December 17, 2018
Recent midterm elections in US another time showed the continuing efforts of the third parties to affect the voting results using media platforms. Facebook stated it blocked 115 accounts for suspected "coordinated inauthentic behavior" linked to foreign groups attempting to interfere in Tuesday’s U.S. midterm elections, particularly 30 Facebook accounts and 85 Instagram accounts. Twitter, meanwhile, has said it has identified more than 4,600 accounts and 10 million tweets, mostly affiliated with the Internet Research Agency, which was linked to foreign meddling in U.S. elections, including the presidential vote of 2016. The agency, a Russian troll farm, has been indicted by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller for its actions during the 2016 vote. The response of the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FBI was a joint statement declaring the law enforcement is working in "unprecedented ways" to combat foreign influence operations. "Americans should be aware that foreign actors – and Russia in particular – continue to try to influence public sentiment and voter perceptions through actions intended to sow discord," the statement said. "They can do this by spreading false information about political processes and candidates, lying about their own interference activities, disseminating propaganda on social media, and through other tactics." Facebook, Twitter and other companies have been fighting misinformation and election meddling on their services for the past two years . There are signs they’re making headway, although they’re still a very long way from winning the war. According to data provided by researches who monitored 2018 US elections, while these measures made less effective specific sort of interference the Russians engaged in two years ago, they haven’t fully stopped Russian influence operations. It seems to a greater extent that they stimulated Russia to develop and shift to new tactics According to Jonathon Morgan and Ryan Fox, who run a New Knowledge cybersecurity company, this year it was registered more overall activity in real time from continuing Russian online influence operations targeting the midterm elections than it was disclosed by social media platforms or detected by researchers during the same period before the election in 2016. In the past month the researchers have collected more than 26 million social media posts concerning the 2018 midterms, particularly a large portion of all relevant content on Twitter as well as a smaller targeted sample of all relevant content on Facebook. Analysis shows that more than 400 websites are likely to be Russian propaganda outlets aimed at American audiences. More than 100 of these websites were confirmed as under the direction of the Russian government or are thought to be Russian with a very high degree of confidence. In the month of October alone, the company tracked 110,000 social media posts that referenced a United States midterm candidate, topic or hashtag and contained a link to one of these websites. More than 10,000 of these posts contained a link to one of the websites we have either confirmed as Russian-directed or believe to be Russian with a very high degree of confidence. The top three websites linked to these social media posts are the site of RT, Russia’s state-financed international cable network (5,275 links); The Duran, a right-wing news and opinion site (1,328 links); and Sputnik, a news and commentary site run by the Russian government (1,148 links). The company have also identified 1,451 social media posts aimed specifically at midterm voters from social media accounts assessed with high confidence as belonging directly to Russian influence operations. These posts are largely focused on the geopolitics of the Middle East, the Saudi-assassinated journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. The most-shared article of known Russian origin for October on Twitter was an article from The Duran purporting to show how groups financed by the billionaire Democratic fund-raiser George Soros “plotted with Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to eliminate conservative ‘right wing propaganda.’” The Russia-linked social media accounts were active during the Kavanaugh hearings, drawing attention to sexual and domestic abuse allegations against various 2018 Democratic candidates and potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. They have been amplifying anti-immigrant sentiment, including conspiracy theories about the caravan of migrants in Central America, and have promoted the idea that the mail-bomb campaign of the Trump supporter Cesar Sayoc Jr. was a Democratic plot. Because of the numerous changes since 2016 in social media platforms and propaganda-detection practices, a straight “apple to apples” comparison of 2016 and the current election cycle is not possible. And no analysis of the social media landscape is ever complete because no one has access to all the data. But any significant detectable quantity of Americans who are unwittingly sharing Russian propaganda on their social networks is cause for concern. And based on activity that the analysis attributes to Russian government efforts, we may estimate that at least hundreds of thousands, and perhaps even millions, of United States citizens have engaged with the content of Russian propaganda online. The consensus among academic researchers and Russia experts in the intelligence community is that Russia does not take a timeout from information battles. It considers itself to be in a constant state of information warfare. Its online influence operations are inexpensive and effective, and afford Russia an asymmetric advantage given the freedoms of expression afforded to Western democracies. We are heartened by the seriousness with which many social media platforms and government agencies are treating this situation. But while progress has been made since 2016, we must remain vigilant in the face of confirmed Russian efforts to undermine our democracy.
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