Nate Silver’s 538.com has announced that they have obtained and will be making public the most extensive known database of troll tweets from the Russian misinformation efforts. They hope that public analysis will offer insight into how these attacks were waged, and why they were so effective.
But the information already provided offers some guidance that I think every responsible citizen, and especially members of the DK community, need to know:
1. We are STILL UNDER ATTACK
We know this, but the data makes it clear. Here is a timeline of tweet activity from the primary Russian troll farm run out of St. Petersburg.
What we see in this chart is that activity spiked around the time of the 2016 election, but it has been ongoing and pervasive since. Notice the gigantic spike in summer 2017…the analysis shows that this was largely activity by ‘right trolls,’ discussed below. This was undoubtedly activity intending to foster the Trump administration and help it pass its legislative goals, likely with the long term objective of pushing for sanction relief. (It’s always all about sanctions.)
2. We therefore MUST remain wary and vigilant.
The Russian efforts aim to divide us, disrupt our politics and reduce America’s standing in the world. Understanding that they’re doing it is the first step in preventing this. We need to question the information we are receiving and conveying.
3. Understand your enemy
Once we accept that this is being done, we should consider how it’s being done. The Russian efforts involve creating fake profiles, build a follower base, and then spread the information being tweeted in a way that helps Russia meet its objectives. In other words, they’re weaponizing us.
They’re doing this by creating Twitter profiles that can generally be divided into five major categories: right trolls, left trolls, newsfeed trolls, hashtag gamer trolls and fear monger trolls. Let’s consider each.
Right troll (24% of Russian tweets): this profile is designed to look like an ordinary Trump-supporting red-blooded American. They will post in ways that generally sound like Trump, with their objective usually being to support him and demonize his perceived enemies.
Left troll (14% of Russian tweets): this profile is designed to look like a left-leaning voter, but rather than build support for something they intend to divide the Democratic coalition, sow discord, and suppress votes. Typical profiles might be a black voter who hates Hillary Clinton, or a young voter who discusses conspiracy theories about Democratic leaders engaging in various activities.
Newsfeed troll (20% of Russian tweets): These profiles merely push newsfeed stories in order to encourage them toward the top of search engines. Most stories promoted are actually legitimate…so we don’t understand exactly what the longterm goal is here. It might be to establish profile legitimacy and a large following, so that if a fake story needs to be promoted they have the base to do that.
Hashtag Gamer trolls (8% of Russian tweets): Hashtag games consist of posting a hashtag and then followers make jokes out of them. (Full disclosure, I had to look this up, lol). An account might tweet #breakfastfilms, and then followers might quip “Toastbusters,” or “True Grits.” The Russian trolls use these accounts to build followers and sometimes push a right or left troll message. I’m going to guess they’re looking to corral people to the other two kinds of trolls.
Fearmonger trolls (0.3% of Russian tweets): These account spread misinformation about a fake crisis, like a food poisoning outbreak. They are a small number of tweets, but we might assume Russia is testing the waters for creating a larger-scale panic about something.
All of these troll types posted with the secondary objective of driving followers to other troll accounts. If a hashtag follower seemed responsive to a right troll, you push them there and then get them to follow other right trolls. For the follower, this makes it appear that ‘everyone’ believes the same thing, which encourages them to repeat it.
4. Understand that you’re being recruited
DailyKos-ers are active, vocal and a lot of us have online networks where we are trusted and verified profiles. I’m not particularly well-known or prolific here, but for those who do read my posts I think most of you know I’m not a Russian agent, ha. So if Russia can get me to repeat their talking points, they’ve gained something — a legitimate American writing illegitimate posts for them.
Recruitment is what made this effective. We know that this particular data includes about 3 million posts from 2,800 troll profiles (trollfiles?) that were run from the St. Petersburg location with 400 employees. These posts were routinely shared by over 1.4 million unique users. There’s the power — 400 employees turned Americans into an army with millions of disruptive propagandists.
5. Verify, verify, verify
I always try to source my data. If I write that healthcare costs about 17.9% of GDP, I look it up. (I just did that…and spent 2 minutes finding a reliable source and verifying).
The nature of these Russian efforts make this more difficult, in ways I’m just starting to appreciate. If they wanted to plant Clinton or Sanders information in 2016, they flooded their twitter feeds with the data: “Clinton/Sanders actually spent 3.5% of their budget on…” If I see a remark about this and question it, and go to the internet for verification, I get hundreds of returns citing that data because the Russians got their troops to plant the data everywhere.
6. Be safe, be smart, and let’s beat the @#$@% out of them
It’s a scary time in American history for many reasons. The political discourse was already bad enough without a concerted effort to make it worse.
But I believe that Daily Kos can serve as a front line of defense against these attacks. To do so, we need to be vigilant and wary, we need to verify our data, and then we need to get out there and demand that our allies set aside the lies and stick to the truth. All of that starts with understanding what we are up against.
And the stakes are high. The Russian efforts, if successful, will have the unfortunate side effect of maintaining unwarranted Republican power in Congress, and that prevents us from making progressive gains. This isn’t just putting a pro-Russian stooge into power, it’s also stalling M4A, higher wages, regulations, green energy, immigration reform, etc.
We are under attack, but we also have the power to take back control. Because I’m with Obama — Putin isn’t all that. He’s just a common thief and thug with too much power. Let’s elect a Dem majority, and then a Dem president, and then let’s find that dick’s bank accounts and drain them.