Russia Already Meddling in 2018 Midterms

A new NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll released yesterday indicates 57 percent of Americans believe it’s likely Russia will attempt to influence the United States’ 2018 midterm elections. And according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, they are correct.

Also this week, Tillerson said of the Russian efforts, “…If their intention is to interfere, they’re going to find ways to do that. I think it’s important we just continue to say to Russia, look, you think we don’t see what you’re doing. We do see it, and you need to stop.”

According to Hamilton 68 – an online dashboard created by the Alliance for Securing Democracy and “designed to shed light on Russian propaganda efforts on Twitter in near-real time” – the Russian-backed propaganda effort on Twitter has evolved in recent months, adapting as a means of continuously probing for useful wedge issues that can divide Americans.

For example, the more than 600 Twitter accounts the project tracks, all of which contain confirmed ties to the Russian government, have increasingly focused their attention on promoting the notion of a hidden “deep state” within the American government – a conspiratorial cadre of shadowy officials working to undermine the president’s agenda.

Whereas the Russian-backed accounts only focused on that narrative between five to ten percent of the time back in October, that theme now underlies 38 percent of the accounts’ activity, as of last week.

According to Jamie Fly at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, this activity is consistent with the overall Russian strategy of sowing discord.

"These are not networks that are necessarily always traditional propaganda...a lot of it is just trying to rip apart Americans, to sow chaos within our political system, to pit Americans of both parties against each other," said Fly. “And so a lot of the issues that we see these networks push are actually part of our day-to-day domestic political debates and often have nothing to do with foreign policy."

In past months, the accounts have chimed in on a host of hot-button topics, including political protests within the NFL and the violent attack carried out by a white nationalist in Charlottesville, Virginia.

NPR notes that the Twitter bots often begin by tweeting “about totally innocent topics, such as a sporting event or a trending Twitter topic, as a means for expanding their audience.” Once they’ve grown sufficiently large, they begin to subtly use popular Twitter hashtags like #MondayMotivation and #WednesdayWisdom to incorporate content about Russian policy priorities, such as Ukraine and Syria.

Unfortunately, many of those tasked with confronting the Russian campaign remain at a loss when it comes to how best to respond.

Senator Mark Warner (R-VA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, acknowledged that “the Russian effort to undermine our democracy did not end with Election Day in 2016.”

However, he added, "This is really an ongoing national security issue, and I don't think we have come up with a legislative or policy solution yet that fully gets it right. The social media companies really need to work in partnership with us in a way that we get this right, that people can know if an account is being manipulated by a foreign entity. And if it's being pushed by automated bots, I think a user has the right to know that information."





Posted in General News

Tags: election, Russia


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