Military.com joined The Hill, McClatchyDC and The Daily Beast in their joint effort to spread a “groundbreaking” Oxford University study arguing that SouthFront among few other websites targets “US military personnel and veterans with conspiracy theories, misinformation, and other forms of junk news about military affairs and national security issues.”
Let’s look at what Military.com writes in its article entitled “Russian Propaganda Targeted Vets, Troops via Social Media: Study” (source):
Russia has exploited social media networks to target current and former U.S. military personnel with propaganda, conspiracy theories and other misinformation, achieving “significant and persistent interactions” on Twitter during one month last spring, British researchers found.
The Oxford University study, which traced the reach of three websites known to have shown ads and posts linked to the Russian government, adds a new dimension to revelations of a Kremlin cyber campaign aimed at undermining Americans’ trust in democracy during last year’s U.S. elections and helping Donald Trump win the presidency.
“We’ve found an entire ecosystem of junk news about national security issues that is deliberately crafted for U.S. veterans and active military personnel,” said Philip Howard, a professor of internet studies who led the research. “It’s a complex blend of content with a Russian view of the world — wild rumors and conspiracies.”
The study found that Russia’s communication inroads with the military community on Twitter “are not presently very deep,” and that it has had more success gaining influence through Twitter than Facebook.
The researchers sought to map how social media amplified the impact of the websites that sprang up over the last four years:
- Veteranstoday.com, which in late 2013 began publishing content from New Eastern Outlook, a geopolitical journal of the government-chartered Russian Academy of Sciences.
- Veteransnewsnow.com, a sister site that started posting information from the Moscow think tank Strategic Culture Foundation during the same time.
- Southfront.org, which was registered in Moscow in 2015 and soon partnered with Veterans Today.
Politico first reported last June about Russia’s recent military targeting, describing how Veterans Today mixed advice for veterans on how to find jobs and pay medical bills with headlines such as “Ukraine’s Ku Klux Klan — NATO’s New Ally.” It said that while the United States confronted Syrian leader Bashar Assad, a Russian ally, over chemical weapons attacks on Syrian children last spring, the site carried a story headlined: “Proof: Turkey Did 2013 Sarin Attack and Did This One Too.”
Mike Carpenter, a former senior Pentagon official who specialized in Russian issues, said the three websites all “appear to be Russian fronts, given the high degree of Russian content.”
“(T)hey bill themselves as providing ‘alternative points of view,’ similar to Russian propaganda channels like RT and Sputnik,” he said.
Facebook disclosed last month that a company tied to a Russian “troll farm,” whose operatives spread misinformation, set up fake accounts that bought 3,000 election-related ads. It said 75 percent of the ads, which the company said may have popped up in the Facebook newsfeeds of as many as 10 million people, focused on divisive issues such as immigration, gun rights and gay rights.
The Kremlin’s global “active measures” campaigns have showered disinformation on democracies around the world since the Soviet era. But newer social media tools have enabled the explosive growth of networks dedicated to distributing false and misleading news.
The Oxford study categorized 12,413 Twitter users and 11,103 Facebook users whose social media messages referred to or carried content from one or more of the Russian-linked websites from April 2 to May 2, 2017. The researchers used sophisticated modeling in an attempt to examine how Twitter posts and “likes” of Facebook posts broadened the effects of junk and phony news on the three sites, sometimes directly connecting the recipients with Russian trolls.
“On Twitter there are significant and persistent interactions between current and former military personnel and a broad network of Russia-focused accounts, conspiracy theory-focused accounts and European right-wing accounts,” the researchers concluded.
The interactions are an indication that the messages are being noticed and may have some impact.
In the networks reaching vets and active-duty troops, the researchers wrote, both liberals and conservatives were drawn to posts on the websites that laid out supposed conspiracies, including some pointed at the U.S. government.
The researchers noted that they couldn’t track all of the relevant content, in part because the limited data publicly available from Twitter and Facebook does not include fake accounts that the two companies detected and closed.
Twitter and Facebook declined to comment on the study.
Carpenter said that under President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin’s propaganda machine “has become very good at targeting specific demographics and subgroups within American society, with tailored content in order to sow discord and undermine trust in government.”
He said the “information warfare” meshes with Russian “spear phishing attacks” — attempts to compromise the emails of U.S. service members and military contractors.
“This is further evidence of the Kremlin’s holistic effort to try to get inside the minds, computers and communications of our forces to steal information on things such as the locations and deployment schedules of specific military units and to conduct psy-ops (psychological operations) against our troops.”
Howard, who has tracked Russia’s use of social media to circulate propaganda in dozens of countries, and research colleague Bence Kollanyi, wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post that their studies have been handicapped because of the lack of cooperation from Twitter and Facebook.
“No doubt, Twitter and Facebook have higher-quality data on all this,” they wrote. “They certainly employ some of the best network analysts and data scientists in the world. Yet it has taken an FBI inquiry, congressional investigations, nearly a year of bad press and pressure from outside researchers such as us to dislodge some examples of Russian interference.
“The next step should be open collaborations that explain network effects and help restore public trust in social media.”
Meanwhile, The Hill repeated the “revelations” about SouthFront’s work clearly linking the project with the alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election in its “OVERNIGHT CYBERSECURITY” (link):
NOTES FROM THE RUSSIA INVESTIGATION:
–RUSSIA TARGETED U.S. VETS IN SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGN: Russia targeted U.S. military personnel and veterans in an information campaign last year by spreading messages on social media networks that promoted Kremlin propaganda as well as conspiracy theories, according to a new study. The Oxford University study found that three websites with Kremlin ties — Veteranstoday.com, Veteransnewsnow.com and Southfront.org — engaged in “significant and persistent interactions” with the U.S. military community, McClatchy reported Monday.“We’ve found an entire ecosystem of junk news about national security issues that is deliberately crafted for U.S. veterans and active military personnel,” Professor Philip Howard, who led the research in the study, told the newswire. “It’s a complex blend of content with a Russian view of the world — wild rumors and conspiracies.”
To read the rest of our piece, click here.
–GOOGLE, TOO, SOLD ADS TO RUSSIA: Google has discovered it sold tens of thousands of dollars worth of online ads to Russian-linked actors trying to influence the 2016 presidential election, according to The Washington Post. The Post reported that the ads cost less than $100,000 and were deployed on a variety of Google’s platforms, including YouTube, Gmail and in search results. People familiar with the ads told the outlet that the ads do not appear to originate from the Internet Research Agency, the Russian “troll farm” that Facebook said had purchased $100,000 of political ads on its platform through fake accounts. “We have a set of strict ads policies including limits on political ad targeting and prohibitions on targeting based on race and religion,” a Google spokeswoman said in a statement. “We are taking a deeper look to investigate attempts to abuse our systems, working with researchers and other companies, and will provide assistance to ongoing inquiries.”
To read the rest of our piece, click here.
The Hill describes OVERNIGHT CYBERSECURITY as a “daily rundown of the biggest news in the world of hacking and data privacy.”
SouthFront supposes that these tireless efforts of the mainstream media could be seen could be seen as a recognition of the joint efforts of experts and volunteers involved in the project.
One of the most interesting facts is surely that SouthFront has achieved all this groundbreaking influence on US foreign and domestic policies with a monthly budget of about 5,000 USD. It’s hard to imagine what could be done were the project to collect 6,000 USD or even more.
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