Technology Firms Shape Political Communication: The Work of Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, and Google With Campaigns During the 2016 U.S. Presidential Cycle: Political Communication: Vol 0, No 0
This article offers the first analysis of the role that technology companies, specifically Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and Google, play in shaping the political communication of electoral campaigns in the United States. We offer an empirical analysis of the work technology firms do around electoral politics through interviews with staffers at these firms and digital and social media directors of 2016 U.S. presidential primary and general election campaigns, in addition to field observations at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. We find that technology firms are motivated to work in the political space for marketing, advertising revenue, and relationship-building in the service of lobbying efforts. To facilitate this, these firms have developed organizational structures and staffing patterns that accord with the partisan nature of American politics. Furthermore, Facebook, Twitter, and Google go beyond promoting their services and facilitating digital advertising buys, actively shaping campaign communication through their close collaboration with political staffers. We show how representatives at these firms serve as quasi-digital consultants to campaigns, shaping digital strategy, content, and execution. Given this, we argue that political communication scholars need to consider social media firms as more active agents in political processes than previously appreciated in the literature.
9 hours ago
Russian Trolls Tweeted Disinformation Long Before U.S. Election
Alice Norton posted an emergency message on a cooking-website forum on Thanksgiving 2015: Her entire family had severe food poisoning after buying a turkey from Walmart.

“My son Robert got in the hospital and he’s still there,” wrote Ms. Norton, who had described herself as a 31-year-old New York City mother of two. “I don’t know what to do!”

Within hours, Twitter users repeated the claim thousands of times, and a news story was published saying 200 people were in critical condition after eating tainted turkey.

The catch? No outbreak of food poisoning matching this description occurred, according to New York City health officials. A Walmart Inc. spokesman said the company had spotted the posts but determined they were a hoax and didn’t investigate their origin further.

In fact, many of the claims came from accounts linked to a pro-Kremlin propaganda agency charged by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office last week for meddling in U.S. politics. Security experts now believe the early posts, and others like them, may have been practice for a bigger target: the 2016 U.S. election.

While it is impossible to be sure what was in the minds of Russians tweeting false stories in 2014 and 2015—which also included tales of contaminated water, terrorist attacks and a chemical-plant explosion—these experts say it is as if the Russians were testing to see how much they could get Americans to believe.

“Well before it was focused on the 2016 election, what Russia was doing was stockpiling capabilities,” said Keir Giles, a specialist in Russian information warfare at the Chatham House think tank in London. “They were doing test runs of what happens if we launch this kind of Twitter attack or attempt to start this kind of panic. Sit back, refine your results, see what works and what doesn’t.”

Nearly 100 Twitter users who linked to Ms. Norton’s Thanksgiving-turkey post were among 2,700-plus accounts Twitter deactivated late last year because they were controlled by the Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg-based outfit the Justice Department says spread Russian propaganda across the internet. Twitter last month said it deactivated more than a thousand additional such accounts as it and other tech firms continue to grapple with the exploitation of their platforms.

Tainted Turkey Tweets
A sample of messages from Russian Twitter users sent on Thanksgiving 2015.

OMG My stomach hurts and ate turkey today. OH SHi- #Fail #Walmart #KochFarms #NY

RT @ErtmanGreta: This #thanksgiving my sister will be in hospital. Thank you #KochFarms and #Walmartâ€

@nyc_media #KochFarms should response!

RT @Sound4Boyz: OMG this is a crime fo sho! #Walmart #KochFarms #NY #Turkey #FoodPoisoning #USDA

Source: Wall Street Journal analysis of Twitter data

An analysis of 221,641 tweets The Wall Street Journal was able to find from the now-blocked users shows that prior to their election activity, they attempted to incite chaos, fear and outrage about fictitious events, with success that at times spilled into the real world.

The Journal’s analysis included messages posted by 2,170 Russian-controlled accounts. Sometimes they worked alone, spreading news, chatting about politics or popular culture and retweeting others. Other times, dozens of the accounts, even hundreds, flocked around a single message.

Taken together, the activity—much of which has now been wiped from the internet—presents a rare perspective on an external effort to manipulate American minds. Those behind the efforts took advantage of an array of social-media platforms, broadcasters, fake-news websites, Wikipedia and in one case, a federal regulator.

Many of the users who took part in the early campaigns went on to participate in the U.S. presidential-election attack, mostly supporting Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders while disparaging Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, as early as the middle of 2015.

Top U.S. intelligence officials said last week they expect Russians to interfere again in the midterm elections. The U.S. charged more than a dozen Russian nationals and organizations last week with engaging in a widespread effort to interfere in U.S. politics. The efforts date to mid-2014, the U.S. government says, just as the disinformation campaign was getting under way. Russia has denied it meddled in the 2016 election.

Some Twitter users who appeared to work in tandem with the now-shuttered accounts remained active this month, the Journal found. Meanwhile, although Twitter, Facebook and Google have faced congressional grilling over the misuse of their platforms, some other social-media firms and websites have faced no public scrutiny despite having users who also appear to have worked with the Russia-linked accounts shut down by Twitter.

“Each day, it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger,” said Clint Watts, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation counterterrorism expert who studies Russian propaganda at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a Pennsylvania-based think tank.

A spokeswoman for Twitter referred to recent congressional testimony and blog posts in which the social media firm said it is now blocking more than 500,000 “suspicious logins” daily. The spokeswoman declined to make executives available to discuss the incidents described in this article.

The purported Ms. Norton, the cooking-website user who said her family got food poisoning from a Thanksgiving turkey, didn’t respond to an email sent to the address she used to sign up at the website.

The Journal’s data shows a small number of Russian tweets before 2014, but it was a deadly plane crash that year that brought out the strongest early response. On July 17, 2014, an anti-aircraft missile shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and crew.

While the Obama administration quickly fingered Russian-backed insurgents in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin suggested it was Ukrainian forces that downed the airliner. A safety board in the Netherlands, which lost many citizens in the crash, concluded the plane was shot down by a Russian-made missile fired from eastern Ukraine.

Russian-linked Twitter users at first tweeted news of the tragedy, but within hours they were raising questions about who was responsible. By the next morning, they had latched onto a hashtag blaming the Ukrainian government: КиевСбилБоинг – Kiev shot down the airliner.

In all, the Journal found 78 now-deactivated Twitter accounts that participated in the Malaysian Flight 17 campaign. They tweeted about it for months.

Not long after the airliner disaster, Russian-linked accounts began turning their attention to America.

Evolving Russian Tweets
Russia-linked Twitter users floated several false stories before moving on to politics as the U.S. 2016 election year neared.

Nov. 2014
June '15
Jan. '16
June '16
Nov. '16
Tainted turkey
ISIS in Albuquerque
Phosphorus leak
Percentage of daily tweets by topic
Percentage of daily tweets by topic
News or conversation
News or conversation
Note: Tweets collected at irregular intervals; election includes tweets mentioning Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton

Source: Wall Street Journal analysis of Twitter data

Beginning Sept. 11, 2014, at least 141 now-blocked accounts falsely claimed a chemical plant in Louisiana had exploded. Many went further, saying it was an attack by Islamic State.

The claims of terrorism continued in their next assault, the Journal’s analysis shows. On Christmas Eve 2014, hackers calling themselves the CyberCaliphate and claiming Islamic State affiliation defaced an article on the Albuquerque Journal’s website with an ominous message: “You’ll see no mercy infidels. We are already here, we are in your PCs, in each house, in each office. With Allah’s permission we begin with Albuquerque.”

The next day, Russian-operated Twitter accounts sprang into action, spreading and distorting news of the hack, whose perpetrators, intelligence experts now believe, may be connected to the Kremlin.

Some of the accounts treated it as a full-blown terrorist incident. “ISIS terrorists live among us!” two accounts said.

They blamed the U.S. government for not stopping the hackers. “The ISIS hacked Albuquerque Journal website! It’s all Obama’s fault!” a now-suspended user named Andrea Macchaell wrote, using the hashtags #ImmigrationAction and #ISISattacks.

The self-styled CyberCaliphate, which went on to claim credit for hacking other government and media targets, has since been suspected by security researchers of being linked to Fancy Bear, the Russian military intelligence group that U.S. officials say hacked the email accounts of Democratic Party officials and political figures in early 2016 and released the material online.

On March 10, 2015, dozens of Twitter users with accounts since deactivated by Twitter spread word that a phosphorus leak had tainted the water supply near the tiny town of American Falls, Idaho.

That same day, an article posted on CNN’s citizen-journalism website iReport, showing people in biohazard suits, said “nuclear phosphorus wastes” had poisoned the water in a nearby reservoir and described the incident as “the time bomb which exploded.”

A spokesman for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality said the agency was “very much aware” of the poisoned-water claims, which were “certainly false.”

Many of the 50 Russia-linked Twitter accounts that spread the story used nearly identical language. A constant theme among their tweets: The fault lay with the U.S. government.

Twenty-five other Twitter accounts that talked about the supposed leak haven’t been publicly identified as Russian-linked. Some were still on the … [more]
9 hours ago
What Karl Rove’s Learned from Jorge Luis Borges
Borges himself was well aware that his story was more than just a fantasy. The countries that remake themselves after the model of Orbis Tertius are the same ones that had previously been drawn to communism, fascism, and any other system with a semblance of order. When the author notes that a world in which physical artifacts can be willed into existence allows for “the interrogation and even the modification of the past,” it’s hard not to connect this to the rewriting of history under authoritarian regimes. “The lies of a dictatorship are neither believed nor disbelieved,” Borges writes elsewhere. “They pertain to an intermediate plane, and their purpose is to conceal or justify sordid or atrocious realities.”
16 hours ago
'Parallel Botany' in the Age of Alternative Facts - The Millions
Hannah Arendt put it best when she said, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”
16 hours ago
Neo-Nazis For #Gamergate? – Angry White Men
This is why many of us choose this path, and some even forget their real lives in favor of it. They don’t want to go back into the cold, senseless world that you’ve created, into which you’ve forced them.
19 hours ago
Inside the Russian Troll Factory: Zombies and a Breakneck Pace - The New York Times
Once a blog post was created, the troll exclaimed, “Then the magic began!”

The computers were designed to forward the post to the agency’s countless fake accounts, opening and closing the post to create huge numbers of fake page views.
3 days ago
How Unwitting Americans Encountered Russian Operatives Online - The New York Times
But the online pitches reached a big audience. In written answers to questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee, Facebook said some 338,300 people saw the announcements of rallies promoted by the bogus pages — and 62,500 said they planned to attend one. Those numbers are modest against the background of the entire presidential campaign, but they show that the Russians were able not just to attract Americans to their ersatz groups but actually manipulate their actions.
3 days ago
Research | Adam Dean
NAFTA’s Army: Free Trade and U.S. Military Enrollment
7 days ago
Margaret Roberts Dissertation
Fear, Friction, and Flooding: Methods of Online Information Control
Many scholars have speculated that censorship e↵orts will be ine↵ective in the information age,
where the possibility of accessing incriminating information about almost any political entity will
benefit the masses at the expense of the powerful. Others have speculated that while information
can now move instantly across borders, autocrats can still use fear and intimidation to encourage
citizens to keep quiet. This manuscript demonstrates that the deluge of information in fact still
benefits those in power by observing that the degree of accessibility of information is still determined
by organized groups and governments. Even though most information is possible to access,
as normal citizens get lost in the cacophony of information available to them, their consumption
of information is highly influenced by the costs of obtaining it. Much information is either disaggregated
online or somewhat inaccessible, and organized groups, with resources and incentives
to control this information, use information flooding and information friction as methods of controlling
the cost of information for consumers. I demonstrate in China that fear is not the primary
deterrent for the spread of information; instead, there are massively di↵erent political implications
of having certain information completely free and easy to obtain as compared to being available,
but slightly more dicult
to access.
cybersecurity_class  PDKL-Ninety-five 
10 days ago
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