In the News

Below are news stories related to disinformation. Stay tuned. The news changes daily, and we'll be doing our best to keep up and update this page regularly.

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We are learning that Trump's Make America Great Again Committee has pushed out a fake Census via Facebook. Facebook has taken these down, but a quick review of the Facebook Ads Library shows that 100's maybe 1000's of these had already been sent to targeted audiences in specific states and areas. This is the reality we live in: The president is sending Census disinformation in posts targeted to specific geographic areas.

Judd Legum

This article from McKay Coppins provides one of the clearest explanations of the disinformation war that is taking place within our borders. Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, is the same person who directed Trump’s social media campaign in 2020. While many believed Trump did not have a chance, Parscale deployed aggressive data-driven ad targeting tactics for which the Facebook platform has been designed. Parscale has not stopped since 2016, the technology has only become more precise and potentially under-handed, and Parscale commands an even bigger budget. 

McKay Coppins

Who needs Russia when we've got 4chan? Yes, the Iowa Dems should have had more phone lines. However, it appears in addition there were disrupters on 4chan  collectively swarming and deluging the lines. This type of coordinated attack is fairly common and often is used to sway online polls. We spend a lot of time focused on Facebook as a source for interference - and look far less at the 4chan, 8chan communities. 

Ben Collins, Maura Barrett and Vaughn Hillyard

The latest disinformation revelation about the Epoch Times fake accounts has multiple dimensions. The China-based Epoch Times markets itself as a multi-language newspaper, is tied to the Falun Gong spiritual movement and is consistently pro-Trump. Much ado about "freedom of religion." The Epoch Times is associated with US-based media group, The BL - an online network and presence on Facebook and Instagram that pushes positive messages about Trump. The Admins of many of these BL pages turn out to be fake identities (likely Vietnamese-created) with faces that had been generated by artificial intelligence (AI) and appeared to be from the US. Facebook removed the 600+ accounts after Snopes and other investigative sources publicized their findings. All told, The BL page network may have been followed by 55 million accounts, many of them actual Americans. All pushing pro-Trump messaging.

Donie O'Sullivan, CNN Business

Covered by Maddow on 12/20/2019, this is the story of TheSoul, a Russia-created social media content creating and audience-building force that has one of the largest audiences on YouTube. TheSoul content is branded under channels such as 5-Minute-Crafts, and much is click-bait. Some content is political, pro-Russia. And some is also pro-Trump. In 2018, TheSoul purchased ads targeting US citizens on political issues in rubles. There is a lot in this article, and Kaplan presents it in readable format. What concerns me most is TheSoul's audience-building. Having massive numbers of followers provides an instant audience to whom various forms of content can be targeted - including content that is political in nature while not being for a specific candidate.

Lisa Kaplan, Founder and CEO of Alethea Group

Our cell phone "exhaust" (e.g. location data, purchase data, search data) is a goldmine of data. Trump campaign is utilizing location-based data to target people -- this is not illegal. This is using tools that are available. We are at a disadvantage with a long primary, and I am personally hoping some of the billionaires who are working on swing state efforts are also thinking - how can we use available data to our advantage? Also known as "digital surveillance", this is one more reason why it's important that our elected leaders have some inkling of technology. Regulation is desperately needed.

Theodore Schleifer, Recode

"Fake fan" trolls doing damage from the inside. Yet another form of disinformation to be aware of. Frontrunner candidates will be more targeted. That said, I have been reading and getting a sense of just how much hate against women exists in the US MAGA mano-sphere. So, if they are going to target one frontrunner more than others, not surprised she is getting it worse.

Isaac Stanley-Becker and Tony Romm, Washington Post

Trolls are not just the folks that make nasty comments on our feeds. That's the easy kind of troll to spot. The ones that are more dangerous are friendly trolls. They are infiltrating our communities, speaking our language, familiar with our current events, just enough to inject more division. "Here is what makes disinformation so difficult to discuss: while these tweets point to valid issues of concern — issues that have been central to important social movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo — they are framed to serve Russia’s interests in undermining Americans’ trust in our institutions."

Darren Linvill & Patrick Warren, The Rolling Stone

David Plouffe interviews Tara McGowan, the founder of ACRONYM and an early Barack Obama digital media strategist. Tara discusses the nuances of today's digital landscape for candidate marketing. Why is it not such a good idea to ban all political ads from Facebook? What does it mean that Trump has never stopped campaigning?

David Plouffe and Tara McGowan

More disinformation is going to be (already is) homegrown than from Russia, albeit they will use successful Russian tactics. This former Fox employee has two competing sites that are designed for driving division. Period. And they game the algorithms that amplify and keep things trending

Nicole Perlroth, New York Times

How are Russian disinformation tactics morphing post-Mueller? Partnering with locals. "The latest campaign in Africa is the first well-documented case of Russia “franchising,” or outsourcing, its disinformation efforts to local parties, said Facebook and the Stanford researchers." This is from a report by Renee DiResta who was a speaker at our Disinformation Forum back in June. With social media warrior, Brad Parscale, running Trump's 2020 operations, what are the odds that there is easy access to willing MAGA locals?

Davey Alba and Sheera Frenkel, New York Times

Impeachment is just another opportunity for a campaign for Trump and his social media machinery. Anything that will incite his base of supporters becomes another means of getting donation dollars and building his reach. Trump's campaign director, Brad Parscale, was his 2016 social media directory. Parscale uses the social media audience targeting and building tools that are native to Facebook. This is where voters are. Team Trump did not stop building audience in 2016 - they increased it because it was so successful. It's been an endless campaign. Now impeachment is a campaign. Note that his biggest spends are on data and prospecting.

Jeremy B. Merrill, Quartz

Finland uses a K-12 curriculum that was developed in collaboration with US educators as a primary way of combatting disinformation. It's a long-game solution. They are next to Russia and are highly targeted. I am working on a Disinformation presentation for Lehman College School of Education in March -- and spending a lot of time thinking about the importance of teaching critical thinking and social media literacy. Here's the Finland curriculum -

Special Report (2019)