Online Russian DiscordFebruary 16, 2018
This is something I’ve been seeing and have been interested in for a while. Checking trending Twitter hashtags is a pretty clear way to see what is being pushed after one event or another.
There are tools to track and analyze bot activity like Hamilton 68. Back in September, I wrote about how there are nearly public admissions that Russia is directly involved with political manipulations. Even small sites like mine see obvious bot activity.
Wired reports that Russian bots are doing the same now with guns.
I’ve said this to a variety of friends: you can tell who the bots are. Here are a few things that raise red flags in my mind:
- A username that’s a simple name followed by around 6 digits of random numbers. See @redhead4645.
- Lots of retweets (they create a self-fueling fire where they retweet and like each other’s posts).
- A bio full of emoticons like guns, American flags, or crosses as well as stereotypical “Americanness” and a few specialized hashtags e.g. “Christian, conservative, constitution originalist, Trump’s my POTUS, Seeking conservative people of faith to help restore AMERICA.
#COSProject, #FAIRtax, #PJNET” I particularly like that one because there’s a non-breaking space before the hashtags which isn’t something that would happen unless it was scripted versus typed by a regular person. Taken from @ggeett37aaa.
- Lots of tweets for an account that isn’t all that old, for example: @Trumpfan1995.
- Posts consisting of mostly meme-type images.
- For a while many had clearly photoshopped make America great again hats on their avatars, but that seems to have diminished.
- Often, the name will be a fictional character from a movie or book.
Just before the election, I was writing a blog post about Twitter bots. I was trying to find patterns in them, but I’m a the big-data person who could really do that. There wasn’t anything earth-shattering like Tweet location or similar, and I didn’t analyze timing of the tweets. Here’s the list of people I was looking at, some have been wiped or banned since then, but here it is:
Here’s what I wrote at the time but didn’t publish:
Now, I was trying to figure out what was going on here and why this seemed and felt so wrong. There was the immediacy of the tweets, the repetitive nature, and the similarity between all of the accounts that just didn’t make any sense to me.
BuzzFeed recently published an expose about misinformation spreading on Facebook.
It’s starting to make more sense.
Combine that with the usage of Pepe the frog as a symbol of white nationalism and the Alt-Right, you start getting a larger picture.
Looking through some of their Twitter metadata, I’ve found some interesting things. @patrioticpepe uses an application to post called “withher5” that I cannot find any other reference to anywhere else.
What’s interesting is searching for “withher5” and twitter now actually brings up an archived 4chan post. That’s an interesting aside, but I’m not going to dwell on it since it’s not actually related to this discussion.
I didn’t find all that much groundbreaking information. Many of the accounts were linked to one another or had similar profile pictures or memes. Typically they would reply within seconds to any tweet by Hillary or Trump with some canned message that had nothing to do with what the original tweet said. More often than not, there would be chained replies to their own tweets with a variety of general messages with no specifics and no relevance to the context at hand.
What’s the whole point?
The point is to sow discord.
If you look at typical users of Twitter or typical people in America, they’re somewhat left leaning. There is a spectrum, obviously, but if you drill down into the majority of beliefs, that’s what you’ll find in any survey. What Russia can do in response is add a bunch of dissenting opinions to make the other side look larger or at least more vocal. This emboldens right leaning people while stoking conflict with the left leaning. I know there are additional bots that are for left leaning causes, but these usually end up being very far left. These are things like antifa accounts that are clearly not real.
This all fits into the guideline set out by Foundations of Geopolitics.
Russia should “introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements – extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S. It would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics.”
That’s clearly what’s happening. Looking at many of the bots, they’ll be pro-Brexit one month (a key point of the Foundations of Geopolitics) and then weigh in on hot-button American issues the next. That issue could be stoking the immigration fire, talking about guns, or invoking the deep state as the only thing that is keeping Trump from making America great again.
When the book was written in 1997, having Russians on the ground in America to do something like that would be impossible. With social media, it doesn’t matter where people are physically located. One individual can have a much louder voice that reaches further. That’s before signal boosting or other techniques that can be used to amplify that voice more.
Combine that with other techniques to attack elections in the United States, you have a recipe for a decline into quagmire for the US. I doubt it could provoke some kind of new civil war, but it will lead to inaction, infighting, and backstabbing. That will give Russia the ability to move for its own interests unconcerned about any potential American interference. What those interests are or could be are still murky.