Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Two major reports sent to the Senate on Russian leveraging of US social media

Here are two of the reports sent to the Senate regarding Russian infusion into American politics since about 2014, maybe earlier.

One is from New Knowledge, in Austin, TX is “The Tactics andTropes of the Internet Research Agency”. It is authored by Renee Di Resta et al from NK (see the pdf for the list), and Jonathan Albright (Tow Center for International Journalism, Columbia University in NYC, and Ben Johnson (Canfield Research, LLC).  
The other is from the Computational Propaganda Research Project at Oxford University in London., and at Graphika.  The authors are Philip N. Howard, John Kelly et al (see link). The title is “The IRA and Political Polarization in theUnited States”, 

The New York Times has several articles and editorials today. Scott Shane and Sheera Frenkel have a long analysis
The IRA (“Internet Research Agency”, not “Irish Republican Army” or “Individual Retirement Account”) particularly targeted African Americans. They would show truthful videos about police mistreatment of African Americans after profiling, and get them fed through the algorithms of many social media platforms (esp. Instagram), not “just” Facebook and Twitter.  (I doubt they bothered with Gab.) Then once they had an audience, they would send out posts recommending that POC vote for the Green Party, or at least not for Hillary, breaking up her coalition and allowing Trump a better chance through remainder math of plurality.
Legally, of course, it may be a crime for a foreigner to impersonate an American when using an online service (that’s what the indictments are about),  Were Facebook able to identify their origin, they could have labeled them as such and not fed them into the algorithms (they missed the signals – the use of rubles, and the Russian language – like they should have hired “Paul” from Language Focus on YouTube to help ferret out non-US sources.  

But the content itself would be perfectly legal and ethical.  There would be nothing wrong with a domestic user pumping the system with valid videos of police misconduct, and then encouraging people not to vote for Hillary. That’s the First Amendment.  If you don’t want this to happen, get rid of the Electoral College (which gives rural “places” more electoral clout).  As “Economic Invincibility” has pointed out on YouTube, you can consider major changes in voting systems if you want. It is very hard to change the Constitution, of course (as it must be).
The Russians were amazingly fluent on American culture, and were especially uncanny on the divide between the intellectual elites and the less educated “proles”, and on the deep divisions over gender and sexuality – and even the prospective population demographics (fewer children in higher income people).  They may have gleaned that from “elitist” blog posts, from people who would not fall for their mass “spammy” campaigns.
Alex Ward has a higher-level analysis on Vox. 

Here is New Knowledge’s own high-level takeaway on its work. 

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