Social Media Users Wage (Possibly Ineffective) War on Trump Campaign Store
With most in-person events in the U.S. being rescheduled, moved online or canceled, e-commerce is pretty much the primary means of distributing branded merchandise these days. The Trump Campaign, which has started doing in-person rallies in states that have relaxed social distancing regulations, is no exception here, with merchandise being such a cornerstone of the campaign’s identity. But a group of online activists on the social media platform TikTok might have temporarily disrupted the President’s main means of selling merchandise—or at least attempted to.
This week, TikTok users reportedly posted videos showing them “buying” an entire supply of Trump items like baseballs or “Baby Lives Matter” onesies, only they never actually check out. They just leave the items in their virtual cart, which makes them appear to be sold out so others can’t buy them. According to The Verge, the attacks have been aimed at the Trump campaign store and the Trump gift shop (which is ostensibly not affiliated with his campaign).
As Adi Robertson of The Verge pointed out, this is a tactic called a “Denial of Inventory” attack, or “shopping cart abandonment.” It's a similar idea to a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, a situation where users flood a web page to the point of crashing it, so no one else can access it. In the case of the Trump Campaign store, people apparently just went on and virtually cleaned the shelves, then just hung out with the entire stock of items in their carts.
FYI: all the Trump Baseballs are sold out because I have over $9000 worth of them in a shopping cart that I have no intention on buying
— jocelyn (@jocelyn90028) June 26, 2020
Here’s the part where we have to tell you that you can’t just believe everything you see on the internet, though. That especially applies to social media.
Some of the items in question are sold out, but there’s no way to prove that it’s a result of the TikTok users. According to The Verge, one person went on Twitter to claim he “bought” all of the Trump-branded baseballs from the gift shop site, but right now there’s no indication that they’re sold out.
Writers for The Verge did a bit of experimenting to see if it was still possible to buy things. They found that it could be that the site changed its means of operation to combat these attacks, or that the products were never actually stashed away like some people claimed.
The [sold out] message appears if one person fills their cart with all the available stock of an item, goes back to the item, and tries to add more. (It’s easy to get the error because the stock seems low—in my case, 13 navy/red baseballs.) But other site visitors can still put the items in a different cart. The message seemingly just makes sure one person can’t place a single order the store is unable to fulfill. It’s possible the store tweaked that in the past 12 hours, but there’s no visible sign of a change.
The Verge also tested another possible exploit, in which four users simultaneously filled their carts with large quantities of the same item—in this case, gold cuff links—until they reserved more than 16,000 pairs. That's greater than the previous single item limit they saw previously online (10,000 unites). The writers concluded that this likely means inventory held in carts does not accurately reflect quantities available in the online store.
According to The Verge, neither the Trump Campaign nor Shopify (which powers the online store) responded to requests for comment. Trump Campaign manager Brad Parscale said only the following on Twitter:
So I guess you owe me some salt, thanks. 🥱 https://t.co/CaNld5Domz
— Brad Parscale (@parscale) June 25, 2020