.Fascinating new story that I have annotated:
Fake News as ‘Moral Imperative’? Democrats’ Alabama Move Hints at Ugly 2020
By Jim Rutenberg
Jan. 13, 2019
Note that the use of "Democrats" is not exactly fair. Doug Jones' campaign was not responsible and did not know about the fake Russian bot operation on his behalf, and he has condemned it and called for investigation. The $100,000 (minimum) deception campaign was run by "New Knowledge," the private intel group run by "former" NSA and CIA
State Department operatives who specialize in Russia Panic and are also involved in the "Hamilton 68" central panic board. (Some details below if these do not ring a bell.)
Sputnik and RT were keying off two articles in The New York Times, which broke the news of the Alabama efforts. The first, by Scott Shane and Alan Blinder in late December, detailed an operation that included the creation of fake Russian Twitter accounts, as well as a phony Facebook page purportedly set up by conservative Alabamians opposed to Mr. Moore, who ended up losing to his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones.One of the people behind that effort, Jonathon Morgan, of the cyber security firm New Knowledge, minimized the effort by saying it was only an experiment to observe how such Russian-style tactics work in real time (though an internal report said the project was seeking to depress turnout for Mr. Moore).
The main financial backer of that project, the LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, disavowed it, saying he did not know the money he had donated to groups affiliated with Democrats would finance such a thing. “I want to be unequivocal,” he wrote on Medium. “There is absolutely no place in our democracy for manipulating facts or using falsehoods to gain political power.”
Mr. Jones, the politician who benefited from the operation, angrily denounced it and called for a federal investigation. So maybe there was reason to think it was all just a blip.
Then came the second Times article, last week, on another shady tactic used against Mr. Moore. This one involved a Facebook page for a fake group of Baptists supporting Mr. Moore as a potential ally in their bid to ban alcohol in Alabama — a surefire way to alienate voters if ever there was one.
The phony teetotaling campaign was the work of another group of liberal activists with different financiers, whose identities remain unknown. And it came with an implicit warning: Get used to it.
morehttps://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/13/busi ... rence.html
The next part has some real hilarity in it:
As one of the organizers, the progressive activist Matt Osborne, told The Times, “If you don’t do it, you’re fighting with one hand tied behind your back.” Given the way some of Mr. Trump’s backers — here and in Russia — have engaged in such tactics, he said, there was “a moral imperative to do this.”
Researchers who have been studying the Russian disinformation tactics have been girding for just such a development.
“One of the things we’ve been talking about in the last year is how the real threat’s going to be when it’s not just Russia or Iran — nation-states with budgets — but when every single person with an issue starts engaging in this type of manipulative behavior,” said Bret Schafer, an analyst at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a research project at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “It’s absolutely awful for democracy.”
My professional estimate is that it was circa 1994
"when every single
person with an issue" -- or corporation with an interest, or government group with an agenda -- started "engaging in this type of manipulative behavior." (That of course means online, since it was such "manipulative behavior" began in meatspace circa the Discovery of Fire or the Dawn of Politics.) From the mid-1990s forward you had fake accounts in the thousands and then millions, daily copy-paste comment campaigns launched professionally and assisted by team fans, sock-puppet trolling, fabricated stories, echo chambers, mock sites masquerading as better-known sites with similar URLs, political spam and more resulting among other things in a widespread inability to distinguish satire from fakes, etc. etc. etc. And since this was the early Internet of course the gravitational center of all of this activity was the United States, pursued mainly by American actors, as is still largely the case today.
Well, not every single
interest on the Internet. That point would have been reached around 2002, after the 9/11 shock and in the run-up to the war of aggression against Iraq. So it merely took another 14-16 years for the disinfo practitioners at the German Marshall Fund to finally attain this insight.
Mr. Schafer had particular reason to be chagrined. New Knowledge helped build the website for the Alliance’s disinformation-tracking database, Hamilton68, which had monitored suspected Russian-linked accounts, tracking the falsehoods they spread and the discord they tried to sow. (New Knowledge also helped write a report on Russian troll activity released last month by the Senate Intelligence Committee.) The Alabama project, Mr. Schafer told me, “undercuts our collective ability to take other countries to task for their deceptive, online behavior.”
Aw, sorry Schafer. Who would have seen that coming?
But let's change the subject.
Fight-fire-with-fire reasoning is bubbling up on the left
Ah, yes, "the left" as NYT defines it, as we shall see:
as the social media giants continue to struggle to stop distortion campaigns in real time. It was only after The Times and The Washington Post reported on the Alabama operations that Facebook shut down the suspect accounts.
None of this bodes well for the 2020 campaign, which has entered its first stage at a time when analysts in and out of government are still trying to determine the full effect disinformation had in the last presidential election.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania,
who practically lives on certain NPR programs, with extreme Russia Panic of the OMGPEARLHARBOR9/11PUTINWEAREATWARTREASON variety as her stock in trade
has concluded that the Russian activity probably affected the outcome. In “Cyber War,” her just-published book about the 2016 campaign, she reports that Russia “tried to mobilize, demobilize, and shift the sorts of voters that Trump needed to win.”
If the results of the investigation by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III confirm her conclusion, some people may be deterred from employing such tactics.
I mean, obviously it will make no difference either way. To suggest that the Mueller outcome will determine whether certain U.S. actors ("some people") will (continue to) engage in online deception is to provide them with a preemptive excuse for what they are going to do anyway. Even if the Mueller investigation is not a dud on the collusion-conspiracy front, as is near certain.
On the other hand, nothing spawns copycats like victory.
Big questions remain about how to keep American political campaigns from descending into disinformation, barring still-elusive legal or technical remedies, as Ms. Jamieson told me in an interview. “How do you make sure it’s marked off as inappropriate?” she said. “The real question for 2020 is, what is out of bounds? Is there anything?”
As a start, I reached out to various expected 2020 players to see if they would eschew such tactics.
I was heartened to receive this statement from Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey: “There is no place in our politics for deceptive tactics that undermine trust in — and the credibility of — our democratic process and stand in contrast to our values.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren’s presidential exploratory committee said, “Our campaign doesn’t support these kinds of tactics.” The campaign manager for Representative Tulsi Gabbard’s 2020 committee, Rania Batrice, said Ms. Gabbard “strongly condemns” the use of disinformation.
I'd never thought I'd say that about a list that includes Cory Booker, but, I guess these are the people who believe they're seriously running for president?
The Republican Party chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel — sounding as if she might be relishing the Democrats’ turn under the microscope — said, “These tactics are shameful.”
Then there were those whose offices I never heard back from — Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Julián Castro, the Democratic Party itself and Mr. Trump’s re-election team.
Come on, Bernie. Wake up your people. You're like Patient Zero for this shit.
The real surprise was former Vice President Joe Biden.
“Not going to have any comment on that for you,” a spokesman said.
Maybe Mr. Biden wants to keep his options open.
Meet the Left!
And while you're on their page, make sure to consult the Times for the latest Russia Panic stories, undeterred by these revelations, and enjoy all the other naive or intentional repetitions of bullshit defamations of political candidates, fabrications and stereotypes about countries targeted for war, and so on.
By the way, don't miss the Onion-worthy headline
given to the NYT frontpage link for this story.