Politico analyzes the bot campaign behind the Nunes memo.
Sunday Feb 04, 2018 · 11:40 AM EST
Politico has just published a detailed and frightening account of the bot-enhanced social media campaign that led to the release of the misleading Devin Nunes memo alleging FISA abuses in the Russia investigation. Politico describes the media push as an “11-day information operation that was amplified by computational propaganda techniques and aimed to change both public perceptions and the behavior of American lawmakers”:
The analysis below, conducted by our team from the social media intelligence group New Media Frontier, shows that the #releasethememo campaign was fueled by, and likely originated from, computational propaganda.
Politico describes a confluence of far-right human Tweeters and Russian bots, working together to target influential people (Donald Trump, congressmen such as Mark Meadows), and create an illusion of popularity. A human far-right Tweeter in Michigan picked up on tweets from some far-right congressmen about a Nunes memo (and a Fox appearance by Congressman Gaetz on the same subject). This volunteer far-righter’s initial tweet to #releasethememo was then amplified by “Karyn,” who is a bot:
The KARYN account is an interesting example of how bots lay a groundwork of information architecture within social media. It was registered in 2012, tweeting only a handful of times between July 2012 and November 2013 (mostly against President Barack Obama and in favor of the GOP). Then the account goes dormant until June 2016 — the period that was identified by former FBI Director Jim Comey as the beginning of the most intense phase of Russian operations to interfere in the U.S. elections. The frequency of tweets builds from a few a week to a few a day. By October 11, there are dozens of posts a day, including YouTube videos, tweets to political officials and influencers and media personalities, and lots of replies to posts by the Trump team and related journalists.
The Karyn-bots of the world seem to follow the human far-rightists, so are on the spot when it’s time to identify and re-tweet and amplify whatever fringe conspiracy theory the right or Russia needs to advance at the moment. (The article describes how, for these purposes, the “far right” and “Russia” tend to be the same thing.) There are also humans, like a user called Queen Covfefe, who can tweet at the same rate as bots; in the #releasethememo campaign, she “has tweeted #releasethememo hundreds of times in a few days”:
But in Queen’s case, she is something interesting: essentially, a willing human bot. […] Her account automatically reposts hashtags and memes and contributes to campaigns that she and the other promoters understand are purposeful attempts to game the algorithms and “make things trend.” […] She may be a real person with real beliefs in Trump and what he represents, but when she tweets hundreds of times over the course of a week using #releasethememo […] she is just as much an element of computational propaganda against the American public as a Russian bot.
Politico, after noting that these forces are operating without any real counter from the social media platforms or the U.S. government, notes with irony that the “we’re on our own” cynicism that this state of affairs engenders is itself one of Russia’s goals:
And yes, that also reinforces the narrative the Russians have been pushing since 2015: You’re on your own; be angry, and burn things down. Would that a leader would step into this breech, and challenge the advancing victory of the bots and the cynical people behind them.
We’re a democracy. That leader is us.