I was recently scrolling through Twitter when I and many others stumbled across a rather curious tweet from an account called Rejoin/Rebuild, a twitter account that campaigns for people to join the Labour party to vote for the leadership but seems to show only 4 candidates omitting Rebecca Long-Bailey entirely. This struck me as rather odd so I decided to have a look into exactly who Rejoin/Rebuild are. Their twitter bio claims they are a grassroots campaign that are trying to ‘Rebuild and Unify’ the Labour party to win in 2020
The account has been in operation since September 2019 and seems to have started out as way to boost Sally Gimson in her campaign to become Bassetlaw Mp before she was deselected over comments made concerning protected characteristics — this can relate to issues surrounding race, disability and sexuality. It even contains an endorsement for Sally Gimson from Labour leadership hopeful Keir Starmer where he gives her his full backing even after the allegations came out. Then on December 13th it takes a massive swerve and starts campaigning for people to join the Labour party retweeting various Labour right figures as well as starting to boost Keir Starmer and Jess Phillips.
The whole account struck me as odd so I decided to do a little digging to find out what it was starting with a quick google search to see if there was any information on the account and to see exactly what was going on. I was instantly presented with a number of articles from around 21st December that all talked about RejoinRebuild.com, a website that was connected to the Twitter account and to a Facebook account all with the same branding that seemed to be harvesting data from users but without any details on who or what that data was being used for. The site was shuttered soon after these details came to light but not before someone saved a snapshot of the site in the WayBackMachine. Searching the history of the site through WHOIS and various articles and threads it shows that the site was registered by a company called Wilder Digital, a ‘digital engagement agency for progressive causes’ according to its rather bare website, another quick google shows that this is a social media campaign consultancy firm owned by one Mr Tom Lillywhite.
Now who is Tom Lillywhite? Well apart from being the director of aforementioned Wilder Digital he is also the Vice Chair of Campaigns for the Holborn and St Pancreas CLP, the home CLP for Labour leadership contender Keir Starmer. Tom in an article in 2018 for the New Statesman describes himself as digital strategist for Keir Starmer, he also provides photos for various media outlets online such as the New European as well as the official Keir Starmer website. Wilder Digital appears to be a professional Astroturfing organisation, Astroturfing a term that came from the US in the 90’s because it was fake grassroots and something that was popular under New Labour. There is also the question of Pack.org another company owned by Tom Lillywhite which is also rather murky in its operation. Pack.org seems to be a program that sends emails and texts to individuals asking them to push certain messages to their friends and family that come from campaigns, this again seems very much like Astroturfing pretending that their contacts are organically sharing various Twitter and Facebook posts when in fact the are being told to by a political or commercial campaign.
Tom Lillywhite seems to be a man who has made a fortune off pushing anonymous campaigns and Astroturfing to try and pretend that there is an organic grassroots support for certain candidates through so called independent websites and Social Media accounts. There is also the question of whether the Keir Starmer campaign has been paying Tom Lillywhite for his Astroturfing services in an attempt to deceive or trick Labour members into believing there is real grassroot support for him.
When approached for comment Tom Lillywhite said: I have no involvement in Rejoin/Rebuild, have never had any access to any of the social media accounts and don’t have access to any of their web platforms. Our company were approached to build a small landing page to then hand over to the client. We did that and have had no further involvement.