On Tuesday evening, we drew your attention to the connection between a highly dubious story (which posited a link between the spread of disease in Twin Falls, Idaho and immigrants) pushed by Breitbart, Alex Jones, and other Right-wing media outlets, and an effort by a Russia-linked Facebook account to capitalize on the xenophobia that story catalyzed by organizing anti-immigrant rallies.
You can, and should, read about it here: Russia Used Facebook To Organize Rally In Town Targeted By Breitbart, InfoWars
That comes amid heightened scrutiny on the role played by Kremlin-sponsored social media ad campaigns designed to amplify misleading and in some cases manifestly false narratives as part of a broader effort to influence the U.S. electorate. Contrary to what you’ll read from some of the propaganda outlets who may ultimately find themselves implicated in the effort, $100,000 in adspend can have a big impact when you consider the fact that the whole purpose of social media is to amplify messages exponentially. More on that here.
An important piece of this puzzle is Sputnik, the Russian propaganda outfit that, in addition to being outed for attempting to push a false narrative about the murder of Seth Rich, is now reportedly under investigation by the FBI after the same former employee who was pressured to lie about Rich ended up turning over a thumb drive containing “thousands” of internal Sputnik documents to U.S. intelligence.
In response to questions from Yahoo News, a spokesman for Mueller declined to say whether the Sputnik investigation was part of the Special Counsel probe.
Well on Wednesday, Bloomberg is out reporting that Robert Mueller is adopting a “red hot” focus on social media as part of his investigation. Here’s more:
Russia’s effort to influence U.S. voters through Facebook and other social media is a “red-hot” focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election and possible links to President Donald Trump’s associates, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.
Mueller’s team of prosecutors and FBI agents is zeroing in on how Russia spread fake and damaging information through social media and are seeking additional evidence from companies like Facebook and Twitter about what happened on their networks, said one of the officials, who asked not to be identified discussing the ongoing investigation.
The ability of foreign nations to use social media to manipulate and influence elections and policy is increasingly seen as the soft underbelly of international espionage, another official said, because it doesn’t involve the theft of state secrets and the U.S. doesn’t have a ready defense to prevent such attacks.
Richard Ledgett, the former deputy director of the National Security Agency who retired earlier this year, said it’s unlikely that social-media companies knew how Russia was using them before the election because U.S. intelligence agencies didn’t even fully grasp what was happening.
“The surprise was the integration into a whole campaign,” Ledgett said. “It’s the amplification of some stories and the suppression of other stories to bias you. That’s really hard to fight against. That’s where people need to think critically.”
Yes, you “need to think critically.”
Which actually isn’t as hard as some Americans make it out to be. If you’re reading something that, in your gut, feels like it might be Russia-sponsored propaganda, it probably is.
Of course the silver lining here is that it won’t be long before Mueller and others start to connect the dots and pin down exactly which sites are participating in this effort – where “participating” means producing the propaganda that gets blasted out. Mark my words: you’re going to wake up one day a year or so from now and discover that some of the sites you frequent have been shut down – permanently.
The only question then will be whether their operators managed to get out of the country ahead of time, or whether they’ll find themselves charged with a crime (again).