aside Congress Calling On Twitter To Explain All The Political Ads Sold to Russia

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Twitter executives also have a lot of explaining to to as to how they let Russians purchase political ads so easily, which were designed to meddle with the 2016 presidential elections and to help the republican candidate Donald Trump win.

Here is the rest of the story…

On September 28, 2017, April Glaser of Slate penned the following report, “The Malicious Election Tweets Had a Target.” (“As Twitter faces scrutiny from Congress, a new study suggests a misinformation campaign used the social network to home in on swing states.”)

“Facebook was first; now it’s Twitter’s turn in the Russian-interference hot seat. The company was on Capitol Hill Thursday for a closed-door briefing with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators about what role false information spread by Russia-associated Twitter accounts may have played during the 2016 presidential campaign. And now, just in time, there’s also some new data to help us understand the ways those accounts may have targeted U.S. voters.”

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 Twitter, like Facebook, appears to have been used as a tool in a Kremlin-approved campaign to influence U.S. politics, as U.S. intelligence agencies believe. We already knew what kinds of tweets and links were involved: stories from propaganda outlets RT and Sputnik, links to conspiracy-ridden fake news sites with emotionally charged headlines and viral-ready images.”
“According to new research from Oxford University’s Oxford Internet Institute released Thursday, tweets containing links to fabricated news articles, politicized content from Russian outlets, and unverified reports from WikiLeaks appeared to come more often from swing states like Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan than they did from the rest of the country. After analyzing more than 22 million tweets sent between Nov. 1 and Nov. 11 that used election-related hashtags, the researchers also found that across the country, such tweets outnumbered tweets containing links to stories by professional news outlets.”
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“While Twitter, with its roughly 328 million users, has a much smaller audience than Facebook, which has about 2 billion monthly users, the social network became a major battleground of the election, in part due to President Trump’s affinity for the platform.”

Facebook has already provided information to Congress about how propagandists believed to be backed by Russia bought about $100,000 of ads to influence the 2016 election, which the Washington Post reported included ads that supported candidates Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein, as well as ads designed to stoke anger over Black Lives Matter and Muslims. Those ads were targeted to different groups of Facebook users based on their political preferences, apparently to widen divides in an already fraught political climate.”

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“According to a company blog post published after the Senate committee meeting, Twitter shuttered 201 accounts related to the same Russian accounts that distributed political ads on Facebook. In the same blog post, the company explained how the Russian-backed media outlet RT spent more than $274,000 in targeted Twitter ads in the U.S. in 2016, among other new details. The accounts @RT_com@RT_America, and @ActualidadRT promoted more than 1,800 tweets that likely targeted U.S. users.”

“The Oxford study, which looked at tweets that were specifically related to the U.S. election, has some limitations—for starters, it only counted tweets that used hashtags. There’s also no real way of knowing how many people actually clicked on the links in the tweets that peddled propaganda and misinformation, only how often they were shared in conjunction with an election-related hashtag.”

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“Furthermore, the study looked at where people’s profiles said they were located. But those accounts could have actually been based elsewhere. Since Twitter lets users view what topics are trending from specific locations, those tweets could have been targeting specific areas—like Florida, for example—to make certain topics trend there. What it all suggests, potentially, is a level of political sophistication to the Russian influence campaign; it appears to have known which geographic areas would be most important to hit.”

“For its part, Twitter says it has been working to combat accounts trying to game its trending topics. Since June, the company says it detects an average of 130,000 accounts per day that are trying to manipulate its Trends feature, but Twitter didn’t clarify what exactly it’s doing to blunt those accounts’ influence.”

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“Our picture of how the alleged Russian influence campaign worked on Twitter keeps getting fuller. An earlier study from the researchers at Oxford also found that bots—automated accounts that tweet without a human pressing the button each time—overwhelmed Twitter during key moments running up to the election, giving a false impression of grass-roots support for Trump.”

“During the third presidential debate, for example, bots sharing pro-Trump–related content outnumbered pro-Clinton bots by 7 to 1. Those researchers found the bots by looking for accounts that tweeted more than 200 times during the data collection period, between Oct. 19–22, and used a debate-related hashtag or candidate mention. And in the timespan between the first and second debates, more than one-third of the pro-Trump tweets were found to come from automated bot accounts.”

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And there is evidence that Russian-backed Twitter accounts, including bots, didn’t stop working after Trump’s victory. According to data collected by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a project of the German Marshall Fund that tracks efforts to undermine democratic governments, Russia-linked Twitter accounts—many of which took the shape of fake profiles with borrowed photos—worked to promote and share extremist right-wing tweets and disinformation after the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” Rally.”

“Analyzing a collection of 600 Twitter accounts that are known to be linked to Russia—including openly pro-Russian users, accounts that take part in Russian disinformation campaigns, and automated bot accounts that parrot Russian messaging—the researchers found “PhoenixRally,” “Antifa,” and “MAGA” were among the most common hashtags used by these accounts following the violent rally in Virginia. The campaign of online discord, in other words, seems to have never ceased.

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Congress is likely to have a lot more questions for Twitter. But chief among them are probably why Twitter didn’t do more to stop the flow of misinformation during the election, particularly from bots and accounts set up by foreign governments attempting to share false information that could sway voters.”

6 comments

  1. I find it interesting that initially when our Intelligence Agencies were monitoring election activity online, they noted that Russians and other foreign agents weren’t doing anything illegal per se. Everyone has the right to express their opinion, and our 1st Amendment protects free speech, press, expression etc.

    Are we now saying that because these foreign agents are not US citizens, they have no rights to express themselves online? Are buying ads on social media illegal now b/c it may sway voters a certain way that the US gov’t does not agree with?

    I know the US establishment wanted to install Hillary as their Centrist puppet in the White House, but unfortunately they got Trump. Is this a matter of sour grapes, or does this interference have merit?

    Are social media now responsible for filtering out ads, news stories, posts, editorials that does not align with the official narrative or agenda set forth by our gov’t?

    I think this may set a dangerous precedent if this is the case b/c censorship of political views that one does not agree with is an affront to our core Democracy, and freedom of speech rights. If we eliminate this “foreign interference” with our media, wouldn’t we devolve into the same autocratic system as theirs?

    Automated bot accounts, while phony, are all part of the internet game to generate online revenue. They existed well before the US elections, and will continue well after. I’m not even sure bots can be stopped, they are simple scripts generated within any given system. One would have to tear down the system to eliminate them, which is not reasonable.

    While I may not like the result of Trump winning the election, I am still pro Democracy and freedom of speech. Besides, no election or Federal laws were broken, so I’m not quite sure if Congress has the right to dictate what social media companies must comply with. Their core business is to sell ads online to make money, and that’s exactly what they’re doing. What Congress propose is antithetical to their business model and livelihood.

    • Dear !EartUnited,

      It has been illigle for foreign governments to purchase political ads forever, because it is in US national security interested to have politicians running for elective office, NOT being beholden to foreign interests.

      That is why the president may be held criminally liable if peoples on his team worked with a foreign government (Russia) with a marketing campaign that favored him.

      Hugs, Gronda

      • Gronda you are partially correct, U.S. law applies only to communications made by broadcast, cable or satellite – loophole with internet or online ads – which so far are not illegal.

        “That is why the president may be held criminally liable if peoples on his team worked with a foreign government (Russia) with a marketing campaign that favored him.”

        Facebook, which has become a leading platform for online political ads, has said that it has not found any evidence that Russian agents were buying ads.

        Facebook said in April, however, that it had become a battleground for governments seeking to manipulate public opinion in other countries and outlined new measures to combat what it called “information operations.”

        Trump’s election campaign spent some $70 million on highly targeted Facebook advertising last year, Brad Parscale, the digital director of the campaign, told Reuters this year.

        The absence of rules governing online advertising ties the hands of the U.S. Federal Election Commission, said Ann Ravel, a former Democratic appointee to the commission.

        “The law seems to totally exempt it and therefore it is not possible either to reasonably determine who is behind those ads, do an investigation to find out or penalize for that activity,” Ravel said.

        Other laws could come into play in an investigation. The U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act restricts publicity paid for by a foreign government such as Russia.

        To read more:

        https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/12/reuters-america-online-ads-offer-legal-option-for-u-s-election-meddling.html

        • Dear 1EarthUnited,

          I RESPECTFULLY HAVE TO DISAGREE WITH YOUR PREMISE. The US Congress brought executives of Google, Twitter, and Facebook into their chambers to answer for their not following the spirit of the law. If these three companies do not take major steps to block these type of ads in the future, the US Congress will impose regulations to bar this activity. This is serious business.

          Hugs, Gronda

  2. Hello Gronda, perhaps executives of Google, Twitter, and Facebook will change their policy ahead of the next election, or they may choose to fight it in court.

    The spirit of the law does not mean actual law until it is in the books. I agree that Congress should amendment it to include interference via internet and online activity. But there is a fine line between interference and expressing an opinion. What if foreign nationals express their views by pointing out all the flaws in a particular candidate, without specifically endorsing the other? Is that “illegal” according to the spirit of the law, and where does the law encroach upon one’s freedom of speech? Are we now becoming more autocratic like Russia or N Korea, where are media is state controlled and spoon fed?

    Add’l reading:

    “A related law does bar foreign nationals from expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate in any advertising medium. But as long as online ads do not call on people to vote for a specific candidate, “they are not prohibited as a campaign finance matter,” said Jan Baran, a Washington lawyer who frequently represents Republican candidates.”

    “U.S. Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed in May to investigate alleged Russian interference as well as potential collusion between Moscow and associates of President Donald Trump. The Russian government says it did not meddle and Trump has denied collusion.”

    I just don’t see how the courts can bar this online activity if no laws were actually broken. There is no definitive proof that the Russian gov’t bought and paid for these online disinfo attack ads, Putin personally denied it.

    It is up to SC Mueller to uncover the connection between the Trump campaign and Russian gov’t if there is any collusion going on. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the final investigation before the courts take action to amend the current election laws if necessary.

    I respect your opinion and views, thanks so much for clarifying the deeper issue. I totally understand your perspective, we as sovereign citizens of the US want zero external interference in our election process, so our citizens can make the best informed decision without prejudice. I want the same thing you and all Americans do.

    But we cannot cross the line and bar all public opinion, which is a basic human right. Other countries have a right to express their opinion as much as we do. If they wish to spend money and take out online-ads to express them legally, who are we to say no?

    Think about this seriously, do we really want to be living in an autocratic society like Russia, and ban all dissenting opinion, news, speech b/c the fuhrer Putin says so?

    At this point regarding Trump’s administration, we want to diminish power in the executive branch so as not to create a dictatorial type gov’t. That means we need to embrace opposing POVs and make our own fully informed decision.

  3. Dear !EarthUnited,

    The big three Google, Facebook and Twitter executives all understand fully that they will figure out how to bar any purchasing of political ads by foreign governments or the US Congress will impose regulations.

    The meddling into US elections BY foreign governments including Russia will never be an acceptable standard.

    Hugs, Gronda.

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