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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Disinformation

In Defying the Odds, we discuss social mediafake news, and Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

McCay Coppins at The Atlantic:
What I was seeing was a strategy that has been deployed by illiberal political leaders around the world. Rather than shutting down dissenting voices, these leaders have learned to harness the democratizing power of social media for their own purposes—jamming the signals, sowing confusion. They no longer need to silence the dissident shouting in the streets; they can use a megaphone to drown him out. Scholars have a name for this: censorship through noise.
After the 2016 election, much was made of the threats posed to American democracy by foreign disinformation. Stories of Russian troll farms and Macedonian fake-news mills loomed in the national imagination. But while these shadowy outside forces preoccupied politicians and journalists, Trump and his domestic allies were beginning to adopt the same tactics of information warfare that have kept the world’s demagogues and strongmen in power.
A preview of 2020:
Shortly after polls closed in Kentucky’s gubernatorial election last November, an anonymous Twitter user named @Overlordkraken1 announced to his 19 followers that he had “just shredded a box of Republican mail in ballots” in Louisville.
There was little reason to take this claim at face value, and plenty of reason to doubt it (beginning with the fact that he’d misspelled Louisville). But the race was tight, and as incumbent Governor Matt Bevin began to fall behind in the vote total, an army of Twitter bots began spreading the election-rigging claim.
The original post was removed by Twitter, but by then thousands of automated accounts were circulating screenshots of it with the hashtag #StoptheSteal. Popular right-wing internet personalities jumped on the narrative, and soon the Bevin campaign was making noise about unspecified voting “irregularities.” When the race was called for his opponent, the governor refused to concede, and asked for a statewide review of the vote. (No evidence of ballot-shredding was found, and he finally admitted defeat nine days later.)
The Election Night disinformation blitz had all the markings of a foreign influence operation. In 2016, Russian trolls had worked in similar ways to contaminate U.S. political discourse—posing as Black Lives Matter activists in an attempt to inflame racial divisions, and fanning pro-Trump conspiracy theories. (They even used Facebook to organize rallies, including one for Muslim supporters of Clinton in Washington, D.C., where they got someone to hold up a sign attributing a fictional quote to the candidate: “I think Sharia law will be a powerful new direction of freedom.”)
But when Twitter employees later reviewed the activity surrounding Kentucky’s election, they concluded that the bots were largely based in America—a sign that political operatives here were learning to mimic Russian trolling tactics. 
Fox News’ own research team has warned colleagues not to trust some of the network’s top commentators’ claims about Ukraine.
An internal Fox News research briefing book obtained by The Daily Beast openly questions Fox News contributor John Solomon’s credibility, accusing him of playing an “indispensable role” in a Ukrainian “disinformation campaign.”
The document also accuses frequent Fox News guest Rudy Giuliani of amplifying disinformation, as part of an effort to oust former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, and blasts Fox News guests Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova—both ardent Trump boosters—for “spreading disinformation.”

The 162-page document, entitled “Ukraine, Disinformation, & the Trump Administration,” was created by Fox News senior political affairs specialist Bryan S. Murphy, who produces research from what is known as the network’s Brain Room—a newsroom division of researchers who provide information, data, and topic guides for the network’s programming.

Mike McIntire and Kevin Roose at NYT:
About a dozen candidates for public office in the United States have promoted or dabbled in QAnon, and its adherents have been arrested in at least seven episodes, including a murder in New York and an armed standoff with the police near the Hoover Dam. The F.B.I. cited QAnon in an intelligence bulletin last May about the potential for violence motivated by “fringe political conspiracy theories.”

Matthew Lusk, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary for a Florida congressional seat and openly embraces QAnon, said in an email that its anonymous creator was a patriot who “brings what the fake news will not touch without slanting.” As for the theory’s more extreme elements, Mr. Lusk said he was uncertain whether there really was a pedophile ring associated with the deep state.
“That being said,” he added, “I do believe there is a group in Brussels, Belgium, that do eat aborted babies.”