Monday, February 5, 2018

Russian Bots Still Influencing US Politics

If you're looking for an overview of how Russian bot activity is still ongoing, Molly McKew has written an important piece at Politco how bots, humans, and bot-human combos are gaming Twitter for purposes of changing political opinions and behavior.

That McKew's piece is written in the context of how bots have just recently massively amplified the pro-Trump #releasethememo hashtag on Twitter underscores that Russian agents continue to influence both US politics and the very narratives about Russia's influence on our politics.

Here are some key take-aways:

1) "Sleeper" bots are activated during particular political moments. Take bot account "KARYN" for instance:
"The KARYN account is an interesting example of how bots lay a groundwork of information architecture within social media. It was registered in 2012, tweeting only a handful of times between July 2012 and November 2013 (mostly against President Barack Obama and in favor of the GOP). Then the account goes dormant until June 2016—the period that was identified by former FBI Director James Comey as the beginning of the most intense phase of Russian operations to interfere in the U.S. elections."
2) Russian bots will follow legitimate pro-Trump Twitter users and then use a massive bot network to amplify the pro-Trump content produced by these legitimate users, with the goal of getting users with large followings (such as Laura Ingraham, who has over 2 million followers) to amplify and legitimize the messaging.

3) McKew refers to some bot accounts as "cyborg" accounts in that they are partially automated but actual humans are also organizing their behavior.

4) It is clear that at least some trending content is artificially popular because bots and human users are gaming Twitter.

5) The sort of activities that influenced the 2016 election are ongoing and political, security, and corporate leadership appear ill-equipped to handle it:
"A year after it should have become an indisputable fact that Russia launched a sophisticated, lucky, daring, aggressive campaign against the American public, we’re as exposed and vulnerable as we ever were—if not more so, because now so many tools we might have sharpened to aid us in this fight seem blunted and discarded by the very people who should be honing their edge. There is no leadership. No one is building awareness of how these automated influence campaigns are being used against us. Maybe everyone still thinks if they are the one to control it, then they win, and they’ll do it better, more ethically."
These activities will be ongoing for the US elections held in 2018 and 2020.

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