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Pro-Trump Internet Trolls Escalate Ugly Attacks on Nikki Haley

Social media posts depicting her as Shiva, the deity of destruction. Others that misleadingly use deep fake technology to show her insulting voters. And still others that direct vitriol at her son, a college student.

For most of her presidential campaign, Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and former United Nations ambassador, has been spared the full onslaught from former President Donald J. Trump’s devoted following of internet trolls. The cadre of mostly anonymous personalities who wage near-constant battle in Mr. Trump’s name focused first on brutally attacking Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who had been considered the former president’s most potent rival in the 2024 Republican primary. But with Ms. Haley now his last remaining opponent, the machine has turned her way.

Online personalities have in recent weeks circulated vicious attacks through memes, posts and videos that often center on her race, gender and identity, including some that malign her for saying she was “teased for being brown” and others that falsely claim she is ineligible to serve as president because her parents were immigrants. Some of the most disturbing material has been generated by artificial intelligence, and digitally manipulates her voice and likeness. Much of the content is rife with crude sexual innuendo.

Joan Donovan, a disinformation researcher and assistant professor of journalism at Boston University, said the threats and insults were indicative of the form of low politics and “network harassment” that Mr. Trump and his online admirers ushered in.

“These are people who see themselves as participants in Trump’s troll army,” Ms. Donovan said. “Other politicians haven’t been able to activate online audiences in the same way.”

As Ms. Haley and Mr. Trump head into a heated primary showdown on Saturday in South Carolina, her home turf, the online smears are likely only to intensify. And in an era when campaigns wage war online as well as off, not all the efforts have been confined to the internet.

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