Russia’s Fake Americans

In Media, Misleading Information, New York Times Editorial, RUSSIA -- articles only On
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It is commonly believed that Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign consisted mainly of the hacking and leaking of Democratic emails and unfavorable stories circulated abroad about Hillary Clinton. But as a startling investigation by Scott Shane of The New York Times, and new research by the cybersecurity firm FireEye, now reveal, the Kremlin’s stealth intrusion into the election was far broader and more complex, involving a cyberarmy of bloggers posing as Americans and spreading propaganda and disinformation to an American electorate on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.

Whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians is, of course, the question at the heart of the investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Donald Trump Jr. told Senate investigators this week that he met with Russians claiming to have dirt on Mrs. Clinton because it could concern her “fitness, character or qualifications.” But Russia’s guile in using hackers and counterfeit Facebook and Twitter accounts to undermine her campaign represents a new dimension in disinformation that must not go unchallenged by Mr. Trump, however much he may have benefited from it and however close his relationship to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The attack, according to the Times report, involved hundreds or even thousands of fake accounts on Facebook and Twitter that regularly posted anti-Clinton messages.

To viewers, the messages resembled the normal partisan give-and-take one expects in a political campaign; in fact they came from foreign sources. Many of the rapid-fire salvos came from automated accounts.

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Facebook Wins, Democracy Loses

Our best hopes sit in Brussels and London. European regulators have been watching Facebook and Google for years. They have taken strong actions against both companies for violating European consumer data protection standards and business competition laws. The British government is investigating the role Facebook and its use of citizens’ data played in the 2016 Brexit referendum and 2017 national elections.

We are in the midst of a worldwide, internet-based assault on democracy. Scholars at the Oxford Internet Institute have tracked armies of volunteers and bots as they move propaganda across Facebook and Twitter in efforts to undermine trust in democracy or to elect their preferred candidates in the Philippines, India, France, the Netherlands, Britain and elsewhere. We now know that agents in Russia are exploiting the powerful Facebook advertising system directly.

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Fake Facebook Account With Ties to the Kremlin Posed as U.S. Activists

The notice went out on Facebook last year, calling citizens of Twin Falls, Idaho, to an urgent meeting about the “huge upsurge of violence toward American citizens” by Muslim refugees who had settled there.

The inflammatory post, however, originated not in Idaho but in Russia. The meeting’s sponsor, an anti-immigrant page called “Secured Borders,” was one of hundreds of fake Facebook accounts created by a Russian company with Kremlin ties to spread vitriolic messages on divisive issues.

Facebook acknowledged last week that it had closed the accounts after linking them to advertisements costing $100,000 that were purchased in Russia’s influence campaign during and after the 2016 election. But the company declined to release or describe in detail the pages and profiles it had linked to Russia.

A report by the Russian media outlet RBC last March, however, identified the Secured Borders page as the work of the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg firm that employs hundreds of so-called trolls to post material in support of Russian government policies. A Facebook official confirmed that Secured Borders was removed in the purge of Russian fakes.

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