A team of analysts at Politico found a small group of 200 accounts—specifically these guys—drove a “disproportionate” amount of racist and negative disinformation, over a 30-day period, targeting four Democratic presidential candidates for 2020: Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke. In fact, between 2-15% of all Twitter mentions concerning these candidates over that timeframe originated from this small group.
This is the same group that generated or were mentioned in over 140 million tweets in the run-up to the 2018 midterms. Their focus then was on non-existent “voter fraud,” and the false claim that millions of undocumented immigrants vote in elections. The researchers said this group uses highly coordinated techniques to go viral, including funneling their tweets to other suspicious, knowingly automated accounts; the group also deployed sophisticated tactics that seem to easily bypass current detection methods.
Politico also reported that foreign hostiles appear to be involved.
A wide-ranging disinformation campaign aimed at Democratic 2020 candidates is already underway on social media, with signs that foreign state actors are driving at least some of the activity.
“We can conclusively state that a large group of suspicious accounts that were active in one of the largest influence operations of the 2018 cycle is now engaged in sustained and ongoing activity for the 2020 cycle,” [Data Scientist] Horvath said.
“As it relates to information warfare in the 2020 cycle, we’re not on the verge of it — we’re already in the third inning..”
So that racist, sexist tweet you saw smearing Kamala Harris over her former relationship with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown? That supposed “blackface” doll in Warren’s kitchen? That claim that O’Rourke left a racist phone message?
You can thank these guys.
Not all of the attacks were organized or coordinated, but there were very clear signs of a sophisticated collaboration effort that shared the exact same characteristics of prior Russian troll farm operations. Their sophistication, coupled with Twitter’s complete lack of concern about their platform being abused, has led to our current situation of just a couple of accounts being able to rapidly spread toxic disinformation.
In 2016 and 2018, the focus was on sowing discord between racial and political lines—specifically, between conservatives and liberals.
It appears the primary effort for 2020 is to divide liberals among themselves.
Instead of being horrified that foreign, hostile adversaries are trying to subvert our elections, the GOP is happy to play along. (Dare I say “collusion”? Though, as Rudy now says, that’s “not a crime.”) Right after the phony “blackface doll” attack on Sen. Warren, Trump supporters on 4Chan were happy to participate in the dirty work.
Go to the New York Times comment sections. Go to Reddit. Go to Twitter. Pose as a concerned Democrat and criticize her for being white. Criticize her for being a woman. Do whatever it takes to further divide the left and prevent them from unifying behind a candidate for 2020. If we can manufacture another Bernie/Hillary split, they’ll get crushed in the general election.
The “call to action” for this unholy alliance between conservatives and hostile agents even has a name.
As Democratic candidates launch campaigns, [researcher Kelly Jones] told Politico, “there is a call to action on these fringe sites. The field is going to be so crowded that they say 'OK: Operation Divide the Left.'”
I’ll admit that I’m no Bernie fan, and I myself engaged in a flame war or two with someone who posed as a Bernie booster—until I figured out she wasn’t. (A peek at her history made it obvious, and her account suddenly no longer exists.) Russian troll factories even have ”Department of Provocations” whose sole purpose is to get people angry with fellow Americans.
Vladimir Putin has always hated our diversity, our press, our elections, and our very democracy. It’s a threat to him. Trump supporters, however, love him almost as much as Donald Trump. They have a lot in common with their Russian counterparts: both hate what truly makes American great, and neither ever has America’s best interests at heart.
The goal for this election cycle seems to be to make our primaries as toxic and chaotic as possible, so that bad feelings will linger long after a victor is declared. Let me say this again: I’m no Bernie fan, but you can bet that if he somehow manages to get the nomination, I will be volunteering to canvass, I’ll be donating money, and most importantly, I’ll be giving him my vote. Same goes for any other Democratic candidate. There’s too damn much at stake.
I’m not saying we can’t have an argument over policy positions, or even personal character, but let’s just make sure the stories are true. If one of your friends or co-workers repeats a lie on social media, don’t be afraid to call it out. You have every right to your opinion, but you have a responsibility to not participate in false smear campaigns that have been orchestrated by a hostile power.
That crap might have flown in 2016. Not this time.