Internet’s new hobby: trolling campaign websites

WASHINGTON — This week, a delighted Internet audience discovered that redirects visitors to front-runner Donald Trump’s campaign website.

It’s an easy joke. Noticing that the Bush campaign, which uses, had failed to register the other domain as a precaution, someone else decided to have some fun.

Hunting for and buying domain names that presidential campaigns may have overlooked has become a popular sport this election season. Part prank, part Internet attack ad, this trend also gives any online user with some cash or a good sense of timing the ability to reach thousands in a matter of hours and drive the conversation.

Some websites are juvenile in their simplicity. After Trump was defeated by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the Iowa caucus, was redirected to his Wikipedia biography. In a similar vein, taunting the businessman’s bravado and oft-repeated line about winning at everything, took visitors to his Wikipedia page as well. As of Feb. 19, it redirects to a YouTube video of comedians poking fun at his campaign.

Another creative netizen bought last summer and decided to redirect it to different sites depending on what is in the news.

Last summer it redirected to, the site for President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, against which Cruz led a government shutdown in 2013. At another point it took people to articles critical of Cruz’s policies. This week the website took over social media once more when users discovered it took them to the Canadian government’s immigration page.

Although Cruz was born in Calgary, Alberta, he became an automatic U.S. citizen through his American mother. That hasn’t stopped the issue of whether he’s a natural-born citizen from haunting him on the campaign trail, leading the candidate to emphatically say at Wednesday’s CNN town hall in Greenville, South Carolina: “I never breathed a breath of air on this planet when I was not a U.S. citizen.”

The number of fake campaign domains continues to grow. leads to a page giving the choice between Bernie Sanders and Bernie Lomax, the fictional dead character from the film “Weekend at Bernie’s.” just leads to a bare-bones site with the words “Support President Obama. Immigration Reform Now!”

Some websites don’t just redirect, but also use the attention as a platform to make a point about a candidate. leads to a Huffington Post-style website consisting entirely of critical articles, leading with “Hillary’s gender fabrications.” leads to a stark white-on-gray page that declares, “Carly Fiorina failed to register this domain. So I’m using it to tell you how many people she laid off at Hewlett-Packard. It was this many.”

It’s followed by a seemingly endless wall of sad face emoticons that ends with the line, “That’s 30,000 people she laid off. People with families.”

The message is simple but effective. And while these website pranks are unlikely to lead to genuine confusion among voters, their tendency to go viral on social media gives the public a new way to criticize a candidate or draw attention to a certain policy.

If the timing is right, these websites can be more than just a joke. They can highlight a campaign’s shortcomings and feed a certain narrative illustrated best by the “poor Jeb” sentiment that has been prevalent on social media. Bush’s struggling campaign has garnered a strange kind of pity on Twitter and Facebook. His most-shared clips recently have been the moment when he told a New Hampshire audience to “please clap” and a video labeled “Jeb hug — sad times” in which he enthusiastically embraced a supporter who said he “might” vote for him.

When the Internet rediscovered this week that the domain bearing Bush’s name went straight to Trump’s website — this had been first noticed by the media in December — the timing was perfect. Popular news outlets including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post and Vox wrote about the site, the latter’s headline declaring, “How badly is Bush getting owned in this primary? goes to”

The Trump campaign said it was not involved with the website, and the owner used a privacy system to remain unlisted.

Innovative jokers are likely to have plenty of material in the coming months. Some have taken a different approach to give their favorite candidate a boost online:, a dating site to meet and connect with other Sanders supporters, already has over 1,000 registered users. But that’s another story.

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