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How to spot Russian propaganda online

Remember the Russian bots who tirelessly worked throughout our last presidential campaign to undermine Hillary Clinton? Sometimes posing as Bernie supporters who had seen the light, becoming pro-Trump Americans?

The building known as the “troll factory” in St. Petersburg, where hundreds of young Russians work around the clock writing blogs and posting comments that support Putin and attack the West.

Well those trolls are still employed, they just have a different mission.

A self-described American Christian conservative, Angee Dixson defended President Donald Trump’s response to the unrest in Charlottesville, criticized the removal of Confederate monuments and posted pictures purporting to show violence by left-wing counterprotesters. Only one problem. Dixson appears to have been a fake, according to an analysis by Ben Nimmo and Donara Barojan of the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council think tank. The account has been shut down

 

To explain, I’ll start with a topic making headlines; Antifa.

Anyone you know ever mention Antifa before Charlottesville?

How about yourself?

And when I say before, I mean not even 6 months back.

Well neither did I. And to be honest, until recently I didn’t even know who that group was…

So it has been really baffling to see how Antifa went from being relatively unknown, to the most hated movement within conservative circles in a mere 24 hours. There was a sudden, and unified social media crowd that rushed to ask  “Well, what about Antifa?” in light of the tragic Virginia murder. And it seemed too suspicious, too sudden, too in tune.

It was.

russian bots

Kremlin trolls target our European allies as well

Here at The State Today,  we have noticed sudden themes that pop up in online discussions, which suddenly coalesce around certain talking points, like, say, the false equivalency between Nazis and anti-fascists.

To those who pay close attention to the comment section of popular political forums, as we do-; the consensus between self described Republicans, and Russian talking points is leery to say the least.

 

Could Russian internet trolls — paid by the Kremlin-— be ironically deceiving the American public through American social media?

Not only can we prove so, we can fight back:

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Introducing Hamilton 68, a new dashboard that tracks Russian influence on Twitter. The dashboard, a tool created by Securing Democracy, follows and analyzes 600 accounts associated with Russian influence campaigns.

On there you can see top hashtags, trending hashtags, and trending topics which are linked to those Kremlin linked accounts.

Basically, the dashboard sheds light on Russian propaganda efforts on Twitter, in real time.

Antifa is right up there, isn’t it? Hmmmm…

The site even has a charts showing the amount of of tweets by hour of day, as well as daily tweet count.

And while social media might be the latest platform, the method itself isn’t new. This type of information warfare, known as “dezinformatsiya,” has been used by the Russians since at least the Cold War.

Retired KGB General Oleg Kalugin once defined the strategy as designed, “to drive wedges in the Western community alliances of all sorts, particularly NATO, to sow discord among allies, to weaken the United States in the eyes of the people in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and thus to prepare ground in case the war really occurs.”

And it’s not just Tweeter or Facebook. For this purpose entire networks have been formed by the Kremlin, such as Sputnik and RT

RT, is the main mouthpiece of the Russian government. Formerly just Russia Today, it regularly broadcasts a cocktail of legitimate news and wild conspiracy theories with the express aim of advancing Russia’s strategic interests.

 

Russia is full-throttle projecting its influence via social media and cable. The Kremlin’s ability to disguise pro-Putin propaganda as alternative media has proven to be exceptionally successful among President Trump’s supporters.

Making matters worse, the US President has either purposely or inadvertently chosen to ignore, and at times amplify the same talking points being spewed out of Moscow.

The best tool to fight back lies within one of our most fundamental institutions , the independent press— yet we can never again allow an authoritarian regime to turn one of our greatest strengths into a tool of division amongst ourselves.. 

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Nick
Defector from communist Cuba. Founder at the State Today.