Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

Postmortem

December 18, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a post in Messing with the Enemy an excellent book by Clint Watts. The postmortem on Russia’s influence and meddling in the presidential election of 2016 may never end. Trump was completely unconventional, uninformed, unlikable in so many ways, and yet had become the leader of the free world. Fake news entered the American lexicon, and Watts pre-election detailing of Russian active measures on the internet became the subject of hot debate. Had fake news swayed the U.S. presidential election?

Social media companies began digging into the data. What they found spelled dangerous trends for democracy. Americans were increasingly getting their news and information from social media instead of mainstream media. Users were not consuming factual content. Fake news, false or misleading series from outlets of uncertain credibility was being read far more than that from traditional newsrooms. EndTheFed.com and Political Insider produced four of the five most read false news stories in the three months leading up to the election. One story falsely claimed that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump and another story falsely claimed that Hillary Clinton’s emails hosted on WikiLeaks certified her as an ISIS supporter. Throughout December, fears of Russian election manipulations grew, and each day brought more inquiries into how Russia had trolled for Trump.

The American electorate remains divided, government operations are severely disrupted, and faith in elected leaders continues to fall. Apparently, the objectives of Russia’s active measures have been achieved. Watts concludes that Americans still don’t grasp the information war Russia perpetrated against the West, why it works, and why it continues.

Watts writes, “The Russians didn’t have to hack election machines; they hacked American minds. The Kremlin didn’t change votes; it won them, helping tear down its less-preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton, to promote one who shares their worldviews, Donald Trump.

Watts continues, “Americans’ rapid social media consumption of news creates a national vulnerability for foreign influence. Even further, the percentage of American adults fifty and older utilizing social media sites is one of the highest in the world, at 50%. Younger Americans, aged eighteen to thirty-four, sustain a utilization rate about 80%. Deeper analysis by the Pew Research Center shows that U.S. online news consumers still get their information from news organizations more than from their friends, but they believe the friends they stay in touch with on social media applications provide information that is just as relevant.

A look at the Columbia Journalism Review’s media map demonstrates how social media encouraged information bubbles for each political leaning. Conservatives strongly entered their consumption around Breitbart and Fox News, while liberals relied on a more diverse spread of left-leaning outlets. For a foreign influence operation like the one the Russians ran against the United States, the highly concentrated right-wing social media landscape is an immediate, ripe target for injecting themes and messages. The American-left is diversely spread making targeting messages more difficult.

The Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, Russia bought $4,700 in advertising and through eighteen channels, hosted more than 1,000 videos that received more than 300,000 views.

The Russians created a YouTube page called Williams and Kalvin. The page’s videos showcase two black video bloggers, with African accents, appearing to read script that Barack Obama created police brutality and calling Hillary Clinton an “old racist bitch.” The Williams and Calvin page garnered 48,000 fans. Watts writes,”Russian influence operators employed most every platform—Instagram, Tumblr, even PokemonGo—but it was the Kremlin’s manipulation via Twitter that proved the most troubling.”

Watts concludes that U.S. government resources are needed to find a truly effective effort. Intelligence agencies, Homeland Security, and the State Department need to rally and coordinate. Rex Tillerson was late in using the $80 million Congress had set aside for counterpropaganda resources, and then used only half of the appropriated amount. This is just a start, and a small one at that, of what America needs to do against Russian influence. The last sentence in this chapter reads, “Kislyak was right, and Putin must still wonder, “Why hasn’t America punched back.”

Understanding—and—Saving—iGen

April 24, 2019

The final chapter of iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. offers some suggestions for saving iGen.

Not surprisingly, the first is to put down the phone. She recommends parents putting off giving their children a cell phone as long as possible. There really is no reason for an elementary school child to have a cell phone. By middle school, with kids in more activities and more likely to ride a bus, many parents buy phones for their kids convenience and safety. Here she recommends providing the child with a phone with limited functions such as an old-school flip phone without Internet access or a touch screen.

She reminds readers that many tech CEOs strictly regulate their own children’s technology use. Steve Jobs’ children didn’t use the iPad. He limits how much technology their children use as home. This restriction was common around tech CEOs from the cofounder of Twitter to a former editor of Wired magazine. So the people who love technology and made a living of it are cautious about their children using it too much. Adam Alter wrote in his book “Irrestible,” “It seemed as if the people producing tech products were following the cardinal rule of drug dealing: Never get high on your own supply.”

The same goes for social media and electronic device use. They are linked to higher rates of loneliness, unhappiness, depression, and suicide risk, in both correlational and experimental data. Any readers of the healthy memory blog should be well aware of the dangers of social media.

A key rule she provides is that no one, adults included, should sleep within ten feet of a phone.

Dr, Twenge also argues that given the benefits of in-person social interaction, parents should stop thinking that teens hanging out together are wasting their time. Electronic communications are a poor substitute for the emotional connections and social skills gained in face-to-face communication.

Physical exercise is a natural antidepressant.

In the conclusion she writes, “The devices they hold in their hands have both extended their childhoods and isolated them from true human interaction. As a result, they re both the physically safest generation and the most mentally fragile. They are more focused on work and more realistic than Millenials, grasping the certainty that they’ll need to fight hard to make it. They’re exquisitely tolerant and have brought a new awareness of equality, mental health, and LGBT rights, leaving behind traditional structures such as religion. iGEN’ers have a solid basis for success, with their practical nature and they inherent caution. It they can shake themselves out of the constant clutch of their phone and shrug off the heavy cloak of their fear, they can still fly. And the rest of us will be there, cheering them on.”

It Gets Even Worse

April 5, 2019

This is the ninth post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” This post picks up where the immediately preceding post, “Amplifying the Worse Social Behavior” stopped. Users sometimes adopt an idea suggested by Facebook or by others on Facebook as their own. For example, if someone is active in a Facebook Group associated with a conspiracy theory and then stop using the platform for a time, Facebook will do something surprising when they return. It might suggest other conspiracy theory Groups to join because they share members with the first conspiracy Group. Because conspiracy theory Groups are highly engaging, they are likely to encourage reengagement with the platform. If you join the Group, the choice appears to be yours, but the reality is that Facebook planted the seed. This is because conspiracy theories are good for them, not for you.

Research indicates that people who accept one conspiracy theory have a high likelihood of accepting a second one. The same is true of inflammatory disinformation. Roger accepts the fact that Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have created systems that modify user behavior. Roger writes, “They should have realized that global scale would have an impact on the way people use their products and would raise the stakes for society. They should have anticipated violations of their terms of service and taken steps to prevent them. Once made aware of the interference, they should have cooperated with investigators. I could no longer pretend that Facebook was a victim. I cannot overstate my disappointment. The situation was much worse than I realized.”

Apparently, the people at Facebook live in their own preference bubble. Roger writes, “Convinced of the nobility of their mission, Zuck and his employees reject criticism. They respond to every problem with the same approach that created the problem in the first place: more AI, more code, more short-term fixes. They do not do this because they are bad people. They do this because success has warped their perception of reality. To them, connecting 2.2 billion people is so obviously a good thing, and continued growth so important, that they cannot imagine that the problems that have resulted could be in any way linked to their designs or business decisions. As a result, when confronted with evidence that disinformation and fake news spread over Facebook influenced the Brexit referendum and the election of Putin’s choice in the United States, Facebook took steps that spoke volumes about the company’s world view. They demoted publishers in favor of family, friends, and Groups on the theory that information from those sources would be more trustworthy. The problem is that family, friends, and Groups are the foundational elements of filter and preference bubbles. Whether by design or by accident, they share the very disinformation and fake news that Facebook should suppress.

The Unreality Machine

January 21, 2019

This is the ninth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” There was a gold rush in Veles, Macedonia. Teenage boys there worked in “media.” More specifically, American social media. The average U.S. internet is virtually a walking bag of cash, with four times the advertising dollars of anyone else in the world. And the U.S. internet user is very gullible. The following is from the book: “In a town with 25% unemployment and an annual income of under $5,000, these young men had discovered a way to monetize their boredom and decent English-language skills. They set up catch websites, peddling fad diets and weird health tips.” They relied on Facebook “shares” to drive traffic. Each click gave them a small slice of the pie from ads running along the side. Some of the best of them were pulling in tens of thousands of dollars a month.

Competition swelled, but fortunately the American political scene soon brought them a virtually inexhaustible source of clicks and resulting fast cash. This was the 2016 presidential election. Now back to the text “The Macedonians were awed by Americans’ insatiable thirst for political stories, Even a sloppy, clearly plagiarized jumble of text and ads could rack up hundreds of thousands of “shares.” The number of U.S. politics-related websites operated out of Veles swelled into the hundreds.

One of the successful entrepreneurs estimated that in six month, his network of fifty websites attracted some 40 million page views driven there by social media. This made him about $60,000. This 18-year-old then expanded his media empire. He outsourced the writing to three 15-year-olds, paying each $10 a day. He was far from the most successful of the Veles entrepreneurs. Some became millionaires, One rebranded himself as as “clickbait coach,” running a school where he taught dozens of others how to copy his success.

These viral news stories weren’t just exaggerations or products of political spin; they were flat-out lies. Sometimes the topic was the proof that Obama had been born in Kenya or that he was planning a military coup. Another report warned that Oprah Winfrey had told her audience that “some white people have to die.”

The following is from the book: “Of the top twenty best-performing fake stories spread during the election, seventeen were unrepentantly pro Trump. Indeed, the single most popular news story of the entire election—“Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President.” Social media provided an environment in which lies created by anyone, from anywhere, could spread everywhere, making the liars plenty of cash along the way”

In 1995 MIT media professor Nicholas Negroponte prophesied that there would be an interface agent that read every newswire and newspaper and catch every TV and radio broadcast on the planet, and then construct a personalized summary. He called this the “Daily Me.”

Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein argues that the opposite might actually be true. Rather than expanding their horizons, people were just using the endless web to seek out information with which they already agree. He called this the “Daily We.”

A few years later the creation of Facebook, the “Daily We,” an algorithmically created newsfeed became a fully functioning reality.

For example, flat-earthers had little hope of gaining traction in a post-Christopher Columbus, pre-internet world. This wasn’t just because of the silliness of their views, but they couldn’t easily find others who shared them. But the world wide web has given the flat-earth belief a dramatic comeback. Proponents now have an active community and aggressive marketing scheme.

This phenomenon is called ‘homophily,” meaning “love of the same.” Homophily is what makes us humans social creatures able to congregate in such like-minded groups. It explains the growth of civilization and cultures, It is also the reason an internet falsehood, once it begins to spread, can rarely be stopped.

Unfortunately falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth. It becomes a deluge. The authors write, “Ground zero for the deluge, however, was in politics. The 2016 U.S. presidential election released a flood of falsehoods that dwarfed all previous hoaxes and lies in history. It was an online ecosystem so vast that the nightclubbing, moneymaking, lie-spinning Macedonians occupied only one tiny corner. There were thousands of fake website, populated by millions of baldly false stories, each then shared across people’s personal networks. In the final three months of the 2016 election, more of these fake political headlines were shared on Facebook than real ones. Meanwhile, in study of 22 million tweets, the Oxford Internet Institute concluded that Twitter users, too, and shared more disinformation, polarizing and conspiratorial content’ than actual news. The Oxford team called this problem “junk news.”

Flynn

January 19, 2019

This is the seventh post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media. A former director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) said,”The exponential explosion of publicly available information is changing the global intelligence system…It’s changing how we tool, how we organize, how we institutionalize—everything we do.” This is how he explained to the authors how the people who once owned and collected secrets—professional spies—were adjusting to this world without secrets.

U.S. intelligence agencies collected open source intelligence (OSINT) on a massive scale through much of the Cold War. The U.S. embassy in Moscow collected OSINT on a massive scale. The U.S. embassy in Moscow maintained subscriptions to over a thousand Soviet journals and magazines, while the Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service (FBIS) stretched across 19 regional bureaus, monitoring more than 3,500 publications in 55 languages, as well as nearly a thousand hours of television each week. Eventually FBIS was undone by the sheer volume of OSINT the internet produced. In 1993, FBIS was creating 17,000 reports a month; by 2004 that number had risen to 50,000. In 2005 FBIS was shuttered. The former director of DIA said, Publicly available information is now probably the greatest means of intelligence that we could bring to bear. Whether you’re a CEO, a commander in chief, or a military commander, if you don’t have a social media component…you’re going to fail.”

Michael Thomas Flynn was made the director of intelligence for the task force that deployed to Afghanistan. Then he assumed the same role for the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the secretive organization of elite units like the bin Laden-killing navy SEAL team. He made the commandos into “net fishermen” who eschewed individual nodes and focused instead on taking down he entire network, hitting it before it could react and reconstitute itself. JSOC got better as Flynn’s methods evolved capturing or killing dozens of terrorists in a single operation, gathering up intelligence, and then blasting off to hit another target before the night was done. The authors write, “Eventually, the shattered remnants of AQI would flee Iraq for Syria, where they would ironically later reorganize themselves as the core of ISIS.

Eventually the Peter Principle prevailed. The Peter Principle is that people rise in an organization until they reach their level of incompetence. The directorship of DIA was that level for Flynn. Flynn was forced to retire after 33 years of service. Flynn didn’t take his dismissal well . He became a professional critic of the Obama administration, which brought him to the attention of Donald Trump. He used his personal Twitter account to push out messages of hate (Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL). He put out one wild conspiracy theory after another. His postings alleged that Obam wasn’t just a secret Muslim, but a “jihadi” who “laundered” money for terrorists, and that if Hillary Clinton won the election she would help erect a one-world government to outlaw Christianity (notwithstanding that Hillary Clinton was and is a Christian). He also claimed that Hillary was involved in “Sex Crimes w Children. This resulted in someone going into a Pizzeria, the supposed locus of these sex crimes with children, and shooting it up. He was charged by the FBI for lying about his contact with a Russian official. This was based on a recorded phone conversation. This was a singularly dumb mistake for a former intelligence officer

Sharing

January 17, 2019

This is the fifth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” The authors blame sharing on Facebook rolling out a design update that included a small text box that asked the simple question: “What’s on your mind?” Since then, the “status update” has allowed people to use social media to share anything and everything about their lives they want to, from musings and geotagged photos to live video and augmented-reality stickers.

The authors continue, “The result is that we are now our own worst mythological monster—not just watchers but chronic over-sharers. We post on everything from events small (your grocery list) to momentous (the birth of a child, which one of us actually live-tweeted). The exemplar of this is the “selfie,” a picture taken of yourself and shared as widely as possible online. At the current pace, the average American millennial will take around 26,000 selfies in their lifetime. Fighter pilots take selfies during combat missions. Refugees take selfies to celebrate making it to safety. In 2016, one victim of an airplane hijacking scored the ultimate millennial coup: taking a selfie with his hijacker.”

Not only are these postings revelatory of our personal experiences, but they also convey the weightiest issues of public policy. The first sitting world leader to use social media was Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper in 2008, followed by U.S. President Barack Obama. A decade later, the leaders of 178 countries had joined in, including former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who banned Twitter during a brutal crackdown, has changed his mind on the morality—and utility—of social media. He debuted online with a friendly English-language video as he stood next to the Iranian flag. He tweeted, “Let’s all love each other.”

Not just world leaders, but agencies at every level and in every type of government now share their own news, from some 4,000 national embassies to the fifth-grade student council of the Upper Greenwood Lake Elementary school. When the U.S. military’s Central Command expanded Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS in 2016, Twitter users could follow along directly via the hashtag #TALKOIR.

Nothing actually disappears online. The data builds and builds and could reemerge at any moment. Law professor Jeffrey Rosen said that the social media revolution has essentially marked “the end of forgetting.”

The massive accumulation of all this information leads to revelations of its own. Perhaps the clearest example of this phenomenon is the first president to have used social media before running for office. Being both a television celebrity and a social media addict, Donald Trump entered politics with a vast digital trail behind him. The Internet Archive has a fully perusable, downloadable collection of more than a thousand hours of Trump-related video, and his Twitter account has generated around 40,000 messages. Never has a president shared so much of himself—not just words but even neuroses and particular psychological tics—for all the world to see. Trump is a man—the most powerful in the world—whose very essence has been imprinted on the internet. Know this one wonders how such a man could be elected President by the Electoral College.

Tom Nichols is a professor at the U.S. Naval War College who worked with the intelligence community during the Cold War explained the unprecedented value of this vault of information: “It’s something you never want the enemy to know. And yet it’s all out there…It’s also a window into how the President processes information—or how he doesn’t process information he doesn’t like. Solid gold info.” Reportedly Russian intelligence services came to the same conclusion, using Trump’s Twitter account as the basis on which to build a psychological profile of Trump.

The World Wide Web Goes Mobile

January 16, 2019

This is the fourth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” On January 9, 2007, Apple cofounder and CEO Steve Jobs introduced the world to the iPhone. Its list of features: a touchscreen; handheld integration of movies, television, and music; a high quality camera; plus major advances in call reception and voicemail. The most radical innovation was a speedy, next-generation browser that could shrink and reshuffle websites, making the entire internet mobile-friendly.

The next year Apple officially opened its App Store. Now anything was possible as long as it was channeled through a central marketplace. Developers eagerly launched their own internet-enabled games and utilities, built atop the iPhone’s sturdy hardware (There are about 2.5 million such apps today). The underlying business of the internet soon changed with the launch of Google’s Android operating system and competing Google Play Store that same year, smartphones ceased to be the niche of tech enthusiast, and the underlying business of the internet soon changed.

There were some 2 billion mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide by 2013. By 2020, that number is expected to reach 8 billion. In the United States, where three-quarters of Americans own a smartphone, these devises have long since replaced televisions as the most commonly used piece of technology.

The following is taken directly from the text: “The smartphone combined with social media to clear the last major hurdle in the race started thousands of years ago. Previously, even if internet services worked perfectly, users faced a choice. They could be in real life but away from the internet. Or they could tend to their digital lives in quiet isolation, with only a computer screen to keep them company. Now, with an internet-capable device in their pocket, it became possible for people to maintain both identities simultaneously. Any thought spoken aloud could be just as easily shared in a quick post. A snapshot of a breathtaking sunset or plate of food (especially food) could fly thousands of miles away before darkness had fallen or the meal was over. With the advent of mobile livestreaming, online and offline observers could watch the same even unfold in parallel.”

Twitter was one of the earliest beneficiaries of the smartphone. Silicon Valley veterans who were hardcore free speech advocates founded the companion 2006. The envisioned a platform with millions of public voices spinning the story of their lives in 140-character bursts. This reflected the new sense that it was the network, rather than the content on it, that mattered.

Twitter grew along with smartphone use. In 2007, its users were sending 5,000 tweets per day. By 2010, that number was up to 50 million; by 2015, 500 million. The better web technology offered users the chance to embed hyperlinks, images, and video in their updates.

The most prominent Twitter user is Donald Trump, who likened it to “owning your own newspaper.” What he liked most about it was that it featured one perfect voice: his own.
It appears that it is his primary means of communications. It also highlights the risks inherent in using Twitter impulsively.

Cyberwar

October 31, 2018

“Kiselev called information war the most important kind of war. At the receiving end, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party wrote of ‘a war, clearly, but edged on a different kind of battlefield.’ The term was to be taken literally. Carl von Clausewitz, the most famous student of war, defined it as ‘an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.’ What if, as the Russian military doctrine of the 2010s posited, technology made it possible to engage the enemy’s will directly, without the medium of violence? It should be possible as a Russian military planning document of 2013 proposed, to mobilize the ‘protest potential of the population’ against its own interests, or, as the Izborsk Club specified in 2014, to generate in the United States a ‘destructive paranoid reflection. Those are concise and precise descriptions of Trump’s candidacy. The fictional character won, thanks to votes meant as a protest against the system, and thanks to voters who believed paranoid fantasies that simply were not true… The aim of Russian cyberwar was to bring Trump to the Oval Office through what seemed to be normal procedures. Trump did not need need to understand this, any more than an electrical grid has to know when it is disconnected. All that matters is that the lights go out.”

“The Russian FSB and Russian military intelligence (the GRU) both took part in the cyberwar against the United States. The dedicated Russian cyberwar center known as the Internet Research Agency was expanded to include an American Department when in June 2015 Trump announced his candidacy. About ninety new employees went to work on-site in St. Petersburg. The Internet Research Agency also engaged about a hundred American political activists who did not know for whom they were working. The Internet Research Agency worked alongside Russian secret services to move Trump into the Oval Office.”

“It was clear in 2016 that Russians were excited about these new possibilities. That February, Putin’s cyber advisor Andrey Krutskikh boasted: ‘We are on the verge of having something in the information arena that will allow us to talk to the Americans as equals.’ In May, an officer of the GRU bragged that his organization was going to take revenge on Hillary Clinton on behalf of Vladimir Putin. In October, a month before the elections, Pervyi Kanal published a long and interesting meditation on the forthcoming collapse of the United States. In June 2017, after Russia’s victory, Putin spoke for himself, saying that he had never denied that Russian volunteers had made cyber war against the United States.”

“In a cyberwar, an ‘attack surface’ is the set of points in a computer program that allow hackers access. If the target of a cyberwar is not a computer program but a society, then the attack surface is something broader: software that allows the attacker contact with the mind of the enemy. For Russian in 2015 and 2016, the American attack surface was the entirety of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google.”

“In all likelihood, most American voters were exposed to Russian Propaganda. It is telling that Facebook shut down 5.8 million fake accounts right before the election of November 2016. These had been used to promote political messages. In 2016, about a million sites on Facebook were using a tool that allowed them to artificially generate tens of millions of ‘likes,’ thereby pushing certain items, often fictions, into the newsfeed of unwitting Americans. One of the most obvious Russian interventions was the 470 Facebook sites placed by Russia’s Internet Research Agency, but purported to be those of American political organizations or movements. Six of these had 340 million shares each of content on Facebook, which would suggest that all of them taken together had billions of shares. The Russian campaign also included at least 129 event pages, which reached at least 336,300 people. Right before the election, Russia placed three thousand advertisements on Facebook, and promoted them as memes across at least 180 accounts on Instagram. Russia could do so without including any disclaimers about who had paid for the ads, leaving Americans with the impression that foreign propaganda was an American discussion. As researchers began to calculate the extent of American exposure to Russian propaganda, Facebook deleted more data. This suggests that the Russian campaign was embarrassingly effective. Later, the company told investors that as many as sixty million accounts were fake.”

“Americans were not exposed to Russian propaganda randomly, but in accordance with their own susceptibility, as revealed by their practices on the internet. People trust what sounds right, and trust permits manipulation. In one variation, people are led towards even more intense outrage about what they already fear or hate. The theme of Muslim terrorism, which Russia had already exploited in France and Germany, was also developed in the United States. In crucial states such as Michigan and Wisconsin, Russia’s ads were targeted at people who could be aroused by anti-Muslim messages. Throughout the United States, likely Trump voters were exposed to pro-Clinton messages on what purported to be American Muslim sites. Russian pro-Trump propaganda associated refugees with rapists. Trump had done the same when announcing his candidacy.”

“Russian attackers used Twitter’s capacity for massive retransmission. Even in normal times on routine subjects, perhaps 10% of Twitter accounts (a conservative estimate) are bots rather than human beings: that is computer programs of greater or lesser sophistication, designed to spread certain messages to a target audience. Though bots are less numerous that humans on Twitter, they are more efficient than humans in sending messages. In the weeks before the election, bots accounted for about 20% of the American conversation about politics. An important scholarly study published the day before the polls opened warned that bots could ‘endanger the integrity of the presidential election.’ It cited three main problems: ‘first, influence can be redistributed across suspicious accounts that may be operated with malicious purposes; second, the political conversation can be further polarized; third, spreading misinformation and unverified information can be enhanced.’ After the election, Twitter identified 2,752 accounts as instruments of Russian political influence. Once Twitter started looking it was able to identify about a million suspicious accounts per day.”

“Bots were initially used for commercial purposes. Twitter has an impressive capacity to influence human behavior by offering deals that seem cheaper or easier than alternatives. Russia took advantage of this. Russian Twitter accounts suppressed the vote by encouraging Americans to ‘text-to-vote,’ which is impossible. The practice was so massive that Twitter, which is very reluctant to intervene in discussions over its platform, finally had to admit its existence in a statement. It seems possible that Russia also digitally suppressed the vote in another way: by making voting impossible in crucial places and times. North Carolina, for example, is a state with a very small Democratic majority, where most Democratic voters are in cities. On Election Day, voting machines in cities ceased to function, thereby reducing the number of votes recorded. The company that produced the machines in question had been hacked by Russian military intelligence, Russia also scanned the electoral websites of at least twenty-one American states, perhaps looking for vulnerabilities, perhaps seeking voter data for influence campaigns. According to the Department of Homeland Security, “Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards.

“Having used its Twitter bots to encourage a Leave vote in the Brexit referendum, Russia now turned them loose in the United States. In several hundred cases (at least), the very same bots that worked against the European Union attacked Hillary Clinton. Most of the foreign bot traffic was negative publicity about her. When she fell ill on September 11, 2016, Russian bots massively amplified the case of the event, creating a trend on Twitter under the hashtag #Hillary Down. Russian trolls and bots also moved to support Donald Trump directly at crucial points. Russian trolls and bots praised Donald Trump and the Republican National Convention over Twitter. When Trump had to debate Clinton, which was a difficult moment for him, Russian trolls and bots filled the ether with claims that he had won or that the debate was somehow rigged against him. In crucial swing states that Trump had won, bot activity intensified in the days before the election. On Election Day Itself, bots were firing with the hashtag #WarAgainstDemocrats. After Trump’s victory, at least 1,600 of the same bots that had been working on his behalf went to work agains Macron and for Le Pen in FRance, and against Merkel and for the AfD in Germany. Even at this most basic technical level, the war against the United States was also the war against the European Union.”

“In the United States in 2016, Russia also penetrated email accounts, and then used proxies on Facebook and Twitter to distribute selection that were deemed useful. The hack began when people were sent an email message that asked them to enter their passwords on a linked website. Hackers then used security credentials to access that person’s email account and steal its contents. Someone with knowledge of the American political system then chose what portions of this material the American public should see, and when.”

The hackings of the Democratic convention and wikileaks are well known. The emails that were made public were carefully selected to ensure strife between supporters of Clinton and her rival for the nomination, Bernie Sanders. Their release created division at the moment when the campaign was meant to coalesce. With his millions of Twitter followers, Trump was among the most important distribution channels of the Russian hacking operation. Trump also aided the Russian endeavor by shielding it from scrutiny, denying repeatedly that Russia was intervening in the campaign.
Since Democratic congressional committees lost control of private data, Democratic candidates for Congress were molested as they ran for Congress. After their private data were released, American citizens who had given money to he Democratic Party were also exposed to harassment and threats. All this mattered at the highest levels of politics, since it affected one major political party and not the other. “More fundamentally, it was a foretaste of modern totalitarianism is like: no one can act in politics without fear, since anything done now can be revealed later, with personal consequences.”

None who released emails over the internet has anything say about the relationship of the Trump campaign to Russia. “This was a telling omission, since no American presidential campaign was ever so closely bound to a foreign power. The connections were perfectly clear from the open sources. One success of Russia’s cyberwar was the seductiveness of the secret and the trivial drew America away from the obvious and the important: that the sovereignty of the United States was under attack.”

Quotes are taken directly from “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America” by Timothy Snyder

Trump, Russia, and Truth (Cont.)

May 21, 2018

This post is a continuation of the post of the same title taken from the book by Michael Hayden titled “The Assault on Intelligence: American Security in the Age of Lies.” This is the third post in the series.

Gary Kasparov, Soviet chess champion turned Russian dissident outlined the progression of Putin’s attacks. They were developed and honed first in Russia and then with Russian-speaking people nearby before expanding to Europe and the U.S. These same Russian information operations have been used to undercut democratic processes in the United States and Europe, and to erode confidence in institutions like NATO and the European Union.

Hayden notes, “Committed to the path of cyber dominance for ourselves, we seemed to lack the doctrinal vision to fully understand that the Russians were up to with their more full-spectrum information dominance. Even now, many commentators refer to what the Russians did to the American electoral process as a cyber attack, but the actual cyber portion of that was fairly straightforward.”

Hayden writes, “Evidence mounted. The faux personae created at the Russian bot farm—the Saint Petersburg—based Internet Research Agency—were routinely represented by stock photos taken from the internet, and the themes they pushed were consistently pro-Russian. There was occasional truth to their posting, but clear manipulation as well, and they all seemed to push in unison.

The Russians knew their demographic. The most common English words in their faux twitter profiles were “God,” “military,” “Trump,” “family,” “country,” “conservative,” “Christian,” “America,” and “Constitution,” The most commonly used hashtags were #nuclear, #media, #Trump, and #Benghazi…all surefire dog whistles certain to create trending.”

It was easy for analysts to use smart algorithms to determine whether something was trending because of genuine human interaction or simply because it was being pushed by the Russian botnet. Analysts could see that the bots ebbed and flowed based upon the needs of the moment. Analysts tried to call attention to this, but American intelligence did not seem to be interested.

Analyst Clint Watts characterized 2014 as year of capability development for the Russians and pointed to a bot-generated petition movement calling for the return of Alaska to Russia that got more than forty thousand supporters while helping the Russians build their cadre and perfect their tactics. With that success in hand in 2015 the Russians started a real push toward the American audience, by grabbing any divisive social issue they could identify. They were particularly attracted to issues generated from organic American content, issues that had their origin in the American community. Almost by definition, issues with a U.S. provenance could be portrayed as genuine concerns to America, and they were already preloaded in the patois of the American political dialogue, which included U.S. based conspiracy theorists.

Hayden writes, “And Twitter as a gateway is easier to manipulate than other platforms since in the twitterers we voluntarily break down into like-minded tribes, easily identified by or likes and by whom we follow. Watts says that the Russians don’t have to “bubble” us—that is, create a monolithic information space friendly for their messaging, We have already done that to ourselves since, he says, social media is as gerrymandered as any set of state electoral districts in the country. Targeting can become so precise that he considers social media “a smart bomb delivery system.” In Senate testimony, Watts noted that with tailored news feeds, a feature rather than a bug for those getting their news online, voters see “only stories and opinions suiting their preferences and biases—ripe condition for Russian disinformation campaigns.”

Charlie Sykes believes “many Trump voters get virtually all their information from inside the bubble…Conservative media has become a safe space for people who want to be told they don’t have to believe anything that is uncomfortable or negative…The details are less important than the fact that you’re being persecuted, you’re being victimized by people you loathe.”

What we have here is an ideal environment for System 1 processors. They can feed their emotions and beliefs without ever seeing any contradicting information that would cause them to think and invoke System 2 processing.

Republican Max Boot railed against the Fox network as “Trump TV,” Trump’s own version of RT,” and its prime-time ratings czar Sean Hannity as “the president’s de facto minister of information. Hayden says that there are what he calls genuine heroes on the Fox Network, like Shepard Smith, Chris Wallace, Charles Krauthammer, Bret Baier, Dana Perino and Steve Hayes, but for the most part he agrees with Boot. Hannity gave a platform to WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange shortly before Trump’s inauguration, traveling to London to interview him at the Ecuadorian embassy, where Assange had taken refuge from authorities following a Swedish rape allegation.

Hayden writes, “When the institutions of the American government refuse to kowtow to the president’s transient whim, he sets out to devalue and delegitimize them in a way rarely, if ever, seen before in our history. A free (but admittedly imperfect) press is “fake news,” unless, of course, it is Fox; the FBI is in “tatters,” led by a”nut job” director and conducting a “witch hunt”; the Department of Justice, and particularly the attorney general, is weak, and so forth.”

It is clear that Trump has experience only with “family” business, where personal loyalty reigns supreme. He has no experience with government and is apparently ignorant of the separation of the three branches of govern, legislative, judicial, and executive. The judicial and legislative branches are to be independent of the executive.

Apparently the White House lawyer, Ty Cobb, asked Trump whether he was guilty. Obviously, Trump said he was innocent, so Cobb told Trump to cooperate with Mueller and that would establish his innocence quickly and he could devote full time to his presidential duties.

Obviously, he is not innocent. On television he told Lester Holt that the reason he fired Comey was that he would not back off the Russia investigation. In other words, he has already been caught obstructing Justice.

During the campaign he requested Hillary’s emails from the Russians. So he was conspiring with the Russians and this conspiracy was successful as he did indeed get the emails.

There are also questions regarding why is he so reluctant to take any actions against Russia? One answer is that it is clearly in Trumps’ interest for the Russians interfering in the mid term election as he is concerned that the Democrats could regain control of both the House and the Senate, which would virtually guarantee that he would be impeached.

A related question regards his finances. Why has he never released his tax forms? There are outstanding debts that are not accounted for, and he seems to be flush with cash, but from where? The most parsimonious answer to this question is that he is in debt to Putin. In other words, Putin owns him.

We do not know what evidence Mueller has, but it appears that it is very large.

And Trump is behaving like a guilty person. Of course he denies his guilt and proclaims his innocence vehemently, but this only makes him appear guilty. He is viciously attacking the government and the constitution to discredit them, since he will not be able to prove his innocence. And the Russians have and will continue to provide the means for helping him try to discredit the justice system, the intelligence community, and the press.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Bursting Your Twitter Bubble Actually Makes You More Extreme

April 21, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title in a News Piece by Marie LeConte in the 7 April 2018 Issue of the New Scientist. How can people’s minds be altered is the question asked by teams from Duke University, New York University, and Princeton University. More than 1,000 people participated in this research.

Before and after the trial the team measured the political leanings of participants by asking them to rate how much they agreed with such statements as “government is almost always wasteful and inefficient” and “homosexuality should be accepted by society.” These questions were used to identify Republican and Democratic Twitter users. Over the course of a month, Republican Twitter users followed a bot that automatically retweeted posts from Democrat politicians, pundits, and journalists, and vice versa for Democrat Twitter users.

Rather than becoming sympathetic to ideas retweeted by the bots, participants views became more entrenched. After leaving their echo chambers, Republicans became substantially more conservative and Democrats slightly more liberal.

This study does not offer hope to those who want to reduce polarized views. The team concluded, “Well-intentioned attempts to introduce people to opposing political views on social media might not only be ineffective, but counter-productive.”
(SocArXiv, doi.org/cmwx)

Attempts to change people’s views are not only likely to fail, but actually harden those political views. When people think that their beliefs are under attack, they not only put up their defensive shields, but also fire back. This called the Boomerang Effect.

The only known way to affect opposing views is to try to find a point or two of agreement and then work from there. Expressing the same idea or problem differently to attain some degree of agreement can work. If it does, then try to build on this to find other areas potential agreement and then work from there. This is painstaking work.

This article reminds HM of a Prickly City cartoon in the 19 April 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The cat, Winslow asks the human, Carmen, “Why can’t we agree on the truth?”
To which Carmen answers,”Big question”, and continues, “maybe it’s because truth can challenge our deeply held beliefs, making us cling to them harder in the face of reality.”
To which Winslow responds, with the query,”So people would rather feel right than be right?”
and Carmen responds, “That’s about right.”
To which Winslow responds, “Your species is crackers, you know that?”
and Carmen responds, “I’ve often felt that way.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Social Media Putting Democracy at Risk

February 24, 2018

This blog post is based on an article titled, “”YouTube excels at recommending videos—but not at deeming hoaxes” by Craig Timberg, Drew Harrell, and Tony Romm in 23 Feb 2018
issue of the Washington Post. The article begins, “YouTube’s failure to stop the spread of conspiracy theories related to last week’s school shooting in Florida highlights a problem that has long plagued the platform: It is far better at recommending videos that appeal to users than at stanching the flow of lies.”

To be fair, YouTube’s fortunes are based on how well its recommendation algorithm is tuned to the tastes of individual viewers. Consequently, the recommendation algorithm is its major strength. YouTube’s weakness in detecting misinformation was on stark display this week as demonstrably false videos rose to the top of YouTube’s rankings. The article notes that one clip that mixed authentic news images with misleading context earned more than 200,000 views before YouTube yanked it Wednesday for breaching its rules on harassment.

The article writes, “These failures this past week, which also happened on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites—make it clear that some of the richest, most technically sophisticated companies in the world are losing against people pushing content rife with untruth.”

YouTube apologized for the prominence of these misleading videos, which claimed that survivors featured in news reports were “crisis actors” appearing to grieve for political gain. YouTube removed these videos and said the people who posted them outsmarted the platform’s safeguards by using portions of real news reports about the Parkland, Fla, shooting as the basis for their conspiracy videos and memes that repurpose authentic content.

YouTube made a statement that its algorithm looks at a wide variety of factors when deciding a video’s placement and promotion. The statement said, “While we sometimes make mistakes with what appears in the Trending Tab, we actively work to filter out videos that are misleading, clickbait or sensational.”

It is believed that YouTube is expanding the fields its algorithm scans, including a video’s description, to ensure that clips alleging hoaxes do not appear in the trending tab. HM recommends that humans be involved with the algorithm scans to achieve man-machine symbiosis. [to learn more about symbiosis, enter “symbiosis” into the search block of the Healthymemory blog.] The company has pledged on several occasions to hire thousands more humans to monitor trending videos for deception. It is not known whether this has been done or if humans are being used in a symbiotic manner.

Google also seems to have fallen victim to falsehoods, as it did after previous mass shootings, via its auto-complete feature. When users type the name of a prominent Parkland student, David Hogg, the word “actor” often appears in the field, a feature that drives traffic to a subject.

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Can Social Networking Make It Easier to Solve Real-World Problems?

September 23, 2012

An article in The Economist1 raised this question. According to an article in 2011, Facebook analysed 72 million users of its social networking site and found that an average of 4.7 hops could link any two of them via mutual friends. This is even less that the Six Degrees of Separation popularized by John Guare in his play by the same name.

In the United States the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) staged the Red Balloon Challenge in 2009. It was trying to determine how quickly and efficiently information could be gathered using social media. Competitors were to race to find ten red weather balloons that had been tethered at random locations throughout the United States for a $40,000 prize. MIT had the winning team that found all ten balloons in nine hours using the following incentive-based system to encourage participation. The first person to send the correct coordinates of a balloon received $2,000. Whoever recruited that person received $1,000, and the recruiters recruiter received $500, and so forth and so forth.

DARPA staged a new challenge this year, the Tag Challenge. This time the goal was to locate and photograph five people each wearing unique T-shirts in five named cities across two continents. All five had to be identified within 12 hours from nothing more than a mugshot. The prize fund was $5,000. This time none of the teams managed to find all five targets. However, one team with members from MIT,the universities of Edinburgh and Southampton, and the University of California at San Diego did manage to fine three, one in each of the following cities, New York, Washington DC, and Bratislava. This team had a website and a mobile app to make it easier to report findings and to recruit people. Each finder was offered $500 and whoever recruited the finder $100. So anyone who did not know anyone in one of the target cities had no incentive to recruit someone who did. The team promoted itself on Facebook and Twitter. Nevertheless, most participants just used conventional email. It was conjectured that in the future smart phones might have an app that can query people all over the world, who can then steer the query towards people with the right information.

To return to the title of this post, Can Social Networking Make It Easier to Solve Real-World Problems, I would conclude, if the social problem involves finding someone or something, the answer would be yes. But I think that real-world problems typically involve collaboration of diverse people. In this respect one might argue that social media are actually a detriment to solving real world problems. Social media are good at bringing people of like minds together about something. If what is needed is collaboration among people of diverse opinions, this would not seem productive, and might very likely be counterproductive.

However, there still might be solutions using technology. Wikis provide a useful tool for collaboration. Another approach would having people of relevant, but diverse perspective could interact with each other anonymously using computers. Physical cues and identities would be absent. This would negate or minimize ego or group involvement and would be an exchange of information and ideas with the goal of arriving at a viable consensus. The number of people who can collaborate at a given time appears to be a constraint.

1Six Degrees of Mobilization, The Economist Technology Quarterly, September 2012, p.8.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.