How pro-Trump Twitter bots spread fake news

The Daily Beast reports: President-elect Donald Trump has credited the strength of his political movement, in part, to his immense reach on social-media platforms.

And it’s true, he does have a ton of followers on Facebook and Twitter. But not all of those followers are human. Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, automated networks of social-media bots spread erroneous information to potential voters—often to the benefit of Trump.

According to a new memo compiling data from the election by a team of researchers including Oxford University Professor Philip Howard, automated pro-Trump activity outnumbered automated pro-Hillary Clinton activity by a 5:1 ratio by Election Day. And many of those auto-Trumpkins were busy spewing lies and fake news: that Democrats could vote on a different day than Republicans; that Clinton had a stroke during the final week of the election; and that an FBI agent associated with her email investigation was involved in a murder-suicide.

“The use of automated accounts was deliberate and strategic throughout the election, most clearly with pro-Trump campaigners and programmers who carefully adjusted the timing of content production during the debates, strategically colonized pro-Clinton hashtags, and then disabled automated activities after Election Day,” wrote Howard; Bence Kollanyi, a Ph.D. candidate at Corvinus University of Budapest; and Samuel Woolley, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington. [Continue reading…]

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Facebook fake-news writer: ‘I think Donald Trump is in the White House because of me’

The Washington Post interviewed Paul Horner, the 38-year-old impresario of a Facebook fake-news empire: You mentioned Trump, and you’ve probably heard the argument, or the concern, that fake news somehow helped him get elected. What do you make of that?

My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time. I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything. His campaign manager posted my story about a protester getting paid $3,500 as fact. Like, I made that up. I posted a fake ad on Craigslist.

Why? I mean — why would you even write that?

Just ’cause his supporters were under the belief that people were getting paid to protest at their rallies, and that’s just insane. I’ve gone to Trump protests — trust me, no one needs to get paid to protest Trump. I just wanted to make fun of that insane belief, but it took off. They actually believed it.

I thought they’d fact-check it, and it’d make them look worse. I mean that’s how this always works: Someone posts something I write, then they find out it’s false, then they look like idiots. But Trump supporters — they just keep running with it! They never fact-check anything! Now he’s in the White House. Looking back, instead of hurting the campaign, I think I helped it. And that feels [bad]. [Continue reading…]

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Viral fake election news outperformed real news on Facebook in final months of the U.S. election

Buzzfeed reports: In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others, a BuzzFeed News analysis has found.

During these critical months of the campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

Within the same time period, the 20 best-performing election stories from 19 major news websites generated a total of 7,367,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook. (This analysis focused on the top performing link posts for both groups of publishers, and not on total site engagement on Facebook. For details on how we identified and analyzed the content, see the bottom of this post. View our data here.)

Up until those last three months of the campaign, the top election content from major outlets had easily outpaced that of fake election news on Facebook. Then, as the election drew closer, engagement for fake content on Facebook skyrocketed and surpassed that of the content from major news outlets. [Continue reading…]

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Twitter suspends Richard Spencer, other prominent alt-right accounts

The Washington Post reports: Ever since alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulous sent actress Leslie Jones a string of deeply offensive tweets, insulting the comedian’s race and intelligence, Twitter has made banning abusive accounts a priority.

At the time, the company offered a statement, which read in part:

. . . our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others . . . we’ve seen an uptick in the number of accounts violating these policies and have taken enforcement actions against these accounts, ranging from warnings that also require the deletion of Tweets violating our policies to permanent suspension.

We know many people believe we have not done enough to curb this type of behavior on Twitter. We agree. We are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to better allow us to identify and take faster action on abuse as it’s happening and prevent repeat offenders

Recently Twitter suspended many more accounts associated with the alt-right, which is the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as “a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that ‘white identity’ is under attack by multicultural forces using ‘political correctness’ and ‘social justice’ to undermine white people and ‘their’ civilization.”

Included among them was the verified account of Richard Spencer, which The Washington Post described as a leader of the alt-right and “one of the most media-savvy thinkers in the movement.” [Continue reading…]

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Google and Facebook take aim at fake news sites

The New York Times reports: Over the last week, two of the world’s biggest internet companies have faced mounting criticism over how fake news on their sites may have influenced the presidential election’s outcome.

On Monday, those companies responded by making it clear that they would not tolerate such misinformation by taking pointed aim at fake news sites’ revenue sources.

Google kicked off the action on Monday afternoon when the Silicon Valley search giant said it would ban websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising service. Hours later, Facebook, the social network, updated the language in its Facebook Audience Network policy, which already says it will not display ads in sites that show misleading or illegal content, to include fake news sites.

“We have updated the policy to explicitly clarify that this applies to fake news,” a Facebook spokesman said in a statement. “Our team will continue to closely vet all prospective publishers and monitor existing ones to ensure compliance.”

Taken together, the decisions were a clear signal that the tech behemoths could no longer ignore the growing outcry over their power in distributing information to the American electorate. [Continue reading…]

BuzzFeed reports: Facebook employees have formed an unofficial task force to question the role their company played in promoting fake news in the lead-up to Donald Trump’s victory in the US election last week, amid a larger, national debate over the rise of fake and misleading news articles in a platform used by more than 150 million Americans.

The task force, which sources tell BuzzFeed News includes employees from across the company, has already rebutted a statement made by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a conference last week that the argument that fake news on Facebook affected the election was “a pretty crazy idea.”

“It’s not a crazy idea. What’s crazy is for him to come out and dismiss it like that, when he knows, and those of us at the company know, that fake news ran wild on our platform during the entire campaign season,” said one Facebook employee, who works in the social network’s engineering division. He, like the four other Facebook employees who spoke to BuzzFeed News for this story, would only speak on condition of anonymity. All five employees said they had been warned by their superiors against speaking to press, and feared they would lose their jobs if named. [Continue reading…]

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How Twitter bots affected the U.S. presidential campaign

By Emilio Ferrara, University of Southern California

Key to democracy is public engagement – when people discuss the issues of the day with each other openly, honestly and without outside influence. But what happens when large numbers of participants in that conversation are biased robots created by unseen groups with unknown agendas? As my research has found, that’s what has happened this election season.

Since 2012, I have been studying how people discuss social, political, ideological and policy issues online. In particular, I have looked at how social media are abused for manipulative purposes.

It turns out that much of the political content Americans see on social media every day is not produced by human users. Rather, about one in every five election-related tweets from Sept. 16 to Oct. 21 was generated by computer software programs called “social bots.”

These artificial intelligence systems can be rather simple or very sophisticated, but they share a common trait: They are set to automatically produce content following a specific political agenda determined by their controllers, who are nearly impossible to identify. These bots have affected the online discussion around the presidential election, including leading topics and how online activity was perceived by the media and the public.

[Read more…]

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Social media causes some users to rethink their views on an issue

Pew Research: [A recent Pew Research Center report found] Respondents who indicated they had changed their minds about Clinton were more than three times as likely to say that their opinion changed in a negative direction rather than a positive one (24% vs. 7%), and respondents who mentioned Trump were nearly five times as likely to say that their opinion became more negative as opposed to more positive (19% vs. 4%). [Continue reading…]

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White House readies to fight Election Day cyber mayhem

NBC News reports: The U.S. government believes hackers from Russia or elsewhere may try to undermine next week’s presidential election and is mounting an unprecedented effort to counter their cyber meddling, American officials told NBC News.

The effort is being coordinated by the White House and the Department of Homeland Security, but reaches across the government to include the CIA, the National Security Agency and other elements of the Defense Department, current and former officials say.

Russia has been warned that any effort to manipulate the actual voting or vote counting would be viewed as a serious breach, intelligence officials say.

“The Russians are in an offensive mode and [the U.S. is] working on strategies to respond to that, and at the highest levels,” said Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014.

Officials are alert for any attempts to create Election Day chaos, and say steps are being taken to prepare for worst-case scenarios, including a cyber-attack that shuts down part of the power grid or the internet.

But what is more likely, multiple U.S. officials say, is a lower-level effort by hackers from Russia or elsewhere to peddle misinformation by manipulating Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms.

For example, officials fear an 11th hour release of fake documents implicating one of the candidates in an explosive scandal without time for the news media to fact check it. So far, document dumps attributed to the Russians have damaged Democrats and favored Trump. [Continue reading…]

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Macedonians profit from Trump supporters’ inability to distinguish between fact and fiction

Buzzfeed reports: “This is the news of the millennium!” said the story on WorldPoliticus.com. Citing unnamed FBI sources, it claimed Hillary Clinton will be indicted in 2017 for crimes related to her email scandal.

“Your Prayers Have Been Answered,” declared the headline.

For Trump supporters, that certainly seemed to be the case. They helped the baseless story generate over 140,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

Meanwhile, roughly 6,000 miles away in a small Macedonian town, a young man watched as money began trickling into his Google AdSense account.

Over the past year, the Macedonian town of Veles (population 45,000) has experienced a digital gold rush as locals launched at least 140 US politics websites. These sites have American-sounding domain names such as WorldPoliticus.com, TrumpVision365.com, USConservativeToday.com, DonaldTrumpNews.co, and USADailyPolitics.com. They almost all publish aggressively pro-Trump content aimed at conservatives and Trump supporters in the US. [Continue reading…]

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To identify risky drivers, insurer will track language use in social media

Financial Times reports: UK-based insurer Admiral has come up with a way to crunch through social media posts to work out who deserves a lower premium. People who seem cautious and deliberate in their choice of words are likely to pay a lot less than those with overconfident remarks. [Continue reading…]

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How massive DDoS attacks are undermining the Internet

NBC News reports: Andrew Komarov of InfoArmor told NBC News he didn’t see any sign of Russian involvement at all, whether state or private [in the “denial of service,” or DDoS, attacks that caused massive internet outages across the U.S. on Friday]. He noted that the botnet used in the attack, “Mirai,” was developed by an English speaker and that he had found no link between “Mirai” and the Russians, who have their own much more sophisticated methods.

He said the attacks seemed more consistent with the methods used by the hacking group known as Lizard Squad, two of whose members, both teens, were arrested earlier this month in the U.S. and the Netherlands and charged in connection with DDoS attacks.

Said Komarov, “We have some context, that because of similar victims, using Dyn, and also tactics, tools and procedures by threat actors, it may be a revenge for the past arrests of DDoS’ers in the underground, happened several weeks ago.”

Dmitri Alperovitch of Crowdstrike also expressed doubt about a link to the Russian government, and speculated the attacks might have to do with a recent interview that cybersecurity expert Brian Krebs did with Dyn mentioning Russian organized crime. Alperovitch said use of a botnet bears the hallmark of a criminal rather than state attack, and the target may simply have been Dyn, not the U.S.

Flashpoint, a private cybersecurity and intelligence firm, noted that the Krebs site was attacked in September by a Mirai botnet, and the Krebs site was among those attacked Friday. The hacker who attacked Krebs in September released the source code on the web earlier this month, and hackers have copied the code to create their own botnets.

Flashpoint said it had concluded that the Friday attacks were not mounted by hacktivists, a political group or a state actor. [Continue reading…]

TechCrunch reports: In the past few weeks, hackers have upped the DDoS stakes in a big way. Starting with the attack on KrebsonSecurity.com and increasing in severity from there, hundreds of thousands of devices have been used to perpetrate these actions. A number that dwarfs previous attacks by orders of magnitude.

While it isn’t yet confirmed, evidence points to the attack that we saw on Friday morning following this same playbook, but being perpetrated on a much larger scale, relying on Internet of Things (IoT) devices rather than computers and servers to carry out an attack.

In fact, in all likelihood an army of surveillance cameras attacked Dyn. Why surveillance cameras? Because many of the security cameras used in homes and business around the world typically run the same or similar firmware produced by just a few companies.

This firmware is now known to contain a vulnerability that can easily be exploited, allowing the devices to have their sights trained on targets like Dyn. What’s more, many still operate with default credentials — making them a simple, but powerful target for hackers.

Why is this significant? The ability to enslave these video cameras has made it easier and far cheaper to create botnets at a scale that the world has never seen before. If someone wants to launch a DDoS attack, they no longer have to purchase a botnet—they can create their own using a program that was dumped on the internet just a few weeks ago. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Dale Drew, chief security officer at Level 3, an internet service provider, found evidence that roughly 10 percent of all devices co-opted by Mirai were being used to attack Dyn’s servers. Just one week ago, Level 3 found that 493,000 devices had been infected with Mirai malware, nearly double the number infected last month.

Mr. Allen added that Dyn was collaborating with law enforcement and other internet service providers to deal with the attacks.

In a recent report, Verisign, a registrar for many internet sites that has a unique perspective into this type of attack activity, reported a 75 percent increase in such attacks from April through June of this year, compared with the same period last year.

The attacks were not only more frequent, they were bigger and more sophisticated. The typical attack more than doubled in size. What is more, the attackers were simultaneously using different methods to attack the company’s servers, making them harder to stop.

The most frequent targets were businesses that provide internet infrastructure services like Dyn. [Continue reading…]

Brian Krebs reports: The attack on DYN comes just hours after DYN researcher Doug Madory presented a talk on DDoS attacks in Dallas, Texas at a meeting of the North American Network Operators Group (NANOG). Madory’s talk — available here on Youtube.com — delved deeper into research that he and I teamed up on to produce the data behind the story DDoS Mitigation Firm Has History of Hijacks.

That story (as well as one published earlier this week, Spreading the DDoS Disease and Selling the Cure) examined the sometimes blurry lines between certain DDoS mitigation firms and the cybercriminals apparently involved in launching some of the largest DDoS attacks the Internet has ever seen. Indeed, the record 620 Gbps DDoS against KrebsOnSecurity.com came just hours after I published the story on which Madory and I collaborated.

The record-sized attack that hit my site last month was quickly superseded by a DDoS against OVH, a French hosting firm that reported being targeted by a DDoS that was roughly twice the size of the assault on KrebsOnSecurity. As I noted in The Democratization of Censorship — the first story published after bringing my site back up under the protection of Google’s Project Shield — DDoS mitigation firms simply did not count on the size of these attacks increasing so quickly overnight, and are now scrambling to secure far greater capacity to handle much larger attacks concurrently. [Continue reading…]

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As America sleeps, Donald Trump seethes on Twitter

The New York Times reports: The tweets started around 3:20 a.m. on Friday. Inside Trump Tower, a restless figure stirred in the predawn darkness, nursing his grievances and grabbing a device that often lands him in hot water.

On his Android phone, Donald J. Trump began to tap out bursts of digital fury: He mocked Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe and a popular Latin American actress, as a “con,” the “worst” and “disgusting.”

In a final flourish, before the sun came up, the Republican presidential nominee claimed — without offering any evidence — that she had appeared in a “sex tape.”

The tirade fit a pattern. It is when Mr. Trump is alone with his thoughts, and untethered from his campaign staff, that he has seemed to commit his most self-destructive acts.

“There has always been this dangerous part of him that will go too far and do something that backfires,” said Michael D’Antonio, the author of “The Truth About Trump,” a new biography of the real estate mogul.

“His worst impulses,” he added, “are self-defeating.” [Continue reading…]

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