Tim Boucher

Questionable content, possibly linked

Tag: propaganda Page 1 of 2

50 Cent Party

China’s 50 Cent Party (named from the 0.5 yuan payment per posting) trains and employs tens of thousands of online commentators to promote the PRC party line and control public opinion on microblogs, bulletin board systems, and chatrooms.

Internet Water Army Wikipedia page.

More at the 50 Cent Party page.

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….

Homeland (tv series) sock-puppet clip

Office of Policy Coordination:

Political Social Media Marketing Firms in Russia

Kommersant.ru, April 2015 (auto-translation):

“Political SMM (social media marketing) is a closed club, a significant part of the SMM market in the political sphere is in the shadow for the reason that both customers and operators do not want to advertise not only the amount of contracts, but also principle of their participation in this or that information campaign, “says Artem Klyushin, a very popular pro-state blogger and founder of his own Agency for the Development of Innovative Technologies. Anton Korobkov-Zemlyansky estimates the volume of the SMM-services market at $ 1-2 million per year: “In fact, these are five or seven major PR agencies offering their services, including promotion in social networks:” Apostol Media “and” Social Networks ” , specializing precisely on the Internet, and top PR agencies – “Mikhailov and Partners”, CROS, ” IMA-consulting “.” If it is a question of small campaigns, they, as a rule, give a contract to the small companies, in each of which works on five-seven persons. There are about 15-20 such small companies. ”

 

Jacques Ellul, propaganda, intention

Quoted by a blogger, February 2011. Attributed to philosopher Jacques Ellul:

First of all, the propagandist must insist on the purity of his own intentions and at the same time, hurl accusations at the enemy. But the accusation is never made haphazardly or groundlessly. The propagandist will never accuse the enemy of just any misdeed; he will accuse him of the very intention that he himself has and of trying to commit the very crime that he himself is about to commit.”

Russian internet crackdown after 2011 protests

My current operating theory goes something like this, vis-a-vis Russia.

  1. Internet crackdowns followed popular anti-corruption protests
  2. Youth movements were organized/re-directed to support pro-statist agenda.
  3. Those movements perfected techniques to astro-turf and manipulate media locally, and exported their techniques to Europe and United States.
  4. Internet Research Agency, and friends, are examples of organizational models to perpetuate those techniques and missions abroad.
  5. IRA infitrated social movements and social media in US using same combination of tools.
  6. Somehow “coincidentally” these IRA et al efforts dovetailed perfectly with a certain presidential campaign environment.

Further notes:

2011.

Quoting from a Slate December 2016 article:

“But 2011 began with the Arab Spring chasing out the rulers of Tunisia and Egypt, and ended with Moscow’s middle classes taking to the streets in Facebook-organized protests against electoral corruption. Facebook did more than just make it easier to organize; in a year of popular revolution, it let some Russians feel they were part of something bigger, that they had a chance. It was a profound shock to Putin’s government.”

… “Opposition websites were hit with powerful and coordinated distributed denial of service attacks, trolling, and disinformation. Deluged with pro-government propaganda, local news platforms basically gave up trying to separate fact from political fiction. The sheer volume of fake news, plus its sophistication, meant algorithms could no longer tell the difference.”

January 2011 Telegraph article about the state of the Russian internet.

Wikipedia Internet in Russia article:

“In September 2011 Russia overtook Germany on the European market with the highest number of unique visitors online.[2] In March 2013 a survey found that Russian had become the second most commonly used language on the web.[3] “

2012:

Same Slate source as above:

… “In 2012, new censorship measures were brought in, using technologies that indiscriminately block addresses and inspect each packet of data.”

Wikipedia Internet Censorship in Russia article:

“Since 2012, Russia maintains a centralized internet blacklist (known as the “single register”) maintained by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor). The list is used for the censorship of individual URLs, domain names, and IP addresses. It was originally introduced to block sites that contain materials advocating drug abuse and drug production, descriptions of suicide methods, and containing child pornography. It was subsequently amended to allow the blocking of materials that are classified as extremist, call for illegal meetings, or contain other content deemed illegal.[1]”

… “Internet service providers (ISPs) are held legally responsible for any illegal content that is accessible to their users (intermediary liability).[8]”

… “A ban on all software and websites related to circumventing internet filtering in Russia, including VPN software, anonymizers, and instructions on how to circumvent government website blocking, was passed in 2017.[21]”

… “Russia’s System of Operational-Investigatory Measures (SORM) requires telecommunications operators to install hardware provided by the Federal Security Service (FSB). It allow the agency to unilaterally monitor users’ communications metadata and content, including phone calls, email traffic and web browsing activity.[8] Metadata can be obtained without a warrant.[8] In 2014, the system was expanded to include social media platforms, and the Ministry of Communications ordered companies to install new equipment with Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) capability.[24]”

… “As of January 2018, companies registered in Russia as “organizers of information dissemination”, such as online messaging applications, will not be permitted to allow unidentified users.[29]”

Navalny, 2014, same Wikipedia source:

“In March 2014, in the midst of the Crimean crisis, the LiveJournal blog of Alexei Navalny, Kasparov.ru and Grani.ru were blocked by the government. These sites, which opposed the Russian government, were blocked for “making calls for unlawful activity and participation in mass events held with breaches of public order.”[68]”

SORM Wikipedia page:

“In August 2014, SORM-2 usage was extended to monitoring of social networks, chats and forums, requiring their operators to install SORM probes in their networks.[5][6]”

… “The SORM device recommended by the FSB is named Omega.[10] Equipment by Cellebrite appears to be in use.[11] SORM also enables the use of mobile control points, a laptop that can be plugged directly into communication hubs and immediately intercept and record the operator’s traffic.[3]”

… “Since 2010, intelligence officers can wiretap someone’s phones or monitor their Internet activity based on received reports that an individual is preparing to commit a crime. They do not have to back up those allegations with formal criminal charges against the suspect.[15] According to a 2011 ruling, intelligence officers have the right to conduct surveillance of anyone who they claim is preparing to call for “extremist activity.”[15]”

 

Moscow Information Technologies

Source: Meduza 2015 article:

“Later that fall, the group leaked emails between government-affiliated company Moscow Information Technologies and various Russian media outlets about the publication of planted stories, in addition to emails allegedly belonging to First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov. “

Moscow Times, May 2016:

“An outfit called Moscow Information Technologies, or MIT (set up by Sobyanin’s predecessor, former Mayor Yuri Luzhkov), is officially tasked with “providing informational support for the city’s projects.”

But a more honest explanation of MIT’s activities is that it serves as a vehicle for subversive propaganda on the city’s behalf.

A series of stolen emails released by the hacker group “Shaltai Boltai” (whose members the Federal Security Service arrested earlier this year) shows that MIT was involved in a clandestine program to conspire with the Russian media by running articles discrediting opposition candidates in local elections. This effort included fabricating evidence against opposition activists and suppressing unwanted coverage — a clear violation of Russian media laws.”

… “According to the organization’s leaked ledgers, MIT used to funnel up to a million rubles ($17,000) from the mayor’s office for a single newspaper story that either praised City Hall or smeared its opponents. Media outlets published these stories with phony bylines, disguising the fact that this content was essentially a paid advertisement.

The mayor’s office also manipulates the media for favorable coverage through other, more legally sound but still surreptitious means. On top of maintaining a legitimate media empire funded to the tune of 13 billion rubles a year ($230 million) that includes several TV channels, radio stations, and online news websites, Sobyanin’s administration heavily invests in swaying the agenda on Yandex.News, Russia’s biggest online news aggregator.”

… “MIT plays a role here, too. An investigation by the independent news outlet RBC showed that Moscow’s authorities have found a way to dominate the news agenda when it wants, drowning out unfavorable stories with its own.

MIT devised a scheme wherein Moscow’s neighborhood councils (most of them totally loyal to the mayor and to United Russia) set up dozens of similar news websites that are capable of firing off volleys of nearly identical news articles promoting the mayor’s initiatives. This onslaught fools Yandex’s algorithm into thinking that something important is happening. The news aggregator doesn’t differentiate between the sources, and thus assumes there’s a news event that deserves top billing in its ranking system, if hundreds of different outlets are reporting on a single event.”

Identical messages in name order (botnets)

Computerworld, Sept. 2017:

“Many of the phony accounts fired off “identical messages seconds apart – and in the exact alphabetical order of their made-up names.””

Good quote:

“In the very near future, it’s likely that the focus of IT security will be forced to shift from keeping information safe to keeping information true.”

 

Million dollar question – Facebook ad buys

September 2017 CNN reporting on BLM ads targeting Baltimore & Ferguson.

“Senator Mark Warner, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that the “million-dollar question” about the Facebook ads centered on how the Russians knew whom to target.”

Were they being fed statistical targeting information, and by whom? Or were they just guessing?

Maybe that investigation will uncover some evidence it can share with the public.

Engadget September 2017 article claiming FB knew well in advance of the election what was happening with the ad buys.

“Despite once saying that it was “crazy” to believe Russians influenced the 2016 election, Facebook knew about a possible operation as early as June, 2016, the Washington Post reports. It only started taking it seriously after President Obama met privately with CEO Mark Zuckerberg ahead of Trump’s inauguration. He warned that if the social network didn’t take action to mitigate fake news and political agitprop, it would get worse during the next election. Obama’s aides are said to regret not doing more to handle the problem.”

Appears to be Washington Post September 2017 source of above:

“These issues have forced Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies to weigh core values, including freedom of speech, against the problems created when malevolent actors use those same freedoms to pump messages of violence, hate and disinformation.”

… “Facebook’s efforts were aided in part by the relatively transparent ways in which the extremist group sought to build its global brand. Most of its propaganda messages on Facebook incorporated the Islamic State’s distinctive black flag — the kind of image that software programs can be trained to automatically detect.

In contrast, the Russian disinformation effort has proven far harder to track and combat because Russian operatives were taking advantage of Facebook’s core functions, connecting users with shared content and with targeted native ads to shape the political environment in an unusually contentious political season, say people familiar with Facebook’s response.”

… “The sophistication of the Russian tactics caught Facebook off-guard. Its highly regarded security team had erected formidable defenses against traditional cyber attacks but failed to anticipate that Facebook users — deploying easily available automated tools such as ad micro-targeting — pumped skillfully crafted propaganda through the social network without setting off any alarm bells.”

This is interesting:

“He described how the company had used a technique known as machine learning to build specialized data-mining software that can detect patterns of behavior — for example, the repeated posting of the same content — that malevolent actors might use.

The software tool was given a secret designation, and Facebook is now deploying it and others in the run-up to elections around the world. It was used in the French election in May, where it helped disable 30,000 fake accounts, the company said. It was put to the test again on Sunday when Germans went to the polls. Facebook declined to share the software tool’s code name. ”

… “Instead of searching through impossibly large batches of data, Facebook decided to focus on a subset of political ads.

Technicians then searched for “indicators” that would link those ads to Russia. To narrow down the search further, Facebook zeroed in on a Russian entity known as the Internet Research Agency, which had been publicly identified as a troll farm.

“They worked backwards,” a U.S. official said of the process at Facebook.”

The Atlantic, September 2017.

“The problem appears to have been that Facebook’s spam- and fraud-tuned machine-learning systems could not see any differences between the “legitimate” speech of Americans discussing the election and the work of Russian operatives.”

Regarding WP quote above:

“I take this to mean that they identified known Internet Research Agency trolls, looked at the ads they posted, and then looked for similar ads being run, liked, or shared by other accounts.”

This is a very good direction of conjecture, if you ask me:

“Regular digital agencies (and media companies) routinely use Facebook ad buys to test whether stories and their attached “packaging” will fly on the social network. You run a bunch of different variations and find the one that the most people share. If the Internet Research Agency is basically a small digital agency, it would be quite reasonable that there was a small testing budget to see what content the operatives should push. In this case, the buys wouldn’t be about direct distribution of content—they aren’t trying to drive clicks or page likes—but merely to learn about what messages work.”

And:

“And the last possibility is that the Internet Research Agency wanted to make a buy that it knew would get Facebook in trouble with the government once it was revealed. Think of it as corporate kompromat. Surely the Internet Research Agency would know that buying Facebook ads would look bad for Facebook, not to mention sowing the discord that seems to have been the primary motivation for the information campaign.”

I’m sure the truth is some blend of all of the above, and we may not be privy to it any time soon.

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