Resources for Russian Social Media Influence on the U.S. Election

I’m part of a panel tonight with this following description:

Fake news vs. real news, fact-checking’s rise as a cottage industry and the pervasive nature of misleading stories on social media will be the focus at the next installment of the “Brenda Knowles Inside Journalism” series at 7 p.m. on Oct. 24 at the Ruskin Firehouse Cultural Center, 101 First Ave., NE. Join Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper, WMNF news director and WEDU Florida This Week host Rob Lorei, PolitiFact Florida reporter Joshua Gillin and University of South Florida Mass Communications professor Kelli Burns for a lively discussion about how accurate (and inaccurate) media reports are shaping the way we view the nation and the world. Admission is free.

As I prepare my talking points, I’m going to provide a list of some of the resources I’m using below. I also found additional resources on this list compiled by Colin Delaney of epolitics, which is probably the most comprehensive one available on this topic:

  1. How Russia Harvested American Rage to Reshape U.S. Politics, by Nicholas Confessore and Daisuke Wakabayashi, NY Times, Oct. 9, 2017:

Key takeaways: Russians set up Facebook pages such as United Muslims of America, Being Patriotic, Secured Borders, and Blacktivist and ripped content from the web and added their own context to stories. They used paid Facebook ads to quickly grow readership and engagement. The content can then be picked up by American users of social media sites and further spread the message.

Eliminating outside influence from social media sites is a challenging, if not impossible, task.

2. After Sandberg chat, House intel plans to release Russian-bought Facebook ads to the public, by Taylor Hatmaker, Techcrunch, Oct. 11, 2017

Key takeaways: The House Intelligence Committee has plans to publish 3,000 Russian-backed Facebook ads. The ads will likely be available after Nov. 1.

After Sandberg chat, House intel plans to release Russian-bought Facebook ads to the public

3. Facebook will share Russian-bought election interference ads with Congress tomorrow, by Josh Constine, Techcrunch, Oct. 1, 2017

This article discussed Mark Zuckerberg’s 9-point plan, which is:

  1. Providing Russian-bought ads to Congress
  2. Continuing Facebook’s own investigation
  3. Enhancing Political ad transparency
  4. Implementing stronger political ad reviews
  5. Hiring 250 more election integrity workers
  6. Expanding partnerships with election commissions
  7. Collaborating with other tech companies
  8. Protecting political discourse from intimidation
  9. Monitoring the German election

The article also mentioned that Facebook is going to make it more difficult to purchase election ads.

Facebook will share Russian-bought election interference ads with Congress tomorrow

4. The Making of a Russian Disinformation Campaign: What It Takes, by Michael Weiss, CNN, Oct. 11, 2017

Key takeaways: About $100,000 was spent by Russians on the U.S. election disinformation campaign. Facebook will be handing over 470 “Russian-linked accounts” to Congress, and the company claims that only about 10 million Facebook users were reached, not the hundreds of millions claimed by a digital marketing officer in a Washington Post article. Two critical states targeted were Michigan and Wisconsin.

5. We’re learning more about how Russia weaponized Facebook, Twitter, and Google — and it was remarkably easy, by Natasha Bertrand, Business Insider, Oct. 4, 2017

Key takeaways: Russians used Facebook’s custom audiences tool to target users who had visited fake pages and also those from Michigan and Wisconsin (one-quarter of all Russian ads were geographically targeted). On Google’s ad platform, Russians could have used the self-service option to manipulate the algorithm so that fake stories appeared at the top of search results. Although Facebook groups and their ads were much covered by the media, Twitter may have been more more widely during the campaign because it’s cheap and easy to create automated accounts. The bots were particularly useful in distributing fake news in key districts. A ProPublica investigation demonstrated how easy it was to target users with racist or anti-Semitic content. Did social platforms influence the election by making it easy for outside influencers to purchase, target, and hide the source of the ads?

5. Fake news rife on Twitter during election week, study from Oxford says, by Donie O’Sullivan, CNN Media, Sept. 28, 2017

Key takeaways: Amount of “junk news” and professional news content was equal on Twitter the last week of the election, with both of those comprising about 20% of the political content. In the swing states, there was a higher concentration of “junk news.”

6. Did Facebook ads traced to a Russian company violate U.S. election law?, by Matea Gold, Washington Post, Sept. 7, 2017

Key takeaways: Political ad spending, including online ad spending, must be disclosed to the FEC whether it’s a candidate committee, party committee, PAC, or an individual or group. However, if you post online in a place where you don’t have to pay for the advertising, you do not need to report that to the FEC. U.S. law says that foreign groups or individuals cannot spend money or make contributions to influence a U.S. election. The question then becomes whether the ads advocated for support or defeat of a particulate candidate. If so, the ads are banned, but if the ads are more vague, it’s not as easy to determine if they are illegal. But if they were part of a coordinated campaign (targeting voters in specific areas), then they would be illegal whether they advocated for a candidate or not. When the ads are released, we will know more. Facebook doesn’t screen advertisements, but requires that advertisers be responsible for “understanding and complying with all applicable laws and regulations.” As of now, FEC complaints have been filed.

Other interesting talking points:

  • It took Twitter 11 months to close down a Russian troll account that seemed to be an account by the Tennessee Republican Party (@TEN_GOP).
  • Facebook and Google worked with Secure America Now and were paid millions for an ad campaign. Google worked with them and a media firm that created their ads to make sure they reached their target audience. Facebook had the group testing a vertical video feature and used them in a case study. The group used a fictional video called “Islamic State of France.”
  • Some of the most visited websites from Facebook include hyper-partisan news aggregators like Conservative Tribune and Western Journalism.


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