Dark future of data wars inevitable unless consumers push back, author warns

The online campaign to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election is a prelude to a dark future where data will become weaponized by hostile states, unless regulators and consumers push back, says the author of a new book on how to fix the crisis of trust in Silicon Valley.

“There will be major international crises and probably wars built around data,” Andrew Keen says. “There will be a hot data war at some point in the future.”

An internet entrepreneur turned cultural commentator, Mr. Keen was considered a heretic in 2007 when he wrote The Cult of the Amateur, which skewered the unbridled optimism fuelling the early days of Web 2.0 – the shift from static websites to platforms focused on user-generated content.

Story continues below advertisement

Far from democratizing the web, Mr. Keen warned a decade ago that sites such as Facebook and YouTube were undermining traditional media outlets, cannibalizing revenues from professional content creators, and allowing anonymous trolls to post content unconstrained by professional standards that could manipulate public opinion and “reinvent” the truth.

Now as tech giants including Facebook, Twitter and PayPal confront revelations contained in U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment that they were the platforms of choice for Russian agents using stolen data to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, those early warnings have become the consensus opinion.

Today there is so much agreement about the harmful effects of technology that Mr. Keen says he’s wants to stop writing about what’s wrong with the internet and start focusing on how to fix it.

The heart of the issue, he argues in his latest book How to Fix the Future, lies in today’s big data economy, where tech companies give away their products for free in exchange for consumer information that advertisers use to create highly targeted messages. It’s a business model built on mass surveillance, with personal data becoming the economy’s most valuable commodity.

And as that data become ever-more important to state-to-state relations, Mr. Keen says we’re only one major hacking event away from a digital world war.

“We still haven’t had an Exxon Valdez or a Chernobyl on data,” he said in an interview days before a U.S. federal grand jury indicted three Russian companies and 13 of their online operatives for a wide-ranging and well-funded online campaign to sow political discord during the 2016 election in support of Donald Trump. “I think there will be some major hacking event in the not-too-distant future which may involve a foreign power that will wake people up to this.”

Yet such a dystopian a future is far from inevitable, he says. The internet’s early optimism, the belief that technology would save the world, was misguided. But so is today’s digital determinism, which says that humans are powerless against algorithms, smart machines and cyberwarfare campaigns of hostile foreign governments.

Story continues below advertisement

Story continues below advertisement

To fix the future, Mr. Keen argues, we should look to the past. The social and economic upheaval caused by Industrial Revolution was tamed through a combination of labour strikes, government regulations that improved working conditions, the advent of a social safety net and the adoption of public schools. Mr. Keen believes the most damaging effects of today’s digital revolution can be similarly managed through a combination of regulation, innovation, consumer and worker demands and education.

History lessons are particularly crucial for Silicon Valley’s forward-looking tech titans. Mr. Keen points to the U.S. automotive industry, whose global dominance was undermined by safety and reliability issues until it eventually lost ground to innovative companies in Europe and Asia.

“It’s very important for Silicon Valley to wake up and recognize that there’s no guarantee that they’ll be dominant in 10 or 20 years,” he said.

In Mr. Keen’s vision of the war for the future, the villains are China and Russia, which are using online platforms to create surveillance states that undermine trust between citizens and their government.

The heroes are countries such as Estonia, which is creating a digital ID system for its citizens – one that alerts them each time a government agency accesses their data. The country also launched an “e-residency” program that gives foreign entrepreneurs access to the country’s financial institutions. In the Estonian model, he says, building online trust means replacing anonymity and privacy with a system of open and transparent state surveillance.

Regulation will become increasingly important to reining in big tech, he says. But the U.S., with its chaotic political system and laws that shield social media companies from liability for content posted on their platforms, is ill-equipped to lead the push for reform.

Story continues below advertisement

Canadian regulators have likewise taken a largely hands-off approach to social media companies, though earlier this month Bank of Canada deputy governor Carolyn Wilkins called for tougher regulation of tech firms, given their growing power and control over vast troves of personal data.

“Access to and control of user data could make some firms virtually unassailable,” she said.

Facebook also launched a “Canadian Election Integrity” project last year to head off concerns over how its platform could be used to undermine the 2019 Canadian federal election.

But Mr. Keen expects European regulators to carry the fight, particularly European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager. “She’s the only one willing to take on Apple and force them to pay their taxes,” he says. “She’s the only one who is really looking critically [at] Google.”

Just as the U.S. government’s antitrust case against Microsoft in the 1990s loosened the company’s stranglehold on desktop computing and paved the way for startups such as Google and Facebook, Mr. Keen believes the multibillion-dollar fines Ms. Vestager has slapped on Silicon Valley giants are intended to foster innovation by preventing the big tech companies from using their global dominance to squash smaller competitors.

The most significant reforms will come this May, when the European Union launches the General Data Protection Regulation. The aggressive internet-privacy reforms will, among other things, give users the “right to be forgotten” by allowing consumers to delete the personal data that private companies hold about them.

While critics, including Mr. Keen, say the rules unintentionally favour companies large enough to afford to comply, he still sees the regulations as a good start. “The important thing is that they are beginning to pass some laws around data and the protection of consumer data,” he said.

Mr. Keen won’t predict how long it will be before Silicon Valley is forced to make meaningful changes to adapt to consumer and government pressure. But just as technology changes quickly, so can society’s attitude toward it. Or as one venture capitalist in the book describes the process of social and economic disruption: “it’s nothing, nothing, nothing – and then something dramatic.”​

Related:

  • No Related Posts

Russian meddling prays on a gullible public

By Hank Waters

In an excellent report published in this newspaper last Sunday, Rudi Keller explained what he learned from several researchers about recent Russian meddling in U.S. affairs using social media. Keller’s primary source was Lt. Col. Jarred Prier, who for years has studied Russian cyber warfare and recently wrote a peer-reviewed report including student protests at the University of Missouri as an example.

Prier says Russian disinformation campaigns seek to sow discord among allies of the U.S. and internally as well. Particularly galling to Prier, a 2003 MU grad, was the successful Russian effort to stoke unfounded fears of a violent white backlash surrounding 2015 student protests and subsequent resignation of then-UM President Tim Wolfe.

Prier found Russian cyber trolls used Twitter to spread untrue accounts of campus violence, including Ku Klux Klan marches and a phony picture of a battered black youth. Incessant repetition on social media caused many to believe the false reports.

The recent indictment by Special Counsel Robert Mueller charges Russia used its campaign in the 2016 presidential campaign to benefit Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders in order to discredit Democrat Hillary Clinton, thought by the Russians to be their main target.

Larger conclusions by Prier and other expert witnesses interviewed by Keller are interesting. Prier says “They want to force the American public to go over into a corner and argue amongst themselves.”

MU Professor of political science Cooper Drury says the Russian long-term goal is not the victory of any political party but a weaker U.S. If disruption is your goal, says Drury, “then the greater polarization you can get inside a democracy the more successful you will be.”

MU professor of communications Mitchell McKinney says social media helps mask the source of otherwise questionable propaganda, and volume creates believability. Then, he says, most success comes when these rumors are reported by trusted news organization.

“These Russian trolls were driving clicks,” says Prier. “Clicks are what keeps the business moving.”

If political polarization in the U.S. is a primary goal we might think the Russian campaign has been spectacularly successful, but MU professor Drury points out that traditional media once considered neutral is more likely today to take sides. He cites television networks Fox News and MSNBC which attract opposed and mutually disdainful audiences.

Prier’s report sounds pessimistic, but MU journalism professor Mike Kearney argues the internet makes it easier for each of us to share and find information “by ourselves.” Prier says it’s up to providers of information, including Twitter, to be more careful.

Obviously, the first line of defense should be the retail consumer of news, but as we see in the new age of easy disinformation, we have not yet fully learned that skill. A gullible public has existed since the first human society appeared. Today the same human frailty persists, frighteningly fueled by the internet and its latest, most insidious tool, Twitter.

Yes, I will say “insidious.” The benefit of sharing innocuous messages is sadly overcome by the pernicious opportunities gained by newly empowered trolls who so easily get in our heads anonymously. Will we learn to be skeptical enough?

HJW III

hjwatersiii@gmail.com

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

—Winston Churchill

Related:

  • No Related Posts

The GOP Is Conducting Cyber Warfare Against Political Opponents

Photo Credit: dailykos.com

As speculation builds over the extent of Russian meddling in 2018’s elections, the deceptive and influential tactics revealed in last week’s indictment by Special Counsel Robert Mueller—and newer ones—are already in use by U.S. politicos with pro-corporate, pro-GOP agendas.

The examples run the gamut from the seemingly trite—a Republican Senate candidate in Arizona touts an endorsement from a new website impersonating local newspapers—to more overtly serious: a tweet storm calling for Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken to resign, which he did last year after escalating accusations of sexual harassment; or tens of thousands of faked emails calling for the repeal of net neutrality, which the GOP-led Federal Communications Commission recently repealed.

In these examples and others, a new hall of mirrors is emerging that threatens American elections and governance—and it is coming from shadowy domestic operatives, not Russians. Websites mimicking news organizations are endorsing candidates. Online identities are being stolen and use to send partisan messages, with people unaware they are being impersonated for partisan gain. Targets are slow to detect or acknowledge the high-tech ruses used against them. The media is catching on, but it’s typically after the fact—not before crucial decisions are made.

While many progressives were split on whether Franken should have left the Senate, the Republican right was unambiguous in seizing the moment to force the Democrats to lose a popular senator.    

Twitter War

“White nationalist provocateurs, a pair of fake news sites, an army of Twitter bots and other cyber tricks helped derail Democratic Senator Al Franken last year, new research shows,” a report by Newsweek’s Nina Burleigh began, describing new details about how he was targeted. “Analysts have now mapped out how Hooters pinup girl and lad-mag model Leeann Tweeden’s initial accusation against Franken became effective propaganda after right-wing black ops master Roger Stone first hinted at the allegation.”

“A pair of Japan-based websites, created the day before Tweeden came forward, and a swarm of related Twitter bots made the Tweeden story go viral and then weaponized a liberal writer’s criticism of Franken,” Burleigh explained. “The bot army—in tandem with prominent real, live members of the far right who have Twitter followers in the millions, such as Mike Cernovich—spewed thousands of posts, helping the #FrankenFondles hashtag and the “Franken is a groper” meme effectively silence the testimonies of eight former female staffers who defended the Minnesota Democrat before he resigned last year.”

This evidence trail tracing how right-wingers used software to amplify the attacks on Franken was discovered by Mike Farb at UnhackTheVote, an election transparency group. He noted this tactic was also one tool used by Russian propagandists during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.  

What’s new now is not that technologies like bots are being created, but that domestic political operatives are using them in much the same way they have used robo-calls, negative campaign mailers and other attacks to undermine political opponents—before the internet and its social media platforms amplified the speed, intensity and impact of such attacks. 

“Like targeted Facebook ads that Russian troll farms used in the 2016 election, Twitter bots have been around for years and were originally created for sales purposes,” Burleigh wrote. “But since the 2016 election, arguably lost due to the right’s superior utilization of darker online strategies, the left is not known to have created or mobilized its own fake cyber army to amplify its viewpoint.”

Burleigh’s observation may be the most chilling. The evidence that is out there so far does suggest that pro-GOP and pro-corporate forces are bet g quicker to embrace the latest version of political dark arts—as seen in the growing list of examples of deceptive and influential online campaigns.

Endorsements That Weren’t

Last week, Politico reported on what, at first, seemed like a silly story—a Republican senatorial candidate from Arizona fell for a fake endorsement that seemed to boost her chances in an upcoming primary.

“It looked as if Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward had scored a big endorsement: On Oct. 28, she posted a link on her campaign website and blasted out a Facebook post, quoting extensively from a column in the Arizona Monitor,” Politico reported. “There was just one problem: Despite its reputable sounding name, the Arizona Monitor is not a real news site… The site launched just a few weeks before publishing the endorsement, and its domain registration is hidden, masking the identity of its owner. On its Facebook page, it is classified as a news site, but scant other information is offered.”

The general public doesn’t pay much attention to endorsements early in campaigns. So Ward falling for a faked one might be a typical mistake that inexperienced candidates make—and thus easily forgotten. But Politico’s report said her endorsement was part of a larger and far more disturbing trend: the mass-production of fabricated endorsements by anonymous political operatives clearly pushing a far-right agenda.

“The Arizona Monitor seems to be part of a growing trend of conservative political-messaging sites with names that mimic those of mainstream news organizations and whose favored candidates then tout their stories and endorsements as if they were from independent journalists,” wrote Politico. “It’s a phenomenon that spans the country from northern New England, where the anonymous Maine Examiner wreaked havoc on a recent mayoral election, all the way out to California, where Rep. Devin Nunes launched — as reported by POLITICO— his own so-called news outlet, the California Republican.”

“This basically is an appropriation of credibility,” Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, told Politco. “As the credibility of reputable news outlets is appropriated for partisan purposes, we are going to undermine the capacity of legitimate outlets to signal their trustworthiness.” 

Political Identity Theft

Cyber deception also is appearing across the government in the nooks and crannies where White House directives or Congress’ laws are turned into the rules Americans must abide by—or in the Trump era, are repealed.

Here, political identity theft is increasingly becoming a tactic used to push federal agencies to end to consumer protections and other regulations that impede profits. Hundreds of thousands of public comments, purportedly made by real Americans, have come in over the electronic transom at five different agencies in recent months, a series of investigative reports found. Except, the people who supposedly sent these comments never did.

A recent example concerns the “Fiduciary Rule,” which originated in the Labor Department and was to talk effect in July 2019, to try to prevent conflicts of investment from investment advisers targeting retirees.

“The [Wall Street] Journal previously found fraudulent postings under names and email addresses at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission,” it noted.

The highest-profile example concerned the FCC’s so-called net neutrality ruled, which previously had regulated telecom giants from overcharging the public and smaller businesses for access to online data. a day before the FCC voted in November to gut net neutrality, the Verge reported, “A search of the duplicated text found more than 58,000 results as of press time, with 17,000 of those posted in the last 24 hours alone.”

In other words, a bot-like program was hijacking online identities and impersonating those people to file pro-corporate comments at the FCC. When public officials like New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, sought more information from the FCC, he received no response.

While one can speculate about who specifically coordinated these efforts, there is only one category of special interest has the means and motives to thwart government regulators: that’s the targeted industries, professional trade association and lobbyists and the biggest corporate players.

No Accountability Coming

These are people and interests that are represented by Republicans in Washington more so than Democrats. But, as Schneiderman learned, the GOP and it’s political appointees have no inclination to even acknowledge that cyber deception is becoming a new coin of the political realm—while they rule that roost.

Progressives and Democrats might point out that the GOP is the party that obsesses over voter fraud—one person voting many times, which almost never occurs in real life—while Republican-friendly operatives appear to be embracing cyber political identity theft on an unprecedented scale.

What this means for 2018’s elections is uncertain, but it doesn’t bode well. No matter where partisan cyber warfare is coming from—domestically or abroad—its occurrence will undermine public confidence in the results.

The congressional midterms and governors’ races in many states are occurring against a backdrop of a rising blue voter turnout wave. It’s in the GOP’s interests in preserving their power to do anything that undermines the credibility of electoral outcomes that should favor Democrats.

Cyber political warfare is the latest means for doing so. It’s already begun. 

 

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections, including Democracy Betrayed: How Superdelegates, Redistricting, Party Insiders, and the Electoral College Rigged the 2016 Election, to be published in March 2018 from Hot Books.

Related:

  • No Related Posts

UN secretary-general wants global regulations to combat cyberwars

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Google+
Share on LinkedIn
+

UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday called for the creation of a regulatory body charged with fighting electronic warfare campaigns that target civilians

While speaking at his alma mater, the University of Lisbon, the UN chief said a global set of rules that would help protect civilians from disinformation campaigns – many of which have revolutionized the way interested parties weaponise information through the use of the internet and social media networks.

State-sponsored computer hackers, including “Fancy Bear” and “Cozy Bear” – both controlled by Russia’s intelligence services, have disrupted multinational firms and public services, as well as political campaigns, and most recently the opening ceremonies of the ongoing Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games.

“Episodes of cyber warfare between states already exist. What is worse is that there is no regulatory scheme for that type of warfare. It is not clear how the Geneva Convention or international humanitarian law applies in these cases,” Guterres said while speaking at the University of Lisbon. “I am absolutely convinced that unlike the great battles of the past, which opened with a barrage of artillery or aerial bombardment, the next major war will begin with a massive cyber attack to destroy military capacity and to paralyse basic infrastructure, including electric networks.”

Cyber-warfare has moved to the forefront of military planning over the last decade. Russia’s GRU military intelligence unit successfully tested its ability to disrupt public services in Estonia and Georgia more than a decade ago, Western military planners have scrambled to counter the advances that Moscow has made in developing advanced cyber-warfare strategies.

NATO is in the process of cyberwar principles that will act as a strategic framework for guiding the alliance’s force reaction in the event of a crippling cyber attack to its command structure or the deployment of cyberweapons against one of the alliance allies. NATO command hopes to have a broad plan in place by 2019, but questions remain as the US administration under Donald Trump had continued with its lukewarm embrace of the 68-year-old North Atlantic Alliance.

During his speech in Lisbon, Gutteres offered to use the UN as a platform for scientists, programmers, and government representatives to develop rules that would help minimise the amount of access certain agents of war would have when trying to make contact with unwitting civilians.

Guterres said he believed it possible for leading computer specialists and like-minded lawmakers to created a set of rules that would “guarantee the more humane character” of a conflict involving information technology and help preserve cyberspace as “an instrument in the service of good”, but warned that time was not on their side as technological advances far outpace the traditional methods of working out universally accepted rules that include the Geneva Conventions of 1864-1949.

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Google+
Share on LinkedIn
+

Related:

  • No Related Posts

The Russians operated the election interference like a professional corporation

· Competitive Intelligence – relevant information collected on target consumers and competitive rivals attempting to sell similar products or services

o Starting at least in or around 2014, Defendants and their co-conspirators began to track and study groups on U.S. social media sites dedicated to U.S. politics and social issues. In order to gauge the performance of various groups on social media sites the organization tracked certain metrics like the group’s size, the frequency of content placed by the group, and the level of audience engagement with that content, such as the average number of comments or responses to a post. (Page 12, Sec. 29.)

o Defendants and their co-conspirators also traveled, and attempted to travel, to the United States under false pretenses in order to collect intelligence for their interference operations. (Page 12, Sec. 30.) Only [Aleksandra] Krylova and [Anna] Bogacheva received visas, and from approximately June 4, 2104 through June 26, 2014, Krylova and Bogacheva traveled in and around the United States including stops in Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana, Texas and New York to gather intelligence… Another co-conspirator who worked for the organization traveled to Atlanta… (Page 13, Sec. 30, part c & d.)

o Defendants and their co-conspirators posed as U.S. persons and contacted U.S. political and social activists. For example, starting in or around June 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, posing online as U.S. persons, communicated with a real U.S. person affiliated with a Texas-based grass roots organization. During the exchange, the Defendants and their co-conspirators learned from the real U.S. person that they should focus their activities on “purple states like Colorado, Virginia and Florida”. After that exchange, Defendants and their co-conspirators commonly referred to targeting “purple states” in directing their efforts. (Page 13, Sec. 31.)

· Budget/Resources – money and other organizational resources dedicated to achieving strategic goals

Financing for the agency came from a billionaire Russian oligarch who provides catering for the Kremlin and food for the Russian military. The oligarch, Yevegeniy Prigozhin , is a member of Vladimir Putin’s closest inner circle and is often referred to as “Putin’s Chef.”

o By in or around September of 2016, the organization’s monthly budget for Project Lakhta [code name for broader interference in multiple countries, including the U.S.] submitted to Concord [one of three Russian companies named in the indictment] exceeded 73 million Russian rubles (over $1.25 million U.S. Dollars), including approximately one million rubles in bonus payments. (Page 7, Sec. 11, part b). [The average monthly wage in Russia is currently $675].

o To hide their Russian identities and organization affiliation, defendants and their co-conspirators – particularly [Sergey] Polozov and the organization’s IT department – purchased space on computer servers located inside the United States in order to set up virtual private networks (VPNs). Defendants and their co-conspirators connected from Russia to the U.S.-based infrastructure by way of these VPNs and conducted activity inside the United States – including accessing online social media accounts, opening new accounts, and communicating with real U.S. persons – while masking the Russian origin and control of the activity. (Page 15, Sec.39)

o In or around 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators also used, possessed, and transferred without lawful authority the social security numbers and dates of birth of real U.S. persons without those persons’ knowledge or consent. Using these means of identification, Defendants and their co-conspirators opened accounts at PayPal, a digital provider; created false means of identification, including fake driver’s licenses; and posted on organization-controlled social media accounts using the identities of these U.S. victims. (Page 16, Sec. 41)

· Operational Initiatives/Actions – coordinated actions at the operational level of the firm to ensure achievement of strategic goals. These are some examples, but not an exhaustive list.

o Defendants and their co-conspirators also registered and controlled hundreds of web-based email accounts hosted by U.S. email providers under false names so as to appear to be U.S. persons and groups. From these accounts, Defendants and their co-conspirators registered or linked to online social media accounts in order to monitor them; posed as U.S. persons when requesting assistance from real U.S. persons; contacted media outlets in order to promote activities inside the United States; and conducted other operations… (Page 16, Sec. 40)

o Defendants and their co-conspirators also created and controlled numerous Twitter accounts designed to appear as if U.S. persons or groups controlled them. For example, the organization created and controlled the Twitter account, Tennessee GOP, which used the handle @TENGOP. The @TENGOP account falsely claimed to be controlled by a U.S. state political party. Over time, the @TENGOP account attracted more than 100,000 online followers_. (Page 15, Sec. 36)

o In or around the latter half of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through their organization-controlled personas, began to encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for a third-party U.S. presidential candidate. (Page 18, Sec. 46)

o Starting in or around the summer of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators also began to promote allegations of voter fraud by the Democratic Party through their fictitious U.S. personas and groups on social media.” Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased advertisements on Facebook to further promote the allegations. [For example] On or about August 4, 2016 Defendants and their co-conspirators began purchasing advertisements that promoted a post on the organization-controlled Facebook account “Stop A.I.” The post alleged that “Hillary Clinton has already committed voter fraud during the Democrat Iowa Caucus”. On or about November 2, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used [Twitter account@TENGOP] _to post allegations of #VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida. (Page 18, Sec. 47)

o In or around late July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used Facebook group “Being Patriotic” the Twitter account @MarchforTrump, and other false U.S. personas to organize a series of coordinated rallies in Florida. The rallies were collectively referred to as “Florida Goes Trump” and held on August 20, 2016. (Page 22, Sec. 55) After the rallies in Florida, Defendants and their co-conspirators used false personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies supporting then-candidate Trump in New York and Pennsylvania. Defendants and their co-conspirators used the same techniques to build and promote these rallies as they had in Florida, included: buying Facebook advertisements; paying U.S. persons to participate in, or perform certain tasks at, the rallies; and communicating with real U.S. persons and grassroots organizations supporting then-candidate Trump. (page 23, Sec. 56)

· Employee Job Descriptions – What organizational employees do on a tactical/daily basis to ensure that operational initiatives are a success

o The organization employed hundreds of individuals for its online operations, ranging from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support. The organization was headed by a management group and organized into departments, including: a graphics department, a data analysis department; a search-engine optimization (SEO) department; an information-technology (IT) department to maintain the digital infrastructure used in the organization’s operations; and a finance department to budget and allocate funding. (Page 5, Sec. 10, part a & b) By approximately July 2016, more than eighty organization employees were assigned to the “translator project.” (Page 6, Sec. 10, part d)

o Organization employees, referred to as “specialists,” were tasked to create social media accounts that appeared to be operated by U.S. persons. The specialists were divided into day-shift and night-shift hours and instructed to make posts in accordance with the appropriate U.S. time zone. The organization also circulated lists of U.S. holidays so that specialists could develop and post appropriate account activity. (Page 14, Sec. 33) (Page 17, Sec. 43, part a)

o Specialists were directed to create “political intensity through supporting radical groups, users dissatisfied with the social and economic situation and oppositional social movements.” (Page 14, Sec. 33)

o Defendants and their co-conspirators also created thematic group pages on social media sites, particularly on social media platforms Facebook and Instagram. Organization-controlled pages addressed a wide range of issues, including immigration (with group names including “Secured Borders”); the Black Lives Matter movement (with group names including “Blacktivist”); religion (with group names including “United Muslims of America” and “Army of Jesus”); and certain geographic regions with the United States (with group names including “South United” and “Heart of Texas”). (Page 14, Sec. 34)

o On or about September 14, 2016, in an internal review of an organization-created and controlled Facebook group called “secured Borders,” the account specialist was criticized for having “a low number of posts dedicated to criticizing Hillary Clinton” and was told “it is imperative to intensify criticizing Hillary Clinton” in future posts. (Page 17, Sec. 43, part b)

· Performance Measures – Metrics used to measure success of organizational strategy

o To measure the impact of their online social media operations,Defendants and their co-conspirators tracked the performance of content they posted over social media. They tracked the size of the online U.S. audiences reached through posts, different types of engagement with the posts (such as likes, comments, and reposts), changes in audience size, and other metrics. Defendants and their co-conspirators received and maintained metrics reports on certain group pages and individualized posts. (Page 15, Sec. 37)

o Defendants and their co-conspirators also used false U.S. personas to communicate with unwitting members, volunteers, and supporters of the Trump Campaign involved in local level community outreach, as well as grassroots groups that supported then-candidate Trump. These individuals and entities at times distributed the organization’s materials through their own accounts via retweets, reposts, and similar means. Defendants and their co-conspirators then monitored the propagation of content through such participants. (Page 17, Sec. 45)

While not specifically identified by IRA as performance metrics, the following excerpts from the indictment show the Russian operation to be a stunning success in duping Americans.

Americans joined their online groups:

o By 2016, the size of many organization-controlled groups had grown to hundreds of thousands of online followers. (Page 14, Sec. 34)

Americans attended their rallies:

o On or about August 4, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators created and purchased Facebook advertisements for the “Florida Goes Trump” rally. The advertisements reached over 59,000 Facebook users in Florida, and over 8,3000 Facebook users responded to the advertisements by clicking on it, which routed users to the organization’s “Being Patriotic” page. (Page 27, Sec. 71).

Americans amplified their posts:

o On or about August 19, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” account to write to the real U.S. person affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organization who previously had advised the false persona to focus on “purple states like Colorado, Virginia and Florida.” Defendants and their co-conspirators told that U.S. person, “We were thinking about your recommendation to focus on purple states and this is what we’re organizing in FL.” Defendants and their co-conspirators then sent a link to the Facebook event page for the Florida rallies and asked that person to send the information to Tea Party members in Florida. The real U.S. person stated that he/she would share among his/her own social media contacts, who would pass on the information. (Page 29, Sec. 80)

Americans took their money:

o For example, defendants and their co-conspirators asked one U.S. person to build a cage on a flatbed truck and another U.S. person to wear a costume portraying Clinton in a prison uniform. Defendants and their co-conspirators paid these individuals to complete the requests. (Page 23, Sec. 55) On or about September 9, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through a false U.S. persona, contacted the real U.S. person who had impersonated Clinton at the West Palm Beach rally. Defendants and their co-conspirators sent that U.S. person money via interstate wire as an inducement to travel from Florida to New York and to dress in costume at another rally they organized. (Page 30, Sec. 84)

Americans paid them money:

o Defendants and their co-conspirators also used the [bank and PayPal] accounts to receive money from real U.S. persons in exchange for posting promotions and advertisements on the organization-controlled social media pages. Defendants and their co-conspirators typically charged certain U.S. merchants and U.S. social media sites between $25 and $50 U.S. dollars per post for promotional content on their popular false U.S. persona accounts, including Being Patriotic, Defend the 2nd, and Blacktivist. (Page 34, Sec. 95)

Most troubling lines

Outside the framework of organizational strategy, there were three things in the indictment that stood out to me.

1. The term co-conspirator was used a total of 121 times in the document. While most or all of these references may pertain to unnamed Russians, some may not. The document states: “Defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other (and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury) to defraud the United States.”

2. President Trump has tweeted repeatedly that the indictment vindicates him and his associates and proves there was no collusion. Yet, the indictment specifically notes that “defendants and their co-conspirators also used false U.S. personas to communicate with unwitting members, volunteers, and supporters of the Trump Campaign involved in local level community outreach, as well as grassroots groups that supported then-candidate Trump.” Could this imply that the only Trump campaign officials who conspired unwittingly with the Russians were officials at the local level, not national?

3. Perhaps most troubling, where Mueller begins to introduce the detailed nature of the Russian interference, the sentence opens with: “From in or around 2014 to the present.” We are still under attack by Russian trolls.

Last November the Federal Communications Commission voted to gut Obama-era rules protecting net-neutrality of the Internet. We now know that 7.75 million of the 23 million email comments submitted on Chairman Ajit Patel’s proposal ahead of the vote came from FakeMailGenerator.com, Bloomberg reported, and 444,938 messages were from Russian email addresses. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has filed a lawsuit with 22 states attorneys general to block the rollback of net neutrality laws after concluding that, ahead of the vote, 2 million comments were made using stolen identities of Americans. You can search

ag.ny.gov/fakecomments

to see if your identity was among those stolen and used to submit fraudulent messages of support to end net neutrality.

Perhaps most sickening is that there have already been news reports of Russian bots inundating Twitter with tweets related to guns the day after the school shooting massacre in Parkland, Florida. They have no place in our national discourse, our politics, or our grief.

Related:

  • No Related Posts

Air Force officer discusses report on Russian meddling at MU

Rudi Keller @CDTCivilWar

During the Soviet era, Air Force Lt. Col. Jarred Prier wrote in his journal article “Commanding the Trend: Social Media as Information Warfare,” Russia used its propaganda tools to plant believable lies in foreign media, intending to sow discord among allies of the United States or weaken it in the eyes of other nations.

Now, as the indictments handed down Friday by Special Counsel Robert Mueller show, Russian disinformation campaigns manipulate opinion here. They have been so successful, Prier said in an interview, that his findings that the Russian cyber warfare team targeted the 2015 turmoil at the University of Missouri will not be believed by a large segment of the public.

 

“There are people who at face value don’t believe what you said because you said Russia did something,” Prier said. “On the opposite side, political left is so willing to believe anything that has to do with Russia right now.”

Prier is currently serving as director of operations for the 20th Bomb Squadron. He has studied the social media propaganda techniques of the Islamic State and Russia and found similar tactics used to serve different strategic goals. He spoke to the Tribune by telephone Wednesday.

Adopting the #PrayForMizzou hashtag in the hours after former UM System President Tim Wolfe resigned, Russian cyber trolls and their robotic repeaters stoked fear of a violent white backlash, Prier found in his peer-reviewed research, published in November 2017 in Strategic Studies Quarterly.

Some of the fear was well-grounded. A threat from inside Missouri posted on Yik Yak led to the arrest of Hunter Park in Rolla. But much of it was baseless, fed by Russian Twitter accounts including one with the handle @FanFan1911 and a user name of “Jermaine,” whose avatar was a photo of a black man. @FanFan1911 tweeted falsely that the Ku Klux Klan was marching on the campus backed by police.

Prier, a 2003 MU graduate, traced the activities of @FanFan1911 and other Russian troll actors while doing master’s degree research at the Air University for the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies. He remembered @FanFan1911 specifically because he called the Twitter user a liar on Nov. 11, 2015.

He’s not 100 percent certain that @FanFan1911 was a Russian, he said. But the way the user’s targets changed – from Europe to the United States, back to Europe again during the Syrian refugee crisis and again to target the U.S. during the election – and the way robots were set up to retweet him, the account fits every measure he has available.

“The final discriminator was after Hillary Clinton used basket of deplorables in a speech, all the accounts I had been monitoring changed their names to deplorables-something or other,” Prier said. “It was bizarro world.”

Prier’s findings about how Russians inserted themselves into MU’s problems make up only a small portion of his article, which is a broader look at the social media tactics employed by the Islamic State and Russia to achieve their strategic goals and how U.S. policy makers should consider it a new field of competition.

The title of Prier’s article is an allusion to Giulio Duohet’s seminal 1921 work on air power, “Command of the Air.” After World War I, Duohet imagined massive fleets of bombers that would reduce cities to rubble, demoralizing inhabitants and forcing their leaders to surrender.

Duohet correctly imagined the extent of future air power but not the result. In his concluding paragraph, Prier puts defense in the social media field on par with protecting infrastructure and information subject to hacking.

“This was not the cyber war we were promised,” Prier wrote. “Predictions of a catastrophic cyberattack dominated policy discussion, but few realized that social media could be used as a weapon against the minds of the population.”

Prier’s work is now being read at the National Intelligence University, where agents are trained.

HOW IT WORKED

On May 21, 2016, about a dozen white supremacists gathered outside the Houston Da’wah Islamic Center, attracted by a Facebook post by a group calling itself Heart of Texas for a protest event to “Stop the Islamization of Texas.” A counter-demonstration, also organized via Facebook by a group calling itself United Muslims of America, drew about 50 counterprotesters for an event to “Save Islamic Knowledge.”

Both events were organized by Russian agents who spent $200 to manipulate behavior on a local level in the United States, the Senate Intelligence Committee revealed Nov. 1, 2017.

“It is an interesting notion to have forces from outside come in and try to manipulate attitudes and public behaviors by inciting different groups to take action,” said Peverill Squire, professor of political science at MU. “It casts modern day politics in a different light.”

In the indictment, Mueller charged that Russia spent $1.25 million per month to influence the 2016 election. The activity began in 2014 and the indictment names the Internet Research Agency, identified by Prier as the likely home of the Twitter trolls he researched, first among 16 defendants.

The short-term result of the Russian’s focus on MU was to sow fear. The long-term damage to MU’s reputation was a false impression that the 2015 protests were violent. The episode served Russia’s strategic goal of reducing the U.S. presence on the world stage by focusing public attention on internal divisions, Prier said.

“They want to force the American public to go over into a corner and argue amongst themselves,” Prier said.

Prier’s analysis is “spot on,” said Cooper Drury, an MU professor of political science who researches foreign policy issues. The Russian long-term goal is not the victory of any political party but a weaker U.S., he said.

“If that is what your goal is, disruption, then the greater polarization you can get inside a democracy the more successful you will be,” Drury said.

The indictment states that Russia used its social media campaigns for the benefit of Donald Trump in the Republican Party and Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party. The propaganda worked especially well because it created a false impression that there were vast numbers of people agitating a particular view, Prier said.

“At that time there was a kind of symbiotic relationship between legitimate American conservative thought and these Russian trolls,” he said. “These Russian trolls were driving clicks. Clicks are what keeps the business moving.”

It is the persuasion effect, said Mitchell McKinney, professor of communication at MU. Propaganda easily identified is likely to be discounted as false by most people, he said. Social media helps mask the source and volume creates believability, he said.

“So bombarded at every turn, they insert messages that may seem plausible or in the environment of uncertainty or environment of fear, insert message that might be accepted,” McKinney said.

The most successful are validated when they are reported by trusted news organizations, he said.

Prier’s findings that show the Russians used a network of human and robotic accounts to spread their messages fit what Mike Kearney, an assistant professor of journalism, found as he wrote his doctoral thesis on Twitter use in the 2016 election. He found hundreds of accounts that stopped tweeting as soon as the election was over, Kearney said.

“What doesn’t surprise me is that there is a lot of activity on Twitter that I don’t think is authentic in the way that we would think of it,” Kearney said.

DEFENSE MEASURES

In the fall of 2015, Prier was a major on a fellowship at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, where he studied Islamic State social media. Part of his time was spent working at the State Department, he said.

The protests at MU exploded from a local news story to a major national and international story and a top topic for days on social media sites.

Prier didn’t take a screen grab of @FanFan1911’s tweet about the KKK, which included a picture of a black child with a bruised face and the fake accusation that he had been beaten on campus. He can’t be sure exactly when it was inserted into the stream but he remembers calling @FanFan1911 a liar and tweeting back the source of the photo, a story about a child beaten by police in 2013 in Ohio.

“I was livid because these were people saying things about my university and they were making me mad,” Prier said.

In 2015, the problem posed by ISIS social media was their successful recruiting, Prier said.

The accounts that targeted MU also sent messages amplifying ISIS propaganda, which seemed strange at the time. That is why he returned to them for study at the Air University. He spent hours researching accounts, creating spreadsheets where he identified accounts he believed live humans were generating the messages and those which were automatic repeater accounts.

“FanFan and about a dozen accounts I saw, they were mostly attack dogs, attacking journalists and trying to build a narrative,” he said.

Prier and the MU faculty interviewed for this article agreed that the best defense for individuals is a healthy skepticism of ideas spread on social media. Prier’s findings about how MU became enmeshed in the Russian social media were surprising but show how important it is to be careful of ideas from unknown sources, McKinney said.

“I was surprised just on the level of, this was such an immediate or personal issue for all of us at the university,” McKinney said. “Then to see what we had learned or were reading in terms of Russian involvement through social media in our national elections and at the national level, that that sort of targeting events in our country would even be down at the local level.”

The polarization of political life in the U.S. wasn’t created by Russian social media, Drury said. The traditional media, once trusted as a neutral provider of information, now has outlets that openly take sides, he said.

“Democrats don’t like to watch Fox news and Republicans don’t watch MSNBC, unless they want to get their blood pressure up,” Drury said.

Prier’s article seems pessimistic, Kearney said, as though there was no defense against being manipulated.

“But the corollary is that it makes it more easy to share and find information by ourselves,” Kearney said. “It is certainly direction in the progress of free information. It is easy for us to point to the bad, especially when it takes form or takes shape in ways that we didn’t expect.”

That was what he did when he called @FanFan1911 a liar, Prier said. But it was like spitting into a hurricane – it did not calm the tempest.

It is up to all providers of information – platforms like Twitter, outlets such as the Tribune and especially politicians – to be careful, Prier wrote. The platforms could ban robot accounts, which would eliminate trend creation but would hurt advertisers, he wrote.

“Journalists should do a better job of vetting sources rather than just retweeting something,” Prier said. “And the last piece of advice I give is that politicians got to quit using it.”

rkeller@columbiatribune.com

573-815-1709

Related:

  • No Related Posts

Indictments reveal how Russia’s 2016 election information warfare worked

Russian operatives were able to obfuscate their activities in 2016 by stealing the identities of U.S. citizens, renting servers based in the U.S. and using a VPN all while posting targeted propaganda on social media to disrupt American politics, according to a new and lengthy criminal case against multiple Russian nationals.

The Justice Department on Friday released an indictment against 13 Russian individuals and three Russian companies accused of violating federal U.S. criminal law to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The defendants are charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, wire fraud and identity theft.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference released the detailed charges Friday, accusing a long list of Russians of supporting Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and working against Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. A recent leak of Julian Assange’s personal messages showed WikiLeaks pushing for the same goal.

“The defendants waged what they called ‘information warfare against the United States,” Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said on Friday. The indictment includes allegations that the Russians communicated with “unwitting” members of the Trump campaign to coordinate activities.

Mueller’s investigation is ongoing. The special counsel did not offer any comments beyond the indictment.

The indictment says Russians bought U.S. servers to obfuscate their origins while they targeted the American political system with hundreds of fake personas on social media that they developed into “leaders of public opinion.”

The operators set up virtual private networks to open and operate the social media accounts. Prosecutors also say the Russians stole U.S. identities to open accounts at PayPal and bolster their false identities as they purchased advertisements on social media sites.

No word on DOJ’s methods

An open question: How did the U.S. government collect so much evidence from Russian targets? The obvious guess is hacking, but the indictment doesn’t hint at an answer. The DOJ didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The indictment spotlights the Russian Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg company engaged in government influence operations, as the key tool used by Russia to interfere in American politics from 2014 to the present, including the 2016 presidential election.

“IRA employed hundreds of people with an annual budget of millions of dollars,” Rosenstein said. “The Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities, promote political campaigns and stage political rallies. The Americans did not know they were communicating with Russians, according to the indictment. After the election, the defendants allegedly staged rallies to support the president while simultaneously staging rallies to protest his election. For example, the defendants organized one rally to support the president-elect and another rally to oppose him both in New York on the same day.”

The IRA’s stated goal, according to the indictment, is to “spread distrust toward the candidates and the political system in general.”

The organization paid hundreds of employees to be active on most of America’s most popular social media networks including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering are two Russian companies with government contracts accused of being used to fund, recommend personnel for and oversee the IRA’s actions. The monthly budget for the project exceeded $1.25 million, the indictment says.

The interference operation is referred to as “Project Lakhta.” The money was concealed as payment for software support and development through 14 bank accounts held in the name of Concord affiliates, the indictment says.

The man who controlled Concord is identified as the 57-year-old Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin. The general director of the IRA was Mikhail Ivanovich Bystrov, who regularly held meetings with Prigozhin about Project Lakhta’s operations, the indictment says.

Another defendant, Sergey Pavlovich Polozov allegedly oversaw the IRA’s IT department. The U.S. charges he bought servers in the United States in order to mask the IRA’s Russian origins and locations while they conducted operations targeting the U.S.

Two members of the IRA are said to have traveled to the United States in intelligence gathering efforts.

The IRA maintained accounts at at least one bank, through PayPal and within various cryptocurrency exchanges using stolen and faked U.S. identities, the indictment says. The accounts allegedly were used to pay for Facebook ads promoting the IRA’s fake personas.

In an effort to throw off investigators, members of the IRA are accused of attempting to destroy evidence including emails and social media accounts used to conduct operations. The IRA paid employees, salaries and bonuses to the defendants in order to create fake American personas online that would address “divisive U.S. political and social issues” by falsely claiming to be American activists, Muller’s indictment reads. To hide their Russian origin, the defendants procured computer infrastructure based partly in the United States.

The indictment highlights one defendant’s email to a family member: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So, I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with colleagues.”

You can read the full indictment below:

Related:

  • No Related Posts

Here are some of the most important quotes from Mueller’s indictment of Russians

Special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday released a surprise indictment of 13 Russian individuals and three Russian entities alleged to have sown discord through “information warfare” in then-candidate Donald Trump‘s favor during the 2016 presidential election.

The 37-page document outlines specific ways in which Russia, through numerous individuals and organizations, sought to influence the election — from abroad, online and on U.S. soil.

Here are some of the most important quotes:

  • The so-called Internet Research Agency, a Russian corporate entity registered in July 2013, “sought, in part, to conduct what it called ‘information warfare against the United States of America’ through fictitious U.S. personas on social media platforms and other Internet-based media.'”
  • The Internet Research Agency “focused on the U.S. population and conducted operations on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.”
  • “By in or around May 2014, the organization’s strategy included interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with the stated goal of ‘spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.'”
  • The Russian entity “had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (‘Trump Campaign’) and disparaging Hillary Clinton.”
  • The defendants sought disruption by staging events for and against Trump after the election: “After the election of Donald Trump in or around November 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies in support of then president-elect Trump, while simultaneously using other false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies protesting the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”
  • It goes on: “For example, in or around November 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators organized a rally in New York through one organization-controlled group designed to ‘show your support for President-Elect Donald Trump’ held on or about November 12, 2016. At the same time, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through another organization-controlled group, organized a rally in New York called ‘Trump is NOT my President’ held on or about November 12, 2016. Similarly, Defendants and their co-conspirators organized a rally entitled ‘Charlotte Against Trump’ in Charlotte, North Carolina, held on or about November 19, 2016.”
  • The defendants attempted to discourage African-American turnout in the election: “In or around the latter half of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through their organization-controlled personas, began to encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for a third-party U.S. presidential candidate.”
  • The entity allegedly used an account on Instagram called “Woke Blacks” to post: “‘[A] particular hype and hatred for Trump is misleading the people and forcing Blacks to vote Killary. We cannot resort to the lesser of two devils. Then we’d surely be better off without voting AT ALL.'”
  • The defendants allegedly stole Americans’ identities to open online payment accounts — an allegation appearing to connect the Russians with the actions of Richard Pinedo, who was also indicted separately by the special counsel on Friday. “Defendants and their co-conspirators also used, without lawful authority, the social security numbers, home addresses, and birth dates of real U.S. persons to open accounts at PayPal, a digital payments company…[they] purchased credit card and bank account numbers from online sellers for the unlawful purpose of evading security measures at PayPal…”
  • They also allegedly used cryptocurrency exchanges to maintain their accounts: “Additionally, and in order to maintain their accounts at PayPal and elsewhere, including online cryptocurrency exchanges, Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased and obtained false identification documents, including fake U.S. driver’s licenses.”
  • The indictment describes Trump campaign officials who communicated with the Russians as “unwitting” in the defendants’ plans: “Some defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”

Related:

  • No Related Posts

As An American Tragedy Unfolds, Russian Agents Sow Discord Online

People gather for a memorial one day after the deadly shooting in Parkland, Fla. Experts warn that Russians are exploiting the tragedy on social media. Carolyn Cole/LA Times via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption

Carolyn Cole/LA Times via Getty Images

People gather for a memorial one day after the deadly shooting in Parkland, Fla. Experts warn that Russians are exploiting the tragedy on social media.

Carolyn Cole/LA Times via Getty Images

As the news broke of a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., hundreds of twitter accounts believed to be under Russian sway pivoted.

Many had been tweeting about places like Syria and Ukraine — countries where Russia is seeking to strengthen its influence. Suddenly the accounts shifted to hashtags like #guncontrol, #guncontrolnow, and #gunreformnow. Tweets mentioning Nikolas Cruz, the name of the alleged shooter, spiked.

For Bret Schafer, an analyst with Hamilton 68, a site tracking Russian influence on Twitter, the pattern is becoming all too familiar. Hamilton 68 follows 600 accounts run by the Russian government, Russian trolls, bots, and individuals sympathetic to the Russian point of view. Data collected by the site over the past few months suggests that Russian social media accounts are now regularly seizing on divisive or tragic news to rile up segments of American society.

“The Kremlin doesn’t care about gun control in America, they have no skin in this game,” Schafer says. Accordingly, some accounts tracked by Hamilton 68 spew extreme, pro-gun rhetoric. Others attack the National Rifle Association. “By taking an extreme hyper-partisan position, it just serves to further rip us apart,” Schafer says.

American intelligence services are increasingly concerned about Russian accounts in social media. At a hearing the day before the shooting, Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, warned that cyber warfare, including on social media, were one of his “greatest concerns”.

“Frankly, the United States is under attack,” Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee. Adversaries “seek to sow division in the United States and weaken U.S. leadership.”

The intelligence community’s annual threat assessment, also out Tuesday, warns that Russia in particular will use social media “to try to exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States.” The report predicts those attacks are likely to target the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.

Schafer says that the Russian accounts his organization tracks now follow a well-worn path. First, he says, they tweet out news and breaking developments. This helps them to gain attention and attract new followers. Then they begin tweeting highly inflammatory material to fan the flames of partisanship.

Finally, Schafer says, the accounts shift to conspiracy theories. “They build this narrative of, ‘You are being lied to by the government, by the media, by everyone else, so don’t trust anyone or anything,'” he says. “It’s not just divisive, there’s an erosion quality to it as well—of eroding trust.”

By Friday morning, new hashtags surged on the network tracked by Hamilton 68. They included #fbicorrpution and #falseflag.

Related:

  • No Related Posts

Data analytics could put a stop to fake news, says IBM

IBM Ireland analytics architect Jason Burns has said that data analytics could be used to combat fake news, election interference and fraud, while warning that they are growing rapidly.

Burns was speaking on the topic of big data at the monthly Cork Chamber business breakfast, as reported by the Irish Examiner.

He said that data analysis relies on automation; humans are not equipped to deal with the massive amounts of information being generated today.

“It’s an impossible task for someone at a manual level – instead, you take the knowledge gained from such people and build it into the data-analytics model. There is no other way to do it.”

He added, “You need automation just to be able to process it, to be able to work out where the information is coming from, and to segment the people disseminating that.

“That is just one aspect — who is spreading this information, what is the origination of it and how do we stop the proliferation of it.”

There are ethical and even bias issues facing analysts who want to use data in this way, however. “We cannot stop people expressing themselves freely,” said Burns. “While it may be fake to you, it’s not to some. How do we agree what is fake?”

Burns was optimistic about the near future, however. He was especially positive about moves by Facebook and Twitter to fight the fake news phenomenon:

“Facebook, Twitter — the amount of posts and tweets per day is growing exponentially. Facebook has set up giant teams to combat election interference by rogue nations.

“But it is all about setting up the teams to build the models, and informing those models of what is going on. You see it with it with tax authorities like Revenue, trying to build analysis models of who is likely to defraud,” he said.