Technology

Bipartisan Panel Recommends Hacking Safeguards

“A bipartisan Harvard University project aimed at protecting elections from hacking and propaganda will release its first set of recommendations today on how U.S. elections can be defended from hacking attacks,” Reuters reports.

“The 27-page guidebook shown to Reuters ahead of publication calls for campaign leaders to emphasize security from the start and insist on practices such as two-factor authentication for access to email and documents and fully encrypted messaging via services including Signal and Wickr.”

Russian Bots Rushed to Deflect Bad Trump News

“Disguised Russian agents on Twitter rushed to deflect scandalous news about Donald Trump just before last year’s presidential election while straining to refocus criticism on the mainstream media and Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” according to an Associated Press analysis of since-deleted accounts.

“The analysis illuminates the obvious strategy behind the Russian cyber meddling: swiftly react, distort and distract attention from any negative Mr. Trump news.”

Thousands Attended Election Protest Arranged by Russians

“BlackMattersUS, a social media campaign believed to be Russians meddling in the U.S. politics, promoted a large anti-Trump march in New York City in the days after the election,” BuzzFeed reports.

“The archived events page shows the event was shared with 61,000 people, 33,000 were interested in the event and 16,000 people marked themselves as going… In the weeks after the election, it wasn’t hard to convince people in New York City to attend an anti-Trump protest, which might help explain the size of the protest.”

How the Russians Targeted Facebook Users

“Russian operatives targeted users on Facebook by race, political preference, religion and interests such as gun ownership, according to advertising data released by lawmakers as part of congressional investigations into Russian manipulation on social media around the U.S. election,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The new data show the sophistication of the Russian effort to hit precise groups of people to amplify specific, simmering tensions within the U.S.”

Politico: The social media ads Russians wanted Americans to see.

Facebook Stuggles to Contain Russia Narrative

Politico: “Facebook has been happy to keep congressional investigators focused on the Russian-bought online ads that helped sway voters in last year’s election — despite the many other ways that fake messages and bogus accounts spread on the dark side of social media.”

“But that may be about to end: Facebook, Twitter and Google are preparing for hearings this week where lawmakers are expected to grill the companies about the broad reach that foreign actors achieved through fake accounts and deliberate misinformation, a topic that encompasses far more than the 3,000 paid political ads that Facebook disclosed last month.”

Why Facebook Doesn’t See They’re a Problem

BuzzFeed News: “To truly understand how Facebook is responding to its role in the election and the ensuing morass, numerous sources inside and close to the company pointed to its unemotional engineering-driven culture, which they argue is largely guided by a quantitative approach to problems. It’s one that views nearly all content as agnostic, and everything else as a math problem. As that viewpoint has run headfirst into the wall of political reality, complete with congressional inquiries and multiple public mea culpas from its boy king CEO, a crisis of perception now brews.”

How Russia Used Social Media to Divide Americans

The Guardian: “What has now been made clear is that Russian trolls and automated bots not only promoted explicitly pro-Donald Trump messaging, but also used social media to sow social divisions in America by stoking disagreement and division around a plethora of controversial topics such as immigration and Islamophobia.”

“And, even more pertinently, it’s clear that these interventions are continuing now as Russian agents stoke division around such recent topics as white supremacist marches and NFL players taking a knee to protest police violence.”

“The overarching goal, during the election and now, analysts say, is to expand and exploit divisions, attacking the American social fabric where it is most vulnerable, along lines of race, gender, class and creed.”

Think Progress: Website targeting black Americans appears to be elaborate Russian propaganda effort.

What Facebook Did to American Democracy

Alexis Madrigal: “When I was editor in chief of Fusion, we set about trying to track the ‘digital campaign’ with several dedicated people. What we quickly realized was that there was both too much data—the noisiness of all the different posts by the various candidates and their associates—as well as too little. Targeting made tracking the actual messaging that the campaigns were paying for impossible to track. On Facebook, the campaigns could show ads only to the people they targeted. We couldn’t actually see the messages that were actually reaching people in battleground areas. From the outside, it was a technical impossibility to know what ads were running on Facebook, one that the company had fought to keep intact.”

Twitter Deleted Data Crucial to Russia Probe

Politico: “Twitter has deleted tweets and other user data of potentially irreplaceable value to investigators probing Russia’s suspected manipulation of the social media platform during the 2016 election… Federal investigators now believe Twitter was one of Russia’s most potent weapons in its efforts to promote Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.”

“By creating and deploying armies of automated bots, fake users, catchy hashtags and bogus ad campaigns, unidentified operatives launched recurring waves of pro-Trump and anti-Clinton story lines via Twitter that were either false or greatly exaggerated.”

Is Facebook Spinning Out of Control?

Financial Times: “Like a shamed company announcing a product recall, Facebook bought full-page adverts in The New York Times and The Washington Post last week in an attempt to shore up its reputation. It was not suspending the social network that has become a ubiquitous news source and multibillion-dollar ad machine. But Russia’s weaponisation of Facebook to influence last year’s US election has raised grave questions about whether Mark Zuckerberg’s product is spinning out of control.”

Russia Explodes Our Social Media Myths

Matt Bai: “It was only a matter of time before governments got around to manipulating social media platforms to their own ends, distorting the wisdom of the crowd with the agenda of a cabal. It is what they do and have always done.”

“I don’t think it’s reasonable or wise to ask tech companies to be the societal arbiters of truth… But ultimately, it’s not too much to demand that our most innovative companies slam the back door on governments and political infiltrators who would like nothing more than to destroy our faith in a free society. And if that means abandoning closely held tenets, like the sanctity of anonymity online, or the aversion to gatekeepers who exercise judgment, then so be it.”

How Russian Operatives Targeted U.S. Voters

Washington Post: “Russian operatives set up an array of misleading Web sites and social media pages to identify American voters susceptible to propaganda, then used a powerful Facebook tool to repeatedly send them messages designed to influence their political behavior, say people familiar with the investigation into foreign meddling in the U.S. election. The tactic resembles what American businesses and political campaigns have been doing in recent years to deliver messages to potentially interested people online.”

Twitter Was Used By Russia More Than Facebook

New York Times: “For three weeks, a harsh spotlight has been trained on Facebook over its disclosure that Russians used fake pages and ads, designed to look like the work of American activists, to spread inflammatory messages during and since the presidential campaign.”

“But there is evidence that Twitter may have been used even more extensively than Facebook in the Russian influence campaign last year. In addition to Russia-linked Twitter accounts that posed as Americans, the platform was also used for large-scale automated messaging, using ‘bot’ accounts to spread false stories and promote news articles about emails from Democratic operatives that had been obtained by Russian hackers.”

Obama Warned Zuckerberg About Fake News

“Nine days after Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg dismissed as ‘crazy’ the idea that fake news on his company’s social network played a key role in the U.S. election, President Obama pulled the youthful tech billionaire aside and delivered what he hoped would be a wake-up call,” the Washington Post reports.

“For months leading up to the vote, Obama and his top aides quietly agonized over how to respond to Russia’s brazen intervention on behalf of the Trump campaign without making matters worse… Now huddled in a private room on the sidelines of a meeting of world leaders in Lima, Peru, two months before Trump’s inauguration, Obama made a personal appeal to Zuckerberg to take the threat of fake news and political disinformation seriously. Unless Facebook and the government did more to address the threat, Obama warned, it would only get worse in the next presidential race.”

Facebook Will Give Congress Copies of Russian Ads

Facebook reversed itself and will give Congress copies of 3,000 political ads bought through Russian accounts, the Washington Post reports.

New York Times: “The high-profile announcement came after Facebook spent two weeks on the defensive amid calls for greater transparency about 470 Russia-linked accounts the company took down after they had promoted inflammatory messages on divisive issues. Facebook had previously shown Congressional staffers a sample of the ads, some of which attacked Hillary Clinton or praised Donald J. Trump, but had not shared the entire collection.”

Politico: “The ads have become of increasing interest to Mueller and his team, according to people familiar with the investigation, because they could show Russian efforts to interfere — and who was behind them.”