Russian hacking, 2016 U.S. elections, social media, fake Americans, Russian bots and trolls, Twitter | Homeland Security Newswire

Considered opinionWhat we didn’t learn from Twitter’s news dump on Russiagate

By Peter W. Singer

Published 22 January 2018

On Friday evening, amid a pending U.S. government shutdown and a presidential porn payoff scandal, Twitter released its long-awaited report on Russian uses of its platform to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. The numbers were striking. Twitter officials said, they had found a cluster of 3,814 accounts that were “a propaganda effort by a Russian government-linked organization known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA).” These were supplemented by a broader project of 50,258 automated accounts — bots — which spread the messaging further. In total, 677,775 people in the United States followed one of these accounts or retweeted or liked a Tweet from these accounts during the election period. Peter Singer writes that social media is about scale and networking, and this combination means that, in actuality, the numbers released by Twitter are far worse than they seem.

On Friday night, amid a pending U.S. government shutdown and a presidential porn payoff scandal, Twitter released its long-awaited report on Russian uses of its platform to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Peter Singer writes in Defense One that the numbers were striking. Looking back, Twitter officials said, they had found a cluster of 3,814 accounts that were “a propaganda effort by a Russian government-linked organization known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA).” These were supplemented by a broader project of 50,258 automated accounts — bots — which spread the messaging further. In total, 677,775 people in the United States followed one of these accounts or retweeted or liked a Tweet from these accounts during the election period. Twitter also gave examples of the messaging, which ranged from efforts to support Donald Trump’s election to attempts to undermine the credibility of former FBI director James Comey and those investigating the very same Russian influence operations.

Twitter, however, played the impact down. Its report said, for example, that the accounts represented “two one-hundredths of a percent (0.016 percent) of the total accounts on Twitter at the time.” Singer notes that it can be expected that this will become a talking point both for the firm and those who want to underplay the Russian operations.

Singer finds serious flaws in Twitter’s presentation and explanation:

Social media… is about scale and networking, and this combination means that, in actuality, the numbers are far worse than they seem. To begin, the algorithms that underscore social media can be gamed, as everyone from teens to ISIS to Russian trolls have figured out. As long as they are working in synchronization, a relatively small number of accounts can help steer trends and launch hashtags that then other eyes are drawn to, not so ironically by more automated accounts.

Even more importantly, the numbers Twitter provided only show a limited story of the actual reach of this Russian effort to divide and reshape American politics.