How Long Will Trump Allow TikTokers to Make a Mockery of Him?

Illustration for article titled How Long Will Trump Allow TikTokers to Make a Mockery of Him?
Image: Saul Loeb/AFP (Getty)

After K-pop stans took credit for the embarrassingly low turnout at Trump’s rally in Tulsa last week, the president waits to see what humiliation will befall the campaign next. The TikTok troops are plotting to claim more territory on donaldjtrump.com: the webstore.

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On Wednesday, a Twitter user instructed followers to load up their shopping carts with as much Donald J. Trump for President merchandise as possible, let it sit indefinitely, and then “go read about the wonderful world of digital shopping cart abandonment and [its] negative effects on available inventory.” Twitter users replied with screenshots of orders with check-out totals running as high to $1.5 billion, and yesterday, a TikTok user put it in the background of a more zoomer-friendly video, which now has over one million views:

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The strategy is a little shaky (and we’ll get to that) but the victory would be to stomp Trump’s already shattered ego after K-pop stans were credited with sabotaging his Tulsa, Oklahoma rally by overbooking ticket reservations. Throughout the preceding days, campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted ecstatically about hundreds of thousands of sign-ups, and Trump tweeted that Almost One Million people! had signed up. It was to be a covid-19-denying blowout to outnumber nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, where a packed stadium would get to spit in each others’ mouths and maybe battle some protesters outside at the outdoor overflow stage. Come showtime, a little over 6,000 people arrived, the outdoor event was canceled, the arena looked vacant no matter which way the cameras turned, Trump was reportedly “stunned” and berated aides backstage, rambled for 15 minutes about walking down a ramp, Jared and Ivanka were quite upset, and not even Parscale could deny the low turnout.

It’s unclear whether K-pop fans’ and TikTokers’ mass ticket reservations actually cleared the arena, but that’s the legend, and it’s going down in presidential history: President Donald J. Trump got beaten by kids on the internet. The low turnout might not have been news if not for Parscale’s incessant bragging of sign-up numbers. (Unclear how this man still has a job; Trump reportedly threatened to sue him over low poll numbers in April.) In the end, we learned that you can criticize Trump all you want about policy issues, but the only way to get his attention is to make him look like a loser and mock him on the internet. Teens can play this game.

So now we savor the thought of a White House intern furiously processing a hundred thousand inventory orders for Baby Lives Matter infant one-pieces. But will our dreams come true?

Probably not that, but in the best-case scenario, bombarding the store could be a logistical pain in the ass for the e-commerce team and drum up a little public mockery, which could be the last, gentle gust of wind needed to blow over Parscale.

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First, a few caveats: Andrew Lipsman, retail analyst at the digital market research company eMarketer, told Gizmodo that such a campaign probably “wouldn’t really do anything,” since e-commerce merchants don’t typically fulfill orders or order inventory until after purchases have been completed. Similarly, Kunle Campbell, who runs the e-commerce consultancy site and podcast 2X eCommerce, told Gizmodo that they’re on a “fool’s errand” because e-commerce platforms often protect against sales hijacks by only placing an inventory hold on an item after it’s purchased. (The Trump Campaign appears to use the donation platform Revv, which was unavailable for comment.) “Bull-Schiff” Tees, which one Twitter user claims to have reserved by the thousands, are currently in stock.

But if the objective is to infuriate Trump again, here’s how it goes down.

“One of the biggest and most immediate impacts of this kind of clicktivism is ‘poisoning the well’ of Trump’s store’s analytics data,” Dan Shewan, content manager at the content marketing agency Animalz, told Gizmodo. “By flooding the site with trash data, it makes correctly attributing the underlying causes for cart abandonment that much harder.” So the store will have a harder time optimizing its checkout process, possibly facilitating more abandonment of legitimate shopping carts (assuming they’re focusing on this).

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Depending on the will, numbers, and time commitment (hello K-pop army), a lengthy coordinated surge could slow down or crash the site: website down, mission accomplished. “A typical DDoS attack would be more effective,” he said, “but a loosely coordinated, somewhat organic strategy like this is much harder to pinpoint and stop. This strategy might also create potentially hundreds of thousands of worthless customer records in whichever CMS the store uses, which could also have a substantial technical footprint and degrade the quality and value of the store’s database.”

Then the campaign might have to expend more resources chasing you around with follow-up emails trying to get you to complete the purchase, so the store might have to upgrade its email marketing plan. That’s unlikely to bankrupt the Trump campaign’s merchandising department, but it’s “potentially enough to add up quickly,” Shewan said.

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And you just might make the campaign stockpile way too much inventory after all. While Shewan said that most ecommerce sites probably assess inventory based on sales history (the campaign can reasonably assume they won’t have to manufacture a million extra MAGA hats), other Trump merch slogans tend to mock news and protest slogans (“Defend the Police” bumper stickers), and garbage data from abandoned shopping carts could swamp realistic estimates of demand. “Any new products could easily become the merchandising equivalent of the empty seats at the BOK Center,” he said, “because there is no historical sales data for those products and much of the data they do have will be completely useless.” (Campbell is skeptical of that argument, saying that typically e-commerce sites would use overall sales trends.)

So while a constipated website and a dumpster of #YouAintBlack T’s probably wouldn’t nuke the campaign, a 404 page could destroy current persona non grata, campaign manager Brad Parscale—no small feat, since he’s clung to his post for years, several times longer than most of Trump’s 2016 campaign heads. If it looks like Brad shit the bed again, what are his odds?

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Let’s conduct a performance review. He lies and has managed to convince a few people that he’s not a blithering moron—give credit where it’s due to someone who, prior to joining the 2016 campaign, was working on Trump’s winery website. He took credit for being the digital wizard behind “all that crazy Facebook stuff” from the 2016 campaign and worked with Cambridge Analytica (but only for polling data, he’s claimed). He’s said that he’s helped turn the RNC into “one of the largest data-gathering operations in United States history.” All points for Brad.

But the campaign is not doing well, Trump has reportedly threatened to sue him, Ivanka and Jared are reportedly “pissed,” and now Parscale believes in the coronavirus, which is probable grounds for termination in this campaign.

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Is he gonna make it? Let’s find out. Send in the teens.

Staff reporter, Gizmodo. wkimball @ gizmodo

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DISCUSSION

jackj
Jack Jones

It would be nice if those bazillion K-pop stans showed up at the voting booth (or mailed it in, whatev).

That would own the Emperor of Lies.