FBI probing far-right news sites and social media platforms.
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
used conservative outlets to help spread stories favoring now-President
Trump, McClatchy said Monday.
McClatchy confirmed with two people familiar with the
that the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division is driving the
The sources said Russian operatives seemingly strategically
computer commands called “bots” to blitz social media with pro-Trump
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
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
news organizations took any actions aiding Russian operatives, they
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
in the history of intelligence,” one former U.S. intelligence official
told McClatchy, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the
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
“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
“This is one of those circumstances. I can promise you we
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:
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
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
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
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