The Russian propaganda machinery gleefully helped spread various fake news during the US presidential election. Next up are French and German elections, according to Andrew Weisburd who has studied Kremlin social media networks for years.
Original article in Helsingin Sanomat: http://www.hs.fi/ulkomaat/art-2000004890418.html
The Russian propaganda machinery did all it could to help spread fake news and managed to create a sounding board during the US presidential elections.
"Most dangerous of all is the synergy of Russian actions. It accumulates", says Andrew Weisburd who has delved into how social media is influenced.
Weisburd, who lives in New York, has examined different social media networks positive to Kremlin even before news media filled with info war after Russia created a conflict in East Ukraine.
Things were happening in the US as well: in june two different Russian surveillance programs were found in the democratic party's data networks. Several security firms, just recently Crowdstrike, have come to the same conclusion as to the origin of the programs.
With these surveillance programs compromised e-mail accounts were leaked to Wikileaks. At the same time Wikileaks was spewing outright blind Clinton-hatred to more than four million Twitter followers.
The one who claimed responsibility for the deed presented himself as Rumanian, but didn't seem to know Rumanian in an interview with Vice News. On top of that Vladimir Putin expressed open support for the republican candidate, Donald Trump.
"Leaking e-mail accounts have been done before, but new during this election was Russias openness and unscrupulousness", Weisburd points out. It is related to more than just leaking e-mail accounts as well.
Following Russian teachings, the communication machinery used conspiracy sites and fake news sites and their experts, uncertain blogs, "troll factories" working like internet phone sellers, and automated distribution of content.
They spread an image of Clinton as a criminal funded by ISIS. They flamed fears of conflicts with Russia and possible nuclear war that she could beget with her hands on nuclear weapons.
Andrew Weisburd and his colleagues have followed roughly 7,000 accounts on social media, they told the web publication on defence politics, War On The Rocks, in early march. It was also report on by, among others, the Washingon Post over the weekend.
"These networks were before the Maidan event focused on defending the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-assad and his government", Weisburd says.
"All of a sudden these same networks and accounts became experts on the "fascists" in Ukraine, then experts on Trump. Next they will focus on the elections in Germany and France", Weisburd explains.
Weisburd works in police administration. In his free time he examines social media with analytical tools and writes on the Aktivnyee blog.
The interest in evildoing on the internet began after the WTC attacks in 2001, when Weisburd began to examine the Al-Qaida operations in the internet. He also spent six years as a teacher in warding off terrorism at West Point.
Helsingin Sanomat told him about the fake news site started by young Macedonians who assisted Donald Trump by giving him visibility in social media. The teens said that their motives were money. All fake news therefore isn't necessarily Russian, but they have an indirect influence.
"I don't think it's all that important looking for evidence which accounts or which sites are Russian, than focusing on who spreads information beneficial to the Russian government", sais Andrew Weisburd.
The Washington Post wrote about a network run by anonymous researches, PropOrNot, which explains that around 213 million americans are exposed to information which they call "Russian propaganda".
Weisburd doesn't want to make a quantitative analysis. One reason is that the network has included radical left-wing sites.
"It is indeed shameful that these extremists support totalitarianism, but ideology on its own without further argument does not suffice to show a connection to Kremlin.
Branding is not useful according to Weisburd. That is because pointing fingers benefits Russian goals in USA and elsewhere.
These goals are wearing down the citizens' trust in democratic government, flaming and exaggerating political conflict, an endeavour to reduce trust in politicians, public bodies, and trusted media, and to increase support for Russian plans.
Creating interal conflicts by flaming conspiracy sites and fake news sites benefits Russian goals, even though there is no direct connection to the founders of the sites, their funding, or other aspects.
Let's take and example. In early august rumours began to spread on the internet about the Hillary's health condition.
At first the Brittish editor Paul Joseph, of the conspiracy site Infowars, released a video in early august where he told the "truth" about Clinton's "psychotic convulsions", exaggerated gestures, and other events. Watson suggested that either Clinton is about to collapse from stress or that she has a neurological ailment.
In less than a week after the release this began to be discussed by the conservative site Drudge Report, the conspiracy site World Net Daily, and finally by the republican network Fox News. In early december Watson's video had over 5.5 million views.
Soon after Watson released his video, social media found pictures from february where aids were helping Clinton up stairs. Four days after the video's release, the site funded by the Russian state, RT, published the news story.
Weird news about Clinton's health began to churn in early august. It wasnæt until 11 september that Clinton left in the middle of the WTC memorial while swaying badly, but returned to public attention in a few days.
Now searching for "Clinton's health" on Google News brings 48 million hits. Searching for "Clinton's health Russia" brings 23 million hits, and one of them is a journal by Ivan Tsetkov, assistant professor in international relations at the St. Petersburg university, in the Russia Direct internet magazine.
Tsetkov writes that Russians cannot think of Clinton as a good and trustworthy president because of her health problems, and for this reason Russia gives its support to Trump. Russia Direct is funded by Rossiskaja Gazeta, a publication specialised in foreign politics. Rossiskaja Gazeta in turn in the official magazine of the Russian government
Despite the incitements of conspiracy sites in september, Clinton did not have psychosis, brain damage, or holes in her tongue. She had pneumonia.
But the rumous just didn't want to die. Even now on thursday a few accounts still shared memes mocking Clinton's health on Twitter. One was named "The New Right" and another "Israel Bombs Babies".
On top of that are the overt and direct methods of influence. Andrew Weisburd mentiones Russia's English new channel RT and Sputkin, to whom influential news is far more important than if the news is actually true.
"Though there is the good side to Russian actions, in that they have a habit of exposing themselves. Thus you can also show people how they are trying to influence us."
According to Weisburd this is important, since this phenomenon is hardly going to disappear. Quite the opposite, the US presidential elections were only the beginning.
"Pitting different groups in the US against each other is surely going to continue. Otherwise the next big targets are German and French elections. Also the Baltic and Balkan countries will become targets in the future."