Double Double Double Cross propaganda

A UCLA student journalist reported a story using a photo of a sign in front of a student housing home that said “No Blacks Allowed”.

Russian trolls picked up the photo, extensively edited, and then posted it on a Russia run propaganda group called Blacktivist, to emotionally target members of the group. The FB group had 360,000 “Likes”, which was more than the Black Lives Matter group itself. But Blacktivist was a fake group designed by Russian trolls to racially divide America.

An African American neighbor was photographed by a security camera posting the sign, and according to police, admitted to having posted the sign. (Hence the title of this post “double double double cross”.)

This incident illustrates the dangerous impact of the friction-less propaganda platform known as social media. Social media has become dangerous and reckless in its impacts.

It’s not the message, its the medium.

Watch the full 6 minute long video at the link. And note the executives of Facebook claiming automation will solve this problem. It will not for the reasons I outline here plus an explanation of why Facebook is stuck on stupid.

Source: How Russia Turned a Student Journalist’s Web Post Into Fake News

CNN: “The Trump supporters used by Russia”

CNN speaks with people unwittingly used by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency.

Source: The unwitting: The Trump supporters used by Russia – Feb. 20, 2018

CNN itself covered a rally sponsored by the Internet Research Agency and falsely reported that it was organized by a 20 year old.

CNN does not mention that it too was unwittingly used by Internet Research Agency, publishing news stories sourced to Internet Research Agency social media propaganda.

Nor does CNN mention that its coverage of an elderly woman who attended one of the rallies is considered “doxing” and she is now being harassed online. Such behavior on the part of CNN acts to suppress others from attending political events (of any type). Their own news coverage conveniently omits CNN’s own direct involvement. CNN’s report comes across as a threat intended to suppress others from having public perspectives.

Doxing

“The term dox derives from the slang “dropping dox,” which, according to Wired writer Mat Honan, was “an old-school revenge tactic that emerged from hacker culture in 1990s.” Hackers operating outside the law in that era used the breach of an opponent’s anonymity as a means to expose opponents to harassment or legal repercussions.[10]”

This is CNN.

Russia, Propaganda and the power of social media

the FBI allegations paint a frightening picture of the modern power of social media that leaves us with one of two possible outcomes: either social media has become so powerful in shaping our society that, in the words of one Russian journalist, “only 90 people with $2 million” can alter the election of the head of state of the most powerful nation on earth and we are blissfully unaware of it until after the fact and must trust the platforms themselves to tell us what happened

Source: What The Russian Indictments Say About The Power Of Social Media

In a world in which social media platforms are blind to bots running rampant and foreign actors enjoying free reign to influence an election and/or sow chaos in foreign countries, while terrorists actively recruit and hate speech is plentiful, there are two troubling possibilities: either the platforms are simply outmatched and lack the tools, expertise and experience to identify malicious use or they are simply looking the other way due to the additional traffic and activity those activities generate.

Forbes reaches the same conclusion that I published yesterday:

Putting this all together, if one believes that a small team of a hundred or so employees on the other side of the globe with a budget of a few million could sway an election in a way that millions of volunteers and hundreds of millions of television advertisements could not, then the opaque black box of the social media platforms has reached a frightening position of power to influence the election of the head of state of the most powerful nation on earth, without any accountability or visibility into its activities.

And again, U.S. media fell for the Russia connected propaganda:

According to an NBC report, at least 3,000 news outlets published more than 11,000 news articles embedding the Russian tweets and media personalities from major American outlets including CNN, MSNBC, Washington Post, Fox, Slate, Buzzfeed retweeted and engaged with them. Even Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey retweeted at least two Russian posts, though the company did not respond to a request for comment.

As I have said before, journalists should be acting like firewalls against propaganda, both foreign and domestic. When they source their stories to social media posts, they are acting like amateurs. There are valid reasons journalists are accused of fake news – “11,000 news articles” embedded content from a propaganda campaign. OMG. Bloggers in pajamas.

The power of social media propaganda: U.S. politicians call it an “Act of War”

U.S. politicians and journalists call social media propaganda originating in Russia during the Obama Presidency an “Act of War” on par with the attack on Pearl Harbor, and are calling for “sanctions”. If this was an attack on par with Pearl Harbor, the sanctions then were a declaration of war culminating with dropping two atomic bombs on Japan.

In case you think social media-based friction-less propaganda is not a big deal …adults are calling social media propaganda an act of warfare. If this is so, then social media is history.

The level of propaganda messaging on this issue is reaching dangerous levels.

Of interest: US media fell for Russian-connected propaganda and then amplified the message

A conservative web site notes that CNN and MSNBC amplified the messaging of Russian connected propaganda operations.

Neither seemed clear on who organized the rally until CNN settled on a 20 year old college student. The DoJ indictment says it was organized by Russia connected actors.

Source: CNN and MSNBC Helped Russia Sow Discord by Promoting Anti-Trump Rally

Polish Central Bank secretly funded social media propaganda against using cryptocurrencies

The Central Bank of Poland has admitted to funding anti-cryptocurrency campaigns on social media, specifically Polish Youtuber Marcin Dubiel and his Dec. 2017 video, “I LOST ALL THE MONEY?!,” Polish news portal money.pl reports.

Source: Polish Central Bank Secretly Funds Anti-Crypto Youtube… | News | Cointelegraph

Could you throw a U.S. Presidential election for just a few dollars per day?

Parties in Russia bought ads on U.S. social media regarding candidates for U.S. President in 2016. About $100,000 was spent on Facebook ads, of which 44% was spent prior to the election. Additional actions took place on Twitter and Instagram. “Fake posts” were also created on social media for the purpose of being Liked, Shared and Commented on. It is claimed that about $2 million total was spent by the “American” department of the Internet Research Agency in Russia.

The leading U.S. Presidential candidates raised (and presumably spent) a little over $2.1 billion dollars for their campaigns, according to OpenSecrets.org citing data from the Center for Responsive Politics. It is not clear from the listing if this includes the primary election phase or the election in November. Let’s assume that it includes the primary elections too. Also note that this is fundraising totals, not spending totals.

Let’s further assume this money was spent starting from January 1, 2016 on wards to the election on November 8, 2016. This comes to a little over $6 million spent every day on campaigning from January 1st up to November 8th.

Meanwhile, according to Facebook, actors in Russia placed ads on their social media platform. According to Facebook,

“For 50% of the ads, less than $3 was spent; for 99% of the ads, less than $1,000 was spent”

44% of the ads appeared prior to the November 8th election with 56% appearing afterwards. Which suggests that in terms of the pre-election campaign, the dollar values in the above quote can be cut in half to about $1.50 and $500.

How were these ads identified as having originated in Russia?

According to Facebook, they used a variety of methods including “very weak signals of a connection” such as ads bought from U.S. accounts using U.S. IP addresses but with their computer attributes set to support the Russian language and Cyrillic character set:

An allegation has been made that purchase of Facebook ads threw the election for Donald Trump – or that social media operations in general threw the election:

  • If this is true, then $44,000 worth of Facebook advertising is the most powerful and economical form of persuasion in all of human history. You can throw a national election for a few dollars per day in spending!
  • (Updated) The Russian journalist who was first to report on the Internet Research Agency and their social media activities during the 2016 election saysOnly 90 people with $2 million made America scared!”. That’s a 1000:1 ratio of campaign spending versus the total social media operation. Neither the Democrat nor Republican Party was smart enough to figure out they could have thrown the election for just $2 million?
  • 1,320 social media ads costing $44,000 threw a U.S. national election. This implies Facebook is the grandest propaganda platform in world history. We have lost everything.

Is it legal for foreigners to “speak out on global issues” including US politics? Yes.

Last night I watched a Youtube video from a young woman in Norway discussing – in very good English – her thoughts on the U.S. election and which U.S. candidate she supported. Similarly, I have seen social media posts from U.S. citizens commenting or advocating for positions in other countries including Israel, Pakistan, India, Mexico, Canada and places such as the European Union.

The U.S. does have laws regarding foreigners actively participating in the U.S. elections but the U.S. does not have laws prohibiting foreigners from having public comments and opinions about U.S. politics (nor could the U.S. do so).

Consequently, foreign actors can – legally – post items on social media that may be interpreted as influencing U.S. elections.

From a U.S. perspective, posting commentary on other nation’s affairs on social media is not illegal. We may view it as unethical or unfair but it is not illegal. U.S. citizens, organizations and government agencies do this all the time too, both as informal propagandizing (individual user posts and shares) and as organized propaganda campaigns.

What Does It Mean?

I have written a number of posts about social media propaganda connected to Russia.

  • My view is that Russia-based actors conducted a propaganda operation in the U.S. (but I have no way to know, only to interpret the propaganda messaging directed at all of us to persuade us that this occurred).
  • A portion of the messaging seems related to for profit “fake news” publishing businesses creating emotionally laden click-bait links for ad revenue.
  • The evidence, including from the U.S. DoJ indictment conclusions, is that the impact was minimal.
  • Alternatively, you can believe that Facebook ad buys are many orders of magnitude more effective than any other media outlet – why would people still be buying ads on TV and radio and newspapers?
  • Posts on social media created by propagandists, Liked, Shared and Commented on were likely a far larger presence than ad buys.
  • Such posts, however, should be viewed in the context of the massive amount of social media propaganda spread by organizations, individuals and U.S. based fake news business operations. For example, I see numerous social media propaganda messages shared and liked everyday – yet Facebook itself says I never saw a single Russia connected ad or post. During the election season and before I began unfollowing propagandists, I saw at least a dozen propaganda posters each day and at least a dozen propaganda related posts each day – yet none apparently from the Russian operation. We are drowning in a sea of propaganda.

The main benefit of an investigation into Russia connected actors throwing the U.S. election is an awareness of the power of social media platforms for the friction-less spread of propaganda messaging. Unfortunately, there has been little attention given to propaganda in the broader context – Russia connected propaganda were not the only propaganda operations and were likely a tiny fraction of the overall propaganda efforts on social media.

We are missing a huge opportunity to understand and address these issues – the consequences of unbridled social media propaganda operations coming from numerous parties inside the U.S. and around the world. We are missing this opportunity because of a politically driven focus on Russia and avoiding the root issue: the frightening power of social media as a friction-less platform for the spread of propaganda.

The danger is not Russia – or China – or U.S. based propagandists – the danger is the friction-less platform of social media for propaganda messaging.

The root cause problem is the social media platform that enables free and friction-less dissemination or propaganda messaging.


Disclaimer (update 2/19/2018): In our unbelievably divisive culture, people jump to conclusions and make assertions that are not true. I have written about propaganda messaging for some time. Propaganda is a topic that only recently caught the attention of the mainstream media and social media posters – and their focus is nearly exclusively about Russia connected propaganda. Indeed, the media’s own propaganda messaging is that propaganda originates primarily from governments, which is false.

Because I look at propaganda in a broad sense and do my best to stick with evidence, I cannot – yet – roll with the meme that the U.S. election was thrown by a $2 million propaganda operation in Russia.

Some interpret this (I’ve heard from them) that (a) I am Trump supporter, (b) I am defending Trump, (c) I am a commie defending Russia, and so on. Once again, for the record: I did not support Trump, I did not vote for Trump and I have no interests in or with Russia. Furthermore, over a 6 week period in the spring of 2016, I watched the Trump primary campaign in organizational disarray and concluded that for someone seen as a successful businessman, he was seriously lacking in basic management skills. The lack of management and modern leadership skills was my main concern then and continues to be my main concern today.

Social media appears to be losing its “safe harbor” protection against liability for speech on their sites

Social media companies have argued they are immune from liability (say for libel) as they are carriers of the speech of others, and do not have editorial control over the content on their web sites. They are like a phone company that is not liable for the speech conducted over their phone lines.

However, with an awareness now that social media, such as Twitter, throttles tweet exposure, edits trending tag lists, and shadow bans some content, that defense becomes untenable. Social media platforms increasingly apply editorial control over their content and look more like a newspaper, magazine or television/radio broadcaster that is liable for their content. European government leaders are pointing this out:

“The status quo is increasingly unsustainable as it becomes clear these platforms are no longer just passive hosts. But applying the existing standards of liability for publishers is not straightforward so we need to consider what is most appropriate for the modern economy.”

Source: Telegram and social media giants spanked in UK PM’s Davos speech | TechCrunch

Software industry CEO thinks Facebook should be regulated

With discussions about Russian interference in US elections and the addictiveness of consumer tech currently at the forefront of the national conversation, Benioff said, Facebook should be regulated “exactly the same way you regulated the cigarette industry,” with the safety of consumers coming before the financial health of the companies.

Source: Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff: Facebook should be regulated like the cigarette industry – SFGate