benz has a troubling backstory

Vile, racist 'Frame Game' exposed as Republican cyber 'expert'

by Gil Duran | FrameLab

I wanted to bring this important and shocking NBC News story to your attention:

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Michael Benz, a conservative crusader against online censorship, appears to have a secret history as an online persona.”

Please read it and share it with your networks. It provides crucial information about the nature of the information war currently being waged against American democracy by authoritarian conservatives.

In previous pieces, we have written about Elon Musk’s plan to use Twitter to push authoritarian frames and tilt the political discourse in favor of Republicans. We have also written about the Republican Party’s escalating war against fact checkers and disinformation researchers.

Well, here’s a story that ties these two together with a bow. Michael Benz, a former Trump administration official who has emerged as a prominent attacker of disinformation researchers and fact checkers, turns out to have secretly run a racist and anti-Semitic social media account called “Frame Game.” Under this alias, Benz posted some of the most vile and racist commentary imaginable – before getting appointed to posts in the Trump Administration

From NBC News disinformation beat reporter Brandy Zadrozny:

Michael Benz, a former Trump State Department official whose work has been cited in congressional hearings and promoted by Elon Musk, has become a go-to voice for Republican criticism of government and social media censorship in the past year. But before his stints in government and as a pundit, Benz appears to have been a pseudonymous alt-right content creator who courted and interacted with white nationalists and posted videos espousing racist conspiracy theories, according to recordings, livestreams and blog posts reviewed by NBC News.

Among the various hateful theories the anonymous “Frame Game”: account spread were “a variety of far-right narratives including the ‘Great Replacement Theory’ that posits the white race is being eradicated in America for politics and profits. In others, Frame Game said he was a white identitarian, railed against the idea of diversity and made montages urging white viewers to unite under the banner of race.”

NBC News was able to expose Benz’s secret identity because of some very basic mistakes that made his identity clear (so much for his alleged “cyber” expertise). Benz refused to answer questions from NBC but has now admitted to running the account.

Why this matters: Benz, who according to NBC engaged in extensive public racism on social media, has been celebrated by Republicans as some kind of expert on cyber affairs. His false narrative depicting normal social media content moderation as “censorship” formed a big part of Elon Musk’s so-called Twitter Files, a widely debunked mock journalism investigation designed to kill off any efforts to undermine disinformation. (Unfortunately, the NBC News headline accepts Benz’ “crusader against censorship” frame, when that frame should be disputed rather than repeated.)

As Republicans have ramped up their attacks on disinformation researchers and propaganda analysts, Benz has been a key spokesman for the effort. And yet it appears his only qualification is that he ran an anonymous and vile social media account renowned for its extreme racism.

The fact that someone like Benz became a main node in the effort to undermine facts and reality shows the desperation of the gambit. Perhaps it’s fitting that the attack on information researchers and fact checkers has been masterminded by someone whose key experience is acting as an anonymous internet troll.

Despite his lack of vetting and his sordid online history, Benz has been pushed by as some kind of notable expert. Now that he’s been fully unmasked as “Frame Game,” the question is whether he will continue to guide Republican thinking on the issue.

For FrameLab leaders, it’s also hard to miss the fact that Benz chose the name “Frame Game” as his online alias. Information warfare is indeed a battle of frames with the power to determine the fate of American democracy. A basic review of Benz vitriolic sputtering as “Frame Game” reveals the true ideology behind these concerted attacks on truth — and reveals what’s really at stake here.

Now that Benz has been properly exposed, how do we reframe the war on facts and truth?

Stock photo via Shutterstock

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