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Hullabaloo


Friday, November 25, 2016

 

The Russians are coming

by Tom Sullivan

Among their weaponry are such diverse elements as....

Fake news distributed with a goal of "punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy" came with an accent according to the Washington Post:

Two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment, as an insurgent candidate harnessed a wide range of grievances to claim the White House. The sophistication of the Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news,” as they have vowed to do after widespread complaints about the problem.

[...]

“The way that this propaganda apparatus supported Trump was equivalent to some massive amount of a media buy,” said the executive director of PropOrNot, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid being targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers. “It was like Russia was running a super PAC for Trump’s campaign. . . . It worked.”
Researchers from the national security blog War on the Rocks published their report days before the election under the headline “Trolling for Trump: How Russia Is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy”:
[M]ost observers are missing the point. Russia is helping Trump’s campaign, yes, but it is not doing so solely or even necessarily with the goal of placing him in the Oval Office. Rather, these efforts seek to produce a divided electorate and a president with no clear mandate to govern. The ultimate objective is to diminish and tarnish American democracy. Unfortunately, that effort is going very well indeed.
The War on the Rocks account continues:
This “computational propaganda,” a term coined by Philip Howard, has the cumulative effect of creating Clayton A. Davis at Indiana University calls a “majority illusion, where many people appear to believe something ….which makes that thing more credible.” The net result is an American information environment where citizens and even subject-matter experts are hard-pressed to distinguish fact from fiction. They are unsure who to trust and thus more willing to believe anything that supports their personal biases and preferences.
Another research team from PropOrNot expects to release its findings today. Both teams have been examining digital fingerprints left by "Russia’s honeypots, hecklers, and hackers." PropOrNot's researchers believe stories planted or promoted on Facebook as part of the disinformation campaign were viewed over 213 million times:
Some players in this online echo chamber were knowingly part of the propaganda campaign, the researchers concluded, while others were “useful idiots” — a term born of the Cold War to describe people or institutions that unknowingly assisted the propaganda efforts of the Soviet Union.
You may even have had Thanksgiving dinner with some.

War on the Rocks detailed the objectives of the social media effort to "strengthen Russia’s position over Western democracies":
  • Undermine citizen confidence in democratic governance;
  • Foment and exacerbate divisive political fractures;
  • Erode trust between citizens and elected officials and democratic institutions;
  • Popularize Russian policy agendas within foreign populations;
  • Create general distrust or confusion over information sources by blurring the lines between fact and fiction
I'd like to know whether the Russians learned that last trick from Fox News or the other way around.

A Rand report, according to the Post, dubbed the Russian propaganda efforts "a 'firehose of falsehood' because of their speed, power and relentlessness." Whether a president elect who takes little interest in a daily intelligence briefing (no money in it?) and blows off the opinions of 17 national intelligence agencies regarding Russian involvement will only make the Russians' jobs easier. And they are not done yet:
There are many possible scenarios for the future direction of Russian active measures. Additional damaging information may have been withheld from documented hacks of U.S. political actors, and as-yet undisclosed information — perhaps from a hack of Republican Party emails already suggested by some media reports— may emerge after the election regardless of who wins. Should Russia conduct such data dumps through Wikileaks, for instance, it would create an appearance of balance while also damaging the Republican Party, which almost certainly has at least as much embarrassing material as the DNC. Regardless of who wins, Russian operators might save particularly damaging information for release after the inauguration, when talk of impeachment could further diminish his or her influence in Washington and abroad.

[...]

Meanwhile, the story continues. In late October 2016, Kremlin-linked accounts and bots once again began pushing a White House petition, this time to “remove George Soros-owned voting machines from 16 states.” Of course, no such machines exist, but that didn’t prevent the petition from racking up nearly 129,000 signatures.
That would be the same George Soros the Russian president Putin did not ... oh, what's the use?