Help fight bots and trolls that are trying to influence public opinion through propaganda!

If you look at botsentinel as I do every day, you can see the topics propoganda bots are driving to trend in the U.S. - utterly false conspiracy theories and other memes. I find that most people who are horrified by the separation of children from their parents - thousands of them - are dumbfounded by how Americans can support this policy. I believe that the failure to understand the role of bot networks - many affiliated with Russia - is a huge problem (see Timothy Snyder, the German Marshall Fund Alliance for Securing Democracy, Botsentinel.com, Bot check me, et al). These bots and trolls seek to attack us at our cultural and social vulnerabilities. I believe it’s the responsibility of those of us who understand what’s happening to help educate others - and members of this community are very well equipped to do so. I hope you will join me in this effort.

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Thanks for sharing that @khkey! I didn’t know about botsentinel – and it is very informative. It peels away the layers to reveal how memes spread across the internet through these fake accounts and their networks.

How else do you recommend we educate ourselves & others about this?

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Thanks for your response and your question. I’ve done quite a bit of reading on this topic and will share some about the resources I’ve found. I first became aware of this phenomenon through the writing of the Yale University Historian Timothy Snyder, who is an expert on the Holocaust and on 20th and 21st century history concerning Russia the nations that emerged out of the Soviet Union, including Ukraine. Snyder speaks and reads 5 languages and reads several more, and has very strong relationships with academics and journalists in Eastern and Central Europe. Through his work I became aware of the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy, which publishes on this subject. I’ve also discovered that Oxford University runs an Internet Institute that studies computational propoganda. I also find the work of UNC Professor Zeynep Tufekcl valuable.

As I understand the way these bot networks are being deployed by Russian affiliated entities, they are using issues that are socially divisive in the U.S. - our vulnerabilities, for which we are responsible - as what are called ‘attack surfaces’ for cyber warfare. By deepening divisions in the U.S. we become more like the Russian Federation under Putin and less of an attractive alternative to the Russian people who suffer even worse income inequality than Americans do, and virtually no economic or social mobility. There are of course dark forces in the U.S. that are happy to have common cause with these efforts, and they reinforce each other in a vicious cycle in which millions of Americans are inflamed by utterly false conspiracy theories and tropes. The bots are deployed in the early morning hours U.S. time, tweeting at high volume so that by the time Americans begin to wake up topics are trending on Twitter that get attention and then are retweeted, and on and on. All of this is done by networks of accounts that are in fact bots but appear to be real people.

If you’ve looked much at cognitive science you know that the more often a message is repeated the more ‘true’ it feels - thus the swarming of these bots and the tweeting and retweeting makes preposterous assertions feel truer and truer - assertions that trigger rage and fear, which are much cheaper and easier to activate and which propel people to themselves feel outrage and share it with others.

I welcome discussion about this phenomenon with you and others on this forum - and would welcome other resources to read, listen to, and watch - and information about actions being taken. Thanks.

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I have also done a lot of reading on the subject. I agree the Alliance to Secure Democracy and the German Marshall Foundation are great sites, I think Professor Tufecki is an astute observer, and I heartily recommend David Patrikarakos of The Guardian, and his book, War in 140 Characters, How Social Media is Reshaping Conflict in the 21st Century. A uniting theme with Professor Snyder, Patrikarakos, the Alliance and others is that we as individuals can contribute significantly to the efforts to keep other governments out of our country. If this is something that concerns you, there are a lot of things you can do, not just to fight back, but to make sure this does not happen again. Social media is not going away, but if we are smart, we will look outside the United States for ways to re-shape conflict ourselves. A very valuable book is the Red Web, by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, https://www.amazon.com/Red-Web-Struggle-Dictators-Revolutionaries/dp/1610395735
I learned of this book by attending an Alliance for Securing Democracy seminar in January–5 different people quoted it during a one hour panel discussion.

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This is such great information - thanks so much for sharing about these books. I’m going to check both of them out and share this information with others. I really believe this has to be a top priority in our advocacy efforts - if we don’t combat this then much of our organizing work will be in vain.

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Also, Clint Watts just released a book, Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians, and Fake News. I just downloaded it today and will report back soon. He has been all over Cable TV and testifying to both House and Senate on these issues. Not sure why these books need to have such long titles, but the information is very valuable. Big question is how do we get more people to be aware of these writers and thought leaders. Who do you follow on Twitter, if anyone?

I deleted my Twitter and Facebook accounts so can’t help there. I think Twitter is truly the worst of the platforms in terms of the presence of propaganda bot networks that drive trending topics every day. If Twitter and Facebook won’t remove bad actors - bots and trolls - then I absolutely want nothing to do with them. If the people we’ve looked to at resources can identify propaganda bots and bot networks - like the folks at botsentinel and botcheck me- with precious little resources then there is no excuse for Twitter and FB to allow them to remain on the platform. I’m with Jaron Lanier here - 10 Reasons to Delete All Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. I will check out the Clint Watts book - thanks for that recommendation - I’ll be eager to hear your reflections.

Karen and others,

I was about to delete my social media accounts when I attended a briefing on domestic terrorism. The person who made the presentation shared with us that most of the info he gets on the 100+ white national terrorists in US comes from social media. It is a rough day for a tracker when an individual with mal intent gets off Twitter or Facebook.

Social media can be used for good if its users demand it from the vendors.

Scott Weil

The Basement Topes

Scott.weil@iCloud.com

Ph: 847 778-5058

I understand what you’re saying, but (1) I am not a domestic terrorist or a person with malicious intent; (2) many of the “people” with malicious intent on social media are not people but are in fact code - bots and (3) social media as a macro phenomenon is being used as a weapon of cyber warfare and computational progaganda to deepen divides and drive polarization and also feelings of despair. For those who are truly seeking to track and work on interceding with domestic terrorists they may need to be on social media - though I caution that I truly hope they know how to recognize person from bot and person weaponized by bots from true lone wolf - I however do not need to be on social media and I do not believe we can drive these platforms to change their practices by continuing to give them our attention in ways that they then monetize.

Related to this discussion is an article that appeared in The Guardian about a new game:

While the first series focuses on data harvesting and reflects on the unearthed truths of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing, the second series, Orwell: Ignorance is Strength, goes on to explore societal control. Here, the Orwell system has been upgraded and now includes an “Influencer” tool that allows you to create fabricated narratives you can leak on to social media, mainly through “Blabber”, the game’s equivalent of Twitter. Through this you can spread a story that could destroy the reputation of families and influential people who oppose the government, exposing their private life to the public. The game shows the narrative, or tweet, becoming popular, and highlights how planting a small seed of manipulated information can lead to a huge number of people changing their views.

I came back to this discussion thread because I wanted to thank you for recommending Clint Watt’s boo, Messing with the Enemy, I’m almost done reading it and find it extremely well done - his expertise is clear and his analysis is very thoughtful. I’m thinking hard about how to integrate what I’m coming to understand from multiple key authors - Timothy Snyder, Jaron Lainer, and now Clint Watts to name just a few, along with Virginia Eubanks, who wrote Automating Inequality, and Safiya Noble’s Algorhythms of Oppression. My hope is to be able to better articulate the insights that lie at the intersection of their work, and to bring it to the policy and organizing tables where I have some influence. Thanks again for the recommendation - I welcome anyone on the forum who wants to think about this together with me.

Till the Internet will be anonymous and open, you will always lose to trolls. As the trolls write more interesting than “you” and they are able to catch a simple people with their posts. Because people do not like to read boring true news and stories. They like unusual spicy topics, conspiracy.

https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2018-government-sponsored-cyber-militia-cookbook/

How to fight bots and trolls:

  • Social networks should only be for people and groups of people that one knows personally
  • Brands including politicians, political groups, nonprofit organisations, companies, products and services of any size should be completely excluded from social media. These should buy advertising and not pollute social media with manufactured articles promoting themselves.
  • All advertising should be manually reviewed and approved by a human before running. Right now ads are very rarely ever reviewed by humans and it’s not hard for scammers and propagandists to sneak in their deceitful ads.

Thanks for sharing the guide - it looks very valuable - and I appreciate your points. I’m glad we’re having this conversation on the forum.

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Here are some videos and other sources.

  1. A great 2 part documentary on Frontline about Facebook:
    https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/facebook-dilemma/#video-1
  2. Mark Warner’s white paper on media regulation.Very detailed description of proposed area of media regulation.
    https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4620765-PlatformPolicyPaper.html#document/p1
  3. trailer for The Cleaners documentary.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JA1DxRdT2hA
  4. NYT documentary on Russian
    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/12/opinion/russia-meddling-disinformation-fake-news-elections.html
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