Tuesday, September 4, 2018

An Activist Delayed

An Activist Delayed
Tuesday, September 4, 2018
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Many years ago, a pious and well-meaning friend tried to introduce me to God. Without God, life has no meaning, she argued. I replied, “Then my life shall remain meaningless.”
Fortunately, it didn’t.
It’s almost cliché for a mother to write about the birth of her child as the miracle of her existence, the fons et origo, the event that cut a line down the spine of her life, dissecting her very existence into two separate but unequal halves.
Nevertheless, I echo these sentiments. I still remember the moment my eyes gazed upon the slimy, wiggling bundle of fat being transferred from the drop site between my legs to the clear plastic bassinet a few feet away.
“London,” I called to her, and her face jerked in my direction, her dark eyes searching the room before finding and resting on mine. She knew her mother’s voice. A cry escaped her lips, and my heart expanded.
I remember thinking, I did not know, I did not know… I did not know I was so empty, to be so full. My life took shape. Let others claim God, I thought; London was my meaning.
Not that my life completely lacked meaning before motherhood. In college, my philanthropist interests broadened and took off running, never stopping long at one cause. Every day, a different protest.
 Han Sen Must Step Down!
 Stop Bombing Innocent Serbian Children!
 Give Peas a Chance!
I held my signs high and shouted with the crowd—most of the time, anyway.
But if I’m being honest, the protests were more of a pastime than a serious consideration. They were thrown in between parties, scattered and stuffed between concerts and day drinking and boys.
The world’s needy and hungry, the suffering, the martyred, the refugee children weeping and weary and scarred by the face of war—they existed merely in the peripheral, acknowledged only when their plight peaked my interest and when the time and place to protest aligned comfortably within the confines of my convenience.
These days when I’m not working with other activists, I work on my own. I swap my protest sign for two thumbs and a cell phone. Representatives Lamar Smith and Roger Williams; Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn—I have those pasty, prehistoric shitbags on speed dial.
Is there a bill in Congress attempting to limit women’s health? They can expect a call.
Is there a bill in Congress that will negatively impact minorities or my brothers and sisters of a different faith or sexual orientation? They can expect a call.
Is there a bill trying to hammer another stake in the planet’s coffin? They can expect a call.
Sometimes I get my kids in on the action. I’ve taken London with me to protests organized by Planned Parenthood at the Capitol Building. I’ve watched with pride as she held her Women’s rights are human rights sign higher than anyone else.
My son Kaya called John McCain when Obamacare was on the chopping block. “Please, Senator McCain, you were a hero in World War II. Please be a hero again.” (It didn’t occur to me until after my son hung up that he had cited the wrong war. Oh well, the intention was good.)
Before, activism was a pastime. Now, it is my way of life. I don’t know if my kids—particularly my daughter—were the catalysts for igniting this defiance in me (I know plenty of childless Americans who are passionate and proud activists), but I do know that during every protest, march, or with every call I make or letter I sign—every time I raise my fist to the sky—it is their faces I see. My daughter, my son.
It is their lives I hope to save, their dreams I hope to salvage from the wrecking ball of the current administration—for they are my purpose, and without them, life has no meaning.

First featured in  https://ourepicblog.com.

Friday, August 31, 2018

this is where hope lives

this is where hope lives
Friday, August 31, 2018
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Image result for beto

Dime con quién andas,
y te diré quién eres.
this is where hope lives,
in this riverbed of bone
in this wasteland of dust and tumbleweed roads,
in this weight tugging at america’s hips,
in this refugee sand trap strapped to a single star,
guiding weary travelers to the opposite of home.
this is where hope lives,
on burleson road,
where an apache warrior named joe dispenses water and free advice,
at least we’re luckier than those sons-of-bitches in California!
sonoma valley’s baked alive,
forest incinerated, property losses.
at least when trees die here, they die of natural causes.
but at the corner of capital and barton springs,
there’s a white cross where a young boy used to be that
heartily disagrees.
death is death, and whatever lives here, can die here too.
so hope roams.
it travels north to mount sinai church,
and for 2 hours, guides its people to the promise land,
microphone in hand,
a caravan departing from Galveston,
zig-zagging across the state
until it arrives in el paso via the rio grande.
for 180 minutes, hope wore a face and two ears,
it said, you belong here. don’t disparage.
its people lowered their guard and
stepped forward with their stories.
rosaria’s father was an immigrant and a veteran.
she buried him that morning.
(her body shook as she spoke
as if a geyser had exploded inside her
and her eyes were siphoning the burst.
hope thanked her father for his service,
and just that tiny gesture dried the
currents of her grief)
adam was the human embodiment of student loans.
(his arms thrusted outward as he spoke,
but by the time hope replied, the gesture died
and so had the weary look accompanying it.
it seemed the divine promise forgave mistakes that
texans made while attending college)
jolene lost her job to a company overseas.
(she moved side to side as she spoke,
dancing the broken two-step of the unemployed.
hope moved in and touched her shoulder.
her body stilled, and you could tell
it was the first time she’d exhaled in years)
hope wore a buttoned-down shirt
and by the time the second amendment reared its ugly head,
its entire front was wet with sweat
from the desperate requests of 1000 voters.
hope’s followers left with bags of buttons and barbed wire,
supplies for the long road ahead—
whispering, wouldn’t it be grand to make waves in a land
that rain has forgotten?
and will you tell them in california
when the smoke clears that they’re welcome here?
because if hope can live here, it can die here too,
amid yard signs of black and white desire.
even in the promise land
hope can’t make waves without water.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Father's Day

Father's Day
Monday, June 18, 2018
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He made me pick him up early from his friend’s house so we could buy you a Father’s Day gift

—you, the “noob” who arrived in his world when he was six.

Often you get upset because he doesn’t talk to you, or he only replies in one-word answers.

I never thought to question his curt; I was always taught men don’t say much because they don’t have much to say (you are an anomaly)

But you take his aloofness as not caring much.

And here I thought all Y chromosomes were shaped the same.

But you should have seen him picking out your tie.

We must have stopped in every shop.

He picked up one after the other,

examining each pattern for the correct answer,

not unlike you reviewing his math homework, every check-off a silent declaration of love.

Maybe that’s how men talk–soundless to the ear but amplified to the eye.

You should have seen him pick out your tie.

He asked the cashier if they had a box.

He carried the box throughout the mall and to the car,

I had never seen a head held so high

And when I dropped him off, he said don’t forget to give it to Doug and said I won’t.

You should have seen the way he smiled.
Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Mother's Day

Mother's Day
Tuesday, May 8, 2018
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Here’s to the woman who spent nine long months retaining water, growing and stretching into a living vessel.

Here’s to the woman who, years later, stares into the mirror of her former self and ties the knots of her body together, every inch of loose skin a physical reminder of love.

Here to the women who teaches her sons to dance and her daughters to throw; who wears her heart on her sleeve and her courage in her convictions.

Here’s to the late nights and the early mornings, to the absence of sleep because the baby is crying or the teenager is out past curfew or the adult children are in places unknown, recapturing the dream that was once America.

Here’s to the working woman worried she’s not there enough for her children, and the stay-at-home mom who cleans diapers all day, fantasizing about adult conversations.

Here’s to the woman with a special needs child, who enters the delivery room a mortal and walks out a warrior. Here’s to the fierce kind of all-conquering love uniquely her own.

Here’s to the woman who traded her youth or postponed her retirement, who rinsed the dreams from her hair and the desire from her bones to spend her life raising a miracle all on her own.

Here’s to the miracle postponed. Here’s to the woman whose womb has only known winter. Here’s to the home she grows with life from the light of other women’s summers.

Here’s to the woman who loves her children too hard or too soft, who knows the terror of a speeding car or a sizzling plate, who lays down beside her frightened child and wipes the fear from their crying face.

Here’s to the woman who saw the speeding car too late.

Here’s to the woman whose child was a spark that flickered once, then surrendered. Here’s to the blankets that remain folded and the bottles that stay dry. Here’s to the could-have-beens and the should-have-beens. Here’s to the love that continues to burn long after the last ember of life has been extinguished.

Here’s to the woman sitting outside the clinic, diverting her eyes from the protest signs, promising the cells multiplying in her womb, “This isn’t a goodbye. This is a ‘see you later.’” Here’s to the promise kept.

Here’s to the woman who never wanted to be a mother, but welcomes other women’s children as her own.

Here’s to the woman who still dreams of the children she hasn’t spoken to in years, because love is a long, winding thread that fractures at times, but never severs.

Here’s to the Mother Marys and the Mary Magdalenes and the Mary Janes; here’s to the fertile and the fertile of heart and the unselfish and the brave, here’s to the generations of women who wrap their arms around our nation, whispering, “Shh. I’ll keep you safe.”
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How to Identify Kremlin Trolls on Facebook

How to Identify Kremlin Trolls on Facebook
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
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After the 2016 election, I added over 2000 Facebook "friends"—most of whom I believed were fellow liberals—in the hopes of filling my feed with like-minded posts. Little did my new friends and I know, many of these accounts were actually Kremlin trolls. Over time, they slowly wedged more and more into our social circles.

Over the past four months, I have researched these accounts, looking for similar characteristics that I can share to help others identify these trolls. While no two trolls are exactly alike, they share two fundamental characteristics:


One: A Public Profile

There is no sense in spreading propaganda if no one can see it.


Two: “Post Blasting”

Do they post articles, memes, any type of political content, seconds, minutes apart, multiple times? Then you probably found a troll. (You may also have also found a bot, which is an account set up by Facebook pages to share their posts. Look at the posts they’re sharing—if it is only from one source, then they’re probably a bot.)


Okay, so you found a public account blasting a ridiculous amount of posts. Here’s some more signs to look for:


Employment is Listed as Unemployed or Retired

It makes it harder to verify the person’s authenticity if they don’t have a place of employment.

Profile Images

Kremlin trolls often use generic images related to their political affiliation, or those of famous people. Some will use images of regular people, and reuse the same image over and over cropped and panned out. Don’t try to Google Image these photos; the Kremlin is too smart to use an image that you can find via Google Images. Due to the poor quality of these images, my guess is that many of these are scanned.

Pages

Trolls are often recommissioned several times over. When a troll account is recommissioned, say, as a liberal troll, they clean up on their images and posts from when they were conservative trolls.
Pages, however, is a section of Facebook often ignored by trolls. They spend a lot of time “liking” pages that fit into the image they are trying to convey, but they forget to remove “likes’ from a previous personality. If you study their page “likes,” it’s quite possible you’ll find page “likes” for conflicting issues – such as a “like” for “Trump is a Big Orange Clown” and a like for “Trump for 2020.” Trolls will also forget that they are on their hacked accounts, and “like” pages in their native language, or a topic that is juxtaposed to the account’s identity—for example, a retired Presbyterian school teacher from Indiana “liking” a page for Ukrainian strippers.


Grammar & Punctuation

In My Fair Lady, Henry Higgins famously bemoaned, “There are even places where English completely disappears; in America they haven't used it for years.” Yeah, well, he had a point. Those who live outside English-speaking countries are taught proper, more formal English, and Russia is no exception. Look for posts with thoughtful, well-laid diatribes that read almost like term papers.

Trolls don’t often comment on their own posts, but when they do, look at their writing style in their responses. Their English is never quite as good because they have to make up sentences on the fly; look for stylistic discrepancies between their posts and their comments. Some don't even bother to reply, but use a meme or image instead.


The Space Between the Last Word and the Punctuation Mark

Although it’s technically punctuation, this deserves its own category. Trolls add spaces before a period. We don’t know why. A common thought is that it is done by the translating services that the trolls use.


Sharing of “Memories”

Trolls don’t post a lot of personal posts – although they have gotten better. They do looove to post memories on their wall as a way to validate their account. The thinking is, if it appears to be an old account that has been around awhile, it can’t be a troll. Wrong. Older accounts are used by trolls more than new accounts. Older accounts can actually be bought on the dark web, and the older the account, the more expensive.

Overuse of Divisive Nicknames

RepubiKKKan, Killary, tRUMP…


Shares an Overwhelming Amount of Image-Heavy Images

Let me explain. The typical meme created by an American relies on the language, not the image. The American sense of humor is different. We rely on more sarcasm and irony. Russian memes are heavily photoshopped –many skillfully so—and rely on the image itself to make an impact.


Share Ad Nauseum Content Related to the Most Divisive Topics in America

Usually this falls under racial tension. Starting last week, it switched to gun control.


Shares Fake or Overly Biased Articles

Think: Palmer Report


Signs Not to Look For

  • Relationships. Old hacked accounts come prepackaged with relationships, so if you think “oh, this person is not a troll, they have five cousins.” – think again.
  • Geotagging. Just because an account’s post is tagged in Trenton, New Jersey does not mean they were in New Jersey when it was posted. It is very, very easy to trick Facebook’s geotracker, and you better believe Kremlin trolls have the right tools for the job.
  • The fact that they share non-political posts, or posts about Russian hacking means nothing. It’s a ploy. They do that to throw you off their scent. In fact, trolls are usually the first to accuse others of being trolls.


Once you find a Russian Troll…

You’ll find a hundred more. Keep searching. Keep reporting. Go to the pages that they share from and look there too. Liberal and Conservative pages are plagued with troll accounts. Here are some of the pages that pop up over and over in my research:

The Palmer Report (if you want to the space before the punctuation mark in action, look no further)

Rachel Maddow Fans

Democratic Moms
https://www.facebook.com/Democraticmom/

Expose Trump
https://www.facebook.com/exposetrumpnews/
(Their website, learnprogress.org is no longer working. They haven’t posted in forever.)

Proud Liberals and Proud to be a Democrat are the same fucking people. There’s no information on who manages it.
https://www.facebook.com/Proud-Democrats-2021255211434727/
https://www.facebook.com/ProudToBeADemocrat/

Impeach Trump and Fight Trump are the same people.
https://www.facebook.com/impeachtrumpasap/
https://www.facebook.com/Fight-Trump-1876828232546679/

Same People, same shit:
https://www.facebook.com/We-Are-Liberal-1036841469686059/
https://www.facebook.com/Liberal-American-610045389164725/

Sketchy, divisive, clickbat promoting a blogsite called truthbait.com that has no contact information.
https://www.facebook.com/ILoveDemocrats/

I’m not implying these accounts are run by trolls; however, many pages are. Facebook pages was how Putin got his start in the Facebook game. Accounts were simply created to push the page posts.

Remember, you can also block from seeing Facebook pages, which is really your best recourse from being exposed to propaganda.

Continue to report troll accounts to Facebook, but do not expect a high success rate. Facebook keeps these accounts because, due their prolific posting habits, they increase engagement, and that makes Facebook money.

The Battle of Twittergrad

The Battle of Twittergrad

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Excerpt from Unfriended: Social Media in the Era of Trump
***

Wendy didn’t get Twitter. The forty-five-year old librarian from Fargo, North Dakota, tweeted occasionally, but no one replied or retweeted her tweets because she was, admittedly, a nobody. She used Twitter mostly to stargaze; to look up her favorite celebrities, sometimes replying to their tweets and hoping they’d reply back (they never did).

In October 2016, when the race for the White House was in full throttle, George Takei tweeted, “I hear the bathrooms in Trump Tower are being relabeled ‘Bad Hombres’ and ‘Nasty Women.’”

Wendy laughed and retweeted, adding her own comment, “He’ll have to learn how to spell first!”

Immediately, another Twitter user replied to her comment, “TRUMP WILL MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. #MAGA!!”

Intrigued, Wendy looked up the commenter’s profile. “FloridaMom4Trump.” A profile image of a woman in her sixties with a full head of ruffled, graying blonde hair grinned back at her. Her bio read: PROUD AMERICAN PATRIOT AND MOM OF ARMY SOLDIER. #MAGA, accompanied by multiple American flag emojis.

Wendy tweeted back, “Do you really want a racist misogynist for president?”

FloridaMom4Trump replied, “HE’S BETTER THAN KILLARY!” and added a link to a story, “WikiLEaks Confirms Hillary Sold Weapons to ISIS…Then Drops Another Bombshell!” Wendy was no expert, but even she could tell the news was fake, as well as the site, The Political Insider, reporting it.

A sinking feeling settled in Wendy’s stomach. “What in God’s name am I looking at?” she wondered.

#

For some, Twitter was a delightful, no-frills social media platform where they could jump in, grab what they needed, and jump out.

For others, it was a piss pool—a Palahnuikesque fight club where the morally defective could settle scores. Polluted, bitey, and overpopulated, its dumbed-down, noncommittal pop-in and pop-out public interface made it the friendliest for the trolliest—the type of asinine environment where narcissistic arrivistes like Donald Trump could thrive, turning their 140-character yammer into a propaganda megaphone audible to the world.

So it’s no wonder when Putin sent his trolls into battle, Twitter was Ground Zero.

#

In October 2016, London-born writer and former Conservative Member of British Parliament Louise Mensch broke the news of Russia’s Twitter army and its attempts to influence the election.

It was a shot fired too far and too late.

Blame it on Mensch’s not-so-credible reputation (she’s been called, among other things, “the paranoid bard in the age of Trump”) or the outlet in which she published it—Heat Street, a decidedly right-wing news blog funded by none other than Rupert Murdoch—but when the article broke just weeks before election day, it wasn’t well-received—when it was received at all. Conservatives laughed it off; the Washington Post refuted the evidence backing up Mensch’s claims. Liberals largely ignored it; they didn’t need a conspiracy theory raining on their parade. The “grab them by the pussy” tape had been released. Republicans had, as Bill Maher put it, “handcuffed themselves to a dead hooker.” So what if Russia was playing a virtual mind game on social media? It didn’t matter. Nothing could stop a Clinton win.

It was an assumption that 65,844,954 Americans would live to regret.

#

Perhaps Louise Mensch and other foreign press were on top of the Russian’s covert online operations because they saw history repeating. The American election wasn’t the first time Putin had sought to manipulate an event in his favor.

In 2014, Russia used social media to promote their Ukraine campaign. When almost fifty people—most of them pro-Russian activists—were killed in a building fire, Russian Twitter accounts went into overdrive, blaming the Ukraine and asking for public sympathy, forgetting to mention that the pro-Russian activists had fired the first shot, and continued to fire on pro-Ukrainians even as flames engulfed the trade union building.

In April 2015, The Guardian reported details of a Russian troll house, where hundreds of bloggers spent hours each day flooding forums and social networks at home and abroad with anti-western and pro-Kremlin propaganda. These trolls would work especially hard when Putin launched his less popular campaigns. For example, when the army’s fighter planes were sent to the war in Syria, the Russian population—only 14% of whom supported military intervention in Syria—where inundated with a “succession of live reports, analysis, and official defence briefings that combined delivered a seemingly coordinated message: that airstrikes in Syria are crucial in the fight against ISIS.”

Skip to June 2016, where more than 150,000 Russian-language Twitter accounts posted tens of thousands of messages urging Britain to leave the European Union, just days before referendum on the issue. When government officials studied 139 of these tweets from twenty-nine accounts, they found unflattering, photoshopped pictures of London Mayor Sadiq Kahn, racial slurs against refugees, and articles about terrorist attacks in England and across Europe, all clearly directed for spreading racial hatred across the Western world.

#

A year and two months after the 2016 American Presidential election, and Americans still don’t know what to think. New—and often contradictory—information continues to leak daily on how far Russia’s propaganda machine reached. So far, 50,000 Twitter accounts have been directly linked to the Kremlin, as well as 3,000 accounts to the Internet Research Agency, an infamous troll farm responsible for wide-ranging influence operations on social media in the lead-up to the election. I suspect by the time you read this, thousands—if not millions—of more accounts will have been uncovered.

#

The Kremlin’s modus operandi for attacking the 2016 election via social media came in two varieties—bots and trolls.

The Kremlin bots are automated Twitter accounts programmed to fire off the same message seconds apart, in alphabetical order according their made-up last names. Their messages include hashtags to rig Twitter trends, such as #TrumpTrain and #CrookedHillary. They can retweet, “like”, and reply to tweets; they can also follow each other and retweet themselves.

Autobots rarely feature a profile image, and when they do, it is often shared among multiple accounts. Bots also reply to messages in less time than what is humanly possible to read the tweet that they are responding to, and their response to you is the same response they’ve given others. They follow far more accounts than they are followed in return, they have little to say apart from the topic that they were programmed for, and they tweet prolifically without apparent need to fulfill the basic human requirements of food and sleep. (If the account has tweeted at least fifty times a day across a period of four or more days, it’s fair to assume it’s a bot, according to researchers.)

Kremlin troll accounts are run by humans. These accounts are usually the curators of the messages that the autobots retweet. In terms of the 2016 election, they trolled pro-Hillary accounts with disparaging, often crude comments and images, and they were the first to comment on Trump’s tweets, replying with memes of the American flag or photoshopped images of Hillary in prison stripes.

These online hecklers are also designed to discredit or silence private citizens in powerful positions, like journalists or celebrities, by means of organized harassment, leading the way with autobots following close behind them.

Kremlin trolls are harder to spot than autobots. Keeping up appearances is important to them: they don’t overtweet, they tweet ideas that appear to have some original thought behind them, and they almost always geotag their tweets. That last bit—geotag—is important, because occasionally the bots will forget to hide or change it, and towns like Anzhero-Sudzhensk or Belaya Kholunitsa appear instead of towns like Phoenix or Miami.

Kremlin trolls are also harder to discern because they are often not new accounts, but hacked accounts recommissioned for propaganda. In a 2017 article, the New York Times cited the case of Rachel Usedom, a young American engineer in California, “who tweeted mostly about her sorority before losing interest in 2014. In November 2016, her account was taken over, renamed #ClintonCurruption, and used to promote Russian leaks.”

Working together, these trolls and autobots turned election era Twitter into a dark, dystrophic slaughterhouse. As The Atlantic’s Douglas Guilbeault put it, “Never have we seen such an all-out bot war.”

#

Perhaps the best (and most disputed) example of Russia’s army bot tactics occurred after the first presidential debate. While everyone and their racist grandmother could tell Clinton came out on top, Twitter activity suggested a different outcome—an alternative fact, if you will. The hashtag #TrumpWon began to trend, and it stayed that way for hours.

The odd phenomenon had many Americans scratching their heads. The next day, Boston Globe readers woke up to the headline, “Why is #TrumpWon trending on Twitter?”

Louise Mensch knew the answer. In her October 2016 Heat Street article, she explained the Kremlin bot methods: “Let’s say you had a hashtag you wanted to get trending. You have a thousand bots (or Russian Trolls) and a popular account like Ricky Vaughn [a real person]. You have the bots use the hashtag, flooding Twitter until it gets a high count, but stays just under the top twenty trends. Then, Ricky Vaughn pitches the hashtag to his followers. Here is where the window of timing kicks in: within minutes, Ricky Vaughn can have a hashtag trending, but before he gets the hashtag to the top fifteen, the bots automatically delete their tweets with the hashtags. You’ve now started a ‘trend’ associated with Ricky Vaughn, and not a 1,000 odd bots or Russian trolls.” (At the time Mensch wrote the article, Ricky Vaughn was not a confirmed troll. A year later, his account has been deactivated by Twitter—but the question of whether he is a troll of the American or Russian variety, remains unclear to this day.)

As controversial as Mensch's conclusion may be, she wasn’t the only one watching Twitter closely. A research team led by Oxford University Professor Philip Howard was also studying nuances in hashtag trends after the debates, using popular pro-Trump and pro-Hillary hashtags as guides.

After the first debate, their research concluded that 37% of the pro-Trump tweets had been posted by bots, while bots were responsible for only 22.3% of pro-Clinton tweets. In total, 576, 178 pro-Trump tweets were by bots, while 136,696 were in support of Clinton.

Bots turned up the heat for the second debate, with 800,00 pro-Trump tweets and just under 200,000 pro-Clinton tweets.

Howard didn’t point the finger directly at Russia for the huge political bot party; however, he did suggest the data indicated a deliberate manipulation behind the bots’ behavior: “They were purposeful, thoughtful, and deliberate about when to release messages, what those messages should be, and what their targets were.”

And while both candidates benefited from the bots’ hard work, there was no question who they preferred. "On the balance of probabilities, if you examined an automated bot account, the odds are four to one that you'll find it's a bot tweeting in favor of Trump," said Howard.

So why bother tweeting for Clinton at all? According to the September 2017 New York Times article, “The Fake Americans Russia Created to Influence the Election,” Russia used the pro-Clinton bots to blur its role in influencing the election results. Additionally, their seemingly pro-Clinton hashtags weren’t pro-Clinton at all, but modern-day black propaganda for spreading dissention among Clinton supporters, applying pro-Clinton hashtags to inject anti-Clinton memes, links, and political messages into pro-Clinton circles. “Like a virus, they essentially co-opted the opponent’s messaging and infiltrated her supporters. Using pro-Clinton hashtags like #ImWithHer and #uniteblue, memes describing Clinton as corrupt ricocheted across both blue and red feeds.”

#

The bot activity may have increased around the time of presidential debates, but it didn’t start and stop there. A November 2017 analysis published by the Wall Street Journal determined that Russian Twitter accounts began promoting Trump mere weeks after he announced his candidacy. Not only did these accounts, often disguised as fake, right-leaning Americans, heap praise on Trump, but much of their effort was also spent criticizing and spreading fake news about Trump’s Republican opponent, Jeb Bush, as well as Clinton.

“The support for Trump was clear even at that stage,” reported the technology news site, Engadget.com. “There was a 10:1 ratio of praise to criticism among the bogus accounts, a figure that would climb to 30:1 when the election was two weeks away. Identical messages often showed up within minutes of each other, hinting at tight coordination.”

According to Howard’s fellow researcher, University of Washington Professor Samuel Woolley, the persistence of the accounts during the election were also meant to give the appearance that Trump had a bigger following than what he had in reality.

“Some of the botnets that supported Trump were more than likely purpose-built to create an illusion of massive online political traction for Trump,” said Woolley. “These bots work to create a bandwagon effect among voters who were still considering a candidate, or were focused on a specific issue. They also generated a spiral of silence among voters who might not agree with a candidate or issue, but who experienced a barrage of hugely enhanced content from the Trump bot network. These purpose-build bots and botnets often disappeared right after a political campaign, some were even created for a specific issue within a campaign and go offline after working to manipulate public opinion around that one issue.”

On election day and a few days before, the bots redirected their purpose almost entirely to spread misinformation that benefited Trump: Democrats could vote on a different day than Republicans; Clinton had a stroke during the final week of the election; and that an FBI agent associated with her email investigation was involved in a murder-suicide.

#

It’s hard to look back a year later without a sense of awe at Russia’s commitment to divide America using a weapon of our own making.

But their commitment also begs the question: why Twitter? Why would Putin put so much investment in dividing Americans via a social media platform that only 16% of the country used? And surely he must have considered, out of that paltry percent, how many of those weren’t even registered voters, or too young to vote? How many were even active, or signed in just to stargaze before dropping out?

How many of the 16% were actually paying attention?

It’s a logical fly in the ointment, and not one that cannot be easily explained.

…unless Twitter was never the prime offensive, but a modern-day Pas de Calais, a staging ground to divert the enemy from the real invasion...

Coming soon: "From Russia, With Likes"
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