A young programmer who previously used his coding skills to help take down a Texas anti-abortion website has spun up a new bot that allows anyone to flood a conservative group’s online campaign to paint the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plan as “unfair” with spam.
In August, President Joe Biden announced a three-part plan to cancel $10,000 of student debt for millions of Americans who qualify, and now Republicans are looking to bring the administration to court. The Job Creators Network—a conservative advocacy group founded by Home Depot CEO Bernie Marcus—is one group that has said it is weighing the possibility of taking legal action against debt forgiveness, parroting dubious Republican talking points that it’s unfair to people who’ve already paid their loans off.
This week, a form on the Job Creators Networks’ site titled “Is Student Loan Forgiveness Unfair?” began circulating online, with commenters suggesting that the organization was looking for plaintiffs for a lawsuit. The form asked people to respond to questions such as, “Why are you frustrated with the Biden administration canceling student loan debt for some people?” and to input their name and contact information.
Sean Wiggs, a Digital Strategist at Gen-Z for Change known for developing a script that inundated a Texas abortion “whistleblower” site with junk data and keeping companies like Starbucks and Kellogg’s from hiring scab workers, found the form through his colleague Elise Joshi. He immediately went to work on creating a spammer bot that would populate the form with fake applications.
“The goal with all of the sort of spamming tools that I’ve created is to put [fake information] into forms so that the people who are [parsing through] the information have a harder time finding the real information,” Wiggs told Motherboard. “So if Republicans can’t find plaintiffs for the class action lawsuit, all of the emails that they’re sending out are fake emails [and] they’re calling into the void. They can’t bring out a class action lawsuit against student debt forgiveness.”
As of Thursday afternoon, over 120,000 forms have been submitted through Wiggs’ code, he said. By Friday morning, the Job Creators Network’s form was taken offline. The organization did not respond to a request for comment.
Wiggs said the code is in the cloud so it does not run on the user’s actual device and all the information that is entered into the form is fake, derived from libraries that store fake first names, email addresses, states, etc. All people need to do is click a link and run the program.
“When you click on the link in my bio it goes to Google servers, the code’s already living there, and then it runs the code in Google servers, and it automatically fills out the form, submits the form. And it’ll just keep doing that in perpetuity until the user decides to close the tab or stop it,” Wiggs explained.
Wiggs said that his work with spam bots isn’t just aimed at disrupting particular campaigns. “A lot of Republican organizations [and] political groups use these sorts of forms to get information from these users so that they can follow up on them for campaigns and other things, fundraise off of them, sell that information to groups that fundraise. So filling that with false information will also render their data mining operation pretty useless,” Wiggs said.
“I definitely want to see this continue to grow because I’ve seen people telling me that they’ve been inspired by the work, that they’ve done the same,” Wiggs said. “So I hope I inspire more people to get involved and use tech in this way.”