Tim Boucher

Questionable content, possibly linked

Tag: 2017 Page 1 of 2

Content ranking system broken

Gaming, verification, blockchain. Tech Crunch, May 2017, re: Userfeeds (Warsaw) company:

The system of content ranking and discovery on the web using links, likes, upvotes etc. is broken because algorithms are gamed by third parties (such as bots and false news providers) to change what you see on social media. That has meant platforms like Facebook ranking fake news higher than real news because it is, for instance, more sensational than boring and complex reality. We all know where that led…

Objective: 70% original text

NBC News, November 2017:

The objective was to have the articles be “70 percent” original text and get them to the top of search engine results, Bespalov said.

EU ramps up anti-propaganda task force

The Guardian, November 2017:

For the first time since the team was set up in 2015, the East Stratcom taskforce will have money from the EU budget, rather than relying on contributions from EU member states or squeezing other budget lines. The unit has been granted €1.1m (£980,000) a year from the EU budget for 2018-20, according to a source familiar with the team’s work.

  • European council president Donald Tusk warns of “cyber-attacks, fake news, hybrid war.”

See also: NATO anti-propaganda efforts.

I found a report on the Communications Security Establishment of Canada’s site: Cyber Threats to Canada’s Democratic Processes. Direct link to PDF – they don’t seem very worried, but I wonder if maybe they should be….

Evgeny Prigozhin – IRA financier

Meduza, June 2016:

In 2014, hackers from the online group “Anonymous International” further corroborated that Prigozhin’s company Concord was involved in financing the Internet Research Agency.

It would seem that Prigozhin and his people provided the Russian authorities with other propaganda-related services, as well. In November 2013, three months before the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, a news agency called “Kharkov” was founded in Ukraine, and it opened a branch office in Crimea. The agency advocated a pro-Russian position in its news reports, using the term “Novorossiya” well before violence began in eastern Ukraine. (Novorossiya is a historical term of the Russian Empire denoting a region north of the Black Sea that suddenly re-entered the political lexicon when Moscow-backed separatists took up arms against Kiev in 2014.) According to the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Evgeny Prigozhin financed Kharkov. (Journalists later discovered that Prigozhin’s mobile phone number—listed as “Evgeny Viktorovich”—was among the contacts of Konstantin Kobzar, one of Viktor Yanukovich’s assistants.)

The next day, on May 31, Prigozhin filed 15 different lawsuits against the Internet search engine Yandex, seeking to utilize Russia’s new law on “the right to be forgotten,” which obliges search engines to respond to citizens’ requests to remove results linking to “illegal, inaccurate, or irrelevant information” about that individual. In particular, Prigozhin has demanded that Yandex delete its links to Novaya Gazeta’s report about the “troll factory,” Fontanka’s report about Prigozhin’s “business empire” in military communities (specifically, his state contracts with the Defense Ministry), and an article about military communities published on the Ukrainian news website Apostrof, with the headline “On Putin’s Thieving Chef.”

Yandex refused to censor its search results, arguing that Prigozhin offered no reasons, and neither did he give any proof that the published information is inaccurate. Technically speaking, it’s still unclear why Prigozhin wants these hyperlinks removed from his search results on Yandex. Prigozhin has refused to speak to journalists for many years now.

Maybe Yandex isn’t as corrupt as I thought…

From mr7.ru, March 2015 (Google auto-translate from Russian):

The company is allegedly financed by the Concord holding company (food production, restaurants, real estate, development) headed by the friend and cook of the Russian president Yevgeny Prigozhin. Since 2000, the holding company has been organizing banquets in the Kremlin, has also been cooperating with JSC Voentorg and the Ministry of Defense.”

Daily Beast, October 2017:

And Baskaev fingered Putin pal Yevgeny Prigozhin as his former “boss,” or “our guy who gives us money.”

Different Daily Beast article about sanctions against Russian officials in US (a year old, it says):

The U.S. Treasury Department has added seven Russians and dozens of companies to its sanctions list because of Moscow’s activities in Crimea and Ukraine. The updated list, released Tuesday, includes Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St. Petersburg businessman known as President Vladimir Putin’s chef. The addition of new names provoked an angry response from the Kremlin, with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov vowing to get revenge. “We will be expanding our lists, we will see how we can respond asymmetrically,” Ryabkov told Russia’s TASS news agency. Prigozhin, known for his Kremlin connections, was added to the list because he provided financial and technological support to top Russian defense officials, the Treasury statement said. He has also been linked to a murky private security contractor that has sent mercenaries to Ukraine and Syria, known as ChVK Vagner.

Prigozhin Wikipedia page, current to November 2017:

Russian media point out that according to documents, published by hackers from Anonymous International, Concord is directly involved with trolling administration through the agency. Researchers cite e-mail correspondence, in which Concord gives instructions to trolls and receives reports on accomplished work.

 

Dzheykhun Aslanov – IRA “American department” lead

Lb.ua, November 2017:

RBC sources insist that the “American department” is headed by a 27-year-old native of Azerbaijan, Dzheykhun Aslanov. He denies this. RBS has in its disposal a message from a Telegram chat on behalf of Aslanov, which refers to the intermediate results of the “troll factory” in the United States. Aslanov came to Petersburg in the late 2000s from Irkutsk Region to study at the Economics Faculty of Hydrometeorological University. He visited the United States in 2009 and London in 2011. According to RBC, he currently owns two firms specializing in online advertising and operations. One of them, Azimut, offers account promotion services on social networks, Aslanov specified.

Moscow Times, October 2017:

He also described an Azerbaijani-born 27-year-old who RBC named as the head of the factory’s American department as a “great guy” who was lenient toward him for minor workplace misconduct.

Dozhd TV cites three former troll farm staffers corroborating RBC’s investigation that named the manager as Dzheykhun Aslanov, nicknamed “Jay Z.”

“Jay was a really not bad manager: not the most competent in this field, well, frankly speaking, generally incompetent, but he had assistants,” Baskayev told Dozhd TV.

Daily Beast, October 2017: no substantially new or different info than sources above.

RBC October 2017 article auto-translation gives a different spelling for first name:

The head of the “American department” interlocutors of RBC magazine unanimously called the 27-year-old native of Azerbaijan Jeyhun Aslanova. He himself denied this information in a conversation with a correspondent of RBC. But apart from the words of the three sources of the magazine – the current employee of the “factory”, the former employee of the “American Department” and the source familiar with the organization’s activities – RBC magazine has a message from the Telegram chat created by Aslanov and dedicated to the intermediate results of the “factory” in USA.

In St. Petersburg Aslanov arrived in the late 2000s from the city of Ust-Kut, Irkutsk region – to study economist at the Hydrometeorological University. In 2009, he spent several months in the US, visiting New York and Boston, in 2011 he traveled to London, it follows from the open information on Aslanova’s page on VKontakte. Now the probable head of the foreign department of the “factory” is owned by two firms, specialization – advertising activities and work on the Internet. One of them, Azimut, was established in June 2016, that is, three months before the elections in the US, and for half a year showed revenue of 29 million rubles. (the data of SPARK-Interfax).

 

RBC (Russian news outlet)

During my research, I ran across this connection to the Russian media outlet, so widely cited in IRA investigation of October 2017. Nationofchange, November 2017:

The source used in almost all of this reporting is the same, RBC Information Systems, a company owned by Russian oligarch and 2012 presidential candidate, Mikhail Prokhorav.

Prokhorav Wikipedia page, owner of basketball team Brooklyn Nets.

Apparently this information isn’t quite accurate though, as RBC was sold by Prokhorav in June 2017. First a little background via Wikipedia:

In 2016, Prokhorov ran afoul of Putin when his media group Onexim, specifically RBC Media, published articles and news reports on the Panama Papers and Putin’s son-in-law Kirill Shamalov’s connections and offshore assets.[47] Onexim offices were raided by the Federal Security Service as well as tax department officials, in April 2016.[48][49]

Reuters June 2017, about the sale and context.

Financial Times, June 2017.

 

 

Mikhail Burchik – IRA head

According to RBC.ru auto-translation of October 2017 article:

The actual head of the whole “factory” is, as the RBC magazine wrote, 31-year-old Mikhail Burchik, previously the owner of his own IT companies VkAp.ru and GaGaDo, the publisher of newspapers for municipal districts. Burchik himself never officially confirmed that he runs a “factory” or works at Savushkin’s office, but in conversation with the RBC magazine he said that he advises the media “as an expert in the promotion and development of Internet projects.” Burchik personally communicates with about 20-30 people, who in turn manage the staff from 10 to 100 people depending on the direction, describes the model of the source work from the “factory”.

It’s odd, because I’ve been tracking two other possible Mikhail’s, Kurkin and Bystrov, who are sometimes credited as founder/directors of the Internet Research Agency. It’s possible all three were at different points, but makes it hard to track. But makes for a bit of confusion in the research.

Adrian Chen’s 2015 NY Times piece:

The source field on Twitter showed that the tweets Zoe Foreman — and the majority of other trolls — sent about #ColumbianChemicals were posted using a tool called Masss Post, which is associated with a nonworking page on the domain Add1.ru. According to online records, Add1​.ru was originally registered in January 2009 by Mikhail Burchik, whose email address remained connected to the domain until 2012. Documents leaked by Anonymous International listed a Mikhail Burchik as the executive director of the Internet Research Agency.

In early February, I called Burchik, a young tech entrepreneur in St. Petersburg, to ask him about the hoax and its connection to the Internet Research Agency. In an article for the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the German journalist Julian Hans had claimed that Burchik confirmed the authenticity of the leaked documents. But when I called Burchik, he denied working at the Internet Research Agency. “I have heard of it, but I don’t work in this organization,” he said. Burchik said he had never heard of the Masss Post app; he had no specific memory of the Add1.ru domain, he said, but he noted that he had bought and sold many domains and didn’t remember them all. Burchik suggested that perhaps a different Mikhail Burchik was the agency’s executive director. But the email address used by the Mikhail Burchik in the leak matched the address listed at that time on the website of the Mikhail Burchik I spoke with.

 

Mikhail Bystrov – IRA / Glavset director

From mr7.ru, March 2015 (Google auto-translate from Russian):

“LLC “Internet Research” (TIN 7813585038) was founded in March 2014. The company acts as the successor to LLC “Internet Research Agency” (INN 7805627478), which was based in Olgino. The legal address of “Internet research”, according to commercial registers, is Bolshaya Raznochinnaya street, 17, room 1-N. The founder and general director is Michael Bystrov born in 1958, retired colonel of militia, former chief of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Moscow district of St. Petersburg. According to Kommersant , in the 1990s, Mikhail Ivanovich stood at the origins of the Regional Office for Combating Organized Crime.

Wired, September 2017:

According to Russia researchers at the liberal advocacy group Center for American Progress, there’s reason to believe the Internet Research Agency is operating under a new name: Glavset.

A Russian tax filing reveals that Glavset, which launched in February 2015, operates out of the same office building—55 Savushkin Street in St. Petersburg—that once housed the Internet Research Agency. The filing lists Mikhail Ivanovich Bystrov, former head of the Internet Research Agency, as its general director.

Wikipedia IRA page:

“As of October 2014, the company belonged to Mikhail Bystrov, who had been the head of the police station at Moscow district of Saint Petersburg.[11]”

Masterandmargarita.eu (still don’t know what that site is):

The modern office building with four floors at the Savushkina ulitsa no. 55 in Saint Petersburg houses two similar companies. Besides the aforementioned Internet Research Agency, it also houses the Интернет исследования [Internet issledovaniya] or Internet Research, a company ran by Mikhail Bystrov, a former police officer from Saint Petersburg. This company also belongs to Yevgeny Prigoshin’s holding company Concord.

CrowdTangle, viral content, and malicious actors

October 2017, Washington Post:

“The logic of CrowdTangle’s model is relatively simple (even if the underlying math and software code gets complicated). CrowdTangle tracks clusters of Facebook pages and specific keywords. It gathers historical data on how stories, posts and images tend to perform on these sites, and then highlights the stories, posts and images that are doing best against their own expected baseline performance rate. [The] company then packages this information into a daily email, alerting [its] clients to the content which is likely to perform best on a day-to-day basis.”

Jonathan Albright’s Medium account has some great material.

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