FBI probing far-right news sites and social media platforms.

Posted by Kumiko Oumae on Sunday, 26 March 2017 18:32.

The FBI is now investigating a story that almost everyone intuitively knew was true from the start:

The Hill, ‘FBI probing far-right news sites: report’, 20 Mar 2017:

The FBI is investigating whether far-right news websites contributed to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to a new report.

The probe is focused on discovering whether Russian operatives used conservative outlets to help spread stories favoring now-President Trump, McClatchy said Monday.

McClatchy confirmed with two people familiar with the inquiry that the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division is driving the investigation.

The sources said Russian operatives seemingly strategically timed computer commands called “bots” to blitz social media with pro-Trump stories.  

The bots were used at times when Trump appeared struggling with 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, they continued.

McClatchy’s sources said the bots mainly created millions of Facebook and Twitter posts linking to articles on far-right websites including Breitbart News, InfoWars and the Kremlin-backed RT News and Sputnik News.

The sources added that some of the stories were false or contained a mixture of fact and fiction.

Federal investigators are now examining whether the far-right news organizations took any actions aiding Russian operatives, they said.

The bots could have amplified pro-Trump news on Facebook and Twitter, regardless of the outlets’ knowledge or involvement, the pair of sources noted.

“This may be one of the most impactful information operations in the history of intelligence,” one former U.S. intelligence official told McClatchy, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the matter’s sensitivity.

FBI Director James Comey earlier Monday confirmed the Department of Justice (DOJ) is scrutinizing Russia’s meddling in the 2016 race, including any possible ties between Moscow and officials from Trump’s election campaign.

“As you know our practice is not to confirm the existence of an ongoing investigation,” he said during a House Intelligence Committee hearing.

“But in unusual circumstances where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so,” Comey added, noting the DOJ had authorized him to break bureau policy and publicly disclose the probe.

“This is one of those circumstances. I can promise you we will follow the facts wherever they lead.”

Comey added the FBI’s investigation began in late July and will include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.

During the campaign itself, Louise Mensch had reported on basically the same thing. You can revisit that at Heatstreet, and I’ll just give you an exerpt from that:

Heatstreet, ‘How Russia’s Twitter Bots And Trolls Work With Donald Trump Campaign Accounts’, 20 Oct 2016:

If you’ve been following the Twitter fiasco that is the Donald Trump campaign, you will be aware of his association with the Alt-right and with Russia bot accounts.
 
Broadly speaking, Trump has two categories of support on Twitter. Alt-right trolls, and Russian bot accounts pretending to be patriotic Americans.*
 
In many cases, these two groups cross over. The altright contains actual humans, such as @prisonplanet, and many, many bots.
 
In this article I shall however examine the way in which Russian bots are created and used to follow and boost Trump online.
 
It is not that Donald Trump does not have widespread support. He does; even at his current polling lows, his support includes millions of Americans. It is, rather, that Trump’s supporters are incredibly unlikely to use Twitter.
 
Broadly speaking ,Trump’s real supporters aren’t on Twitter – and Trump’s Twitter supporters aren’t real.

[...]

Three such bots that I videoed in the act of using this method were @Commander6080, @Sbragusa, and @jamesdgriffin. All have profiles that pretend to be Americans and to live in the USA.
 
How might this affect a twitter trend? What is the point of it? One scientist theorized as follows. It is a “fake trend” theory called “A Handoff”:

Let’s say you had a hashtag you wanted to get trending. You have a thousand bots (or Russian Trolls) and a popular account like Ricky Vaughn. You have the bots start using the hashtag, they start flooding twitter until it gets a high count (but not in the top 20 trends) then have a real person,  Ricky Vaughn, start pitching the hashtag to his followers. Here is where the window of timing kicks in: within minutes, Ricky Vaughn can have something trending, but before he gets the hashtag to the top 15 you have almost all of the bots automatically delete their tweets with the hashtags. You‘ve now started “a trend” quickly and have had it associated with “Ricky Vaughn” and not a 1,000 odd bots or Russian trolls.

[...]

This whole arrangement of social media manipulation is part of the communication operations side of the modern form of Russian Active Measures. The most remarkable thing about this arrangement is how it is tactically innovative and well-timed to exploit a particular weakness in American society specifically, but it is strategically unsophisticated because Russian commanders have also permanently ruined their own country’s reputation among the international journalist community and among most people on social media.

It’s highly abnormal for an entire country to transparently do something like that. Why would they choose to so carelessly and openly abandon even the appearance of any kind of ‘normality’ on national level?

There are a few reasons as to why they would have chosen to behave this way, but all of them seem to be capable of being summarised like this: Russian commanders may have been willing to sacrifice their country’s perceived journalistic integrity in the eyes of most of the world, because they’ve already given up on the idea that they could ever create a narrative that could appeal to a broad audience. Instead, Russia is seeking to cultivate a very particular audience in Europe and North America (excluding the United Kingdom which they seem to be abandoning). They are seeking to cultivate that roughly 20% of the population which is somewhere vaguely in the nationalistic spectrum and is disillusioned about the political situation in their country, but also lacks grounding and experience in how the world actually works. Russian commanders want to shape the media experience through which those people will come to terms with the world around them, and thus, create a long-term ‘following’, even if those followers are not necessarily aware of what it is that they are following.

The utility of this is clear. 20% of a population is enough to seriously impact the operation of political institutions in western democracies which operate in a pluralistic mode. Russian journalism is not seeking to be liked by everyone, or even trusted. Russia just wants 20% of any given European population to be responsive to their input because that is the bare minimum that they need.



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