Americans Are Still Being Targeted By Trump-Russia Information Warfare

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lot has been written about how Russians tampered with the results of the 2016 election campaign. It’s isn’t an accusation at this stage, it’s a fact. There is plenty of evidence showing this. News articles, books, intelligence agency reports, federal indictments, live video from a Dutch intelligence agency, etc. At this stage, if you don’t believe it, you’re a member of Cult 45 or as deluded as a Flat Earther.

Maybe some Americans don’t believe Russians hacked the elections because it’s an incredibly complicated story. And it’s not just hacking, it’s hybrid warfare. Hybrid warfare is a new form of targeted attacks that combines old-fashioned spy tactics, theft and propaganda, and information technology.

What happened in 2016 wasn’t just breaking into computer systems, it was also highly-targeted propaganda using social media. Social media has democratized the media landscape, now anyone with an Internet connection can have their own publication. But by leveling the playing field, social media giants, such as Facebook, created a cheap and easy-to-use propaganda platform.

The Russians knew that many Americans get their news from social media, so they used their cyber spies to flood Facebook and Twitter with anti-Clinton propaganda. According to Malcolm Nance’s “Plot to Hack Democracy,” much of this propaganda came out of a Russia-based organization called the Internet Research Agency (IRA,) which was recently destroyed in an arson attack.

The IRA consisted of teams of English-speaking Russians whose job was to spend eight hours a day flooding social media with anti-Clinton stories and pro-Trump news. According to a report from Twitter, 3,841 accounts linked to the IRA, played a role in the 2016 elections. IRA operatives also created Facebook groups and pages to spread their message. Sometimes they created news and events that would set opposing groups against each other. They pushed Texas separatists groups and also Black Lives Matter groups.

Russian cyber spies also used hacked emails to create anti-Clinton messages and used Facebook ads to micro-target those messages at voters. The Facebook ad platform can target voters by age, gender, race, political affiliation and location. It’s cheap and shockingly easy to use.

Russian information warfare experts also used bots, software that automatically retweet messages on Twitter, to push, pro Trump/Republican messages. Republicans were also targeted by bots during the primaries, Sen. Marcio Rubio was targeted by a bot attack and New York Times columnist Charles Blow said he was targeted after he criticized Trump during a TV appearance.

And they haven’t stopped. More recently bots were pushing pro-Kavanaugh hashtags. And the phony #walkaway movement has also been pushed by Russian bots. This is sophisticated propaganda because it’s literally trying to shape reality. The #walkway movement was promoted by Brandon Straka, a New York actor and hairdresser, who claimed he’d given up on the Democratic Party and urged other people to abandon it. ThinkProgress branded the #walkaway movement a “huge grifting operation.” Straka is charging $250 for a dinner at an upcoming event. He’s also raised $300,000 and received donations from conspiracy nut Alex Jones. However, media minstrels Diamond and Silk turned down an offer to appear at the event.

But this is the opposite of what’s happening. Democrats are fired up to push back against the Trump agenda. And Republicans are essentially resigned to losing the House. CNN recently featured a report with a panel of Trump voters who deeply regretted their decision.

I have been targeted by bots too. Over the last four days, I noticed my Twitter account started retweeting messages from profiles that claim to be liberals. The messages usually say Trump is the greatest thing since sliced bread and Democrats should give up. Sometimes they push ultra-liberal messages, which are ripe for mockery.

It’s pretty easy to tell a bot account because they have few followers and use an anonymous graphic as the profile pic. Also, the location usually reads America or Planet Earth instead of a specific place.

So far I haven’t seen Republicans condemn this propaganda. They also haven’t protected the election system from hacking either. But a broken system and Russian propaganda worked for them last time, so why would they want to change it?

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Manny Otiko writes about race, politics and sports. He has been published in Salon and LA Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @mannyotiko.

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