Financial Times reports: Follower numbers are a commonly recognised indicator of social media influence. Snapshot counts of Twitter and Facebook followers reveal that, in contrast to most other party leaders, Mr Wilders’ personal social media following dwarfs that of his party’s accounts by a ratio of 330:1 on Twitter and 133:1 on Facebook. By comparison, sitting prime minister Mark Rutte’s followers are outnumbered by those of his party, VVD, by 1.5:1 on Twitter and 3.4:1 on Facebook.
However, an examination of the rate of growth of Dutch party leaders’ Twitter followings reveals Mr Wilders’ to be growing comparatively slowly — which is to be expected given that hisis the largest among party leaders’ followings. More intriguing are the bumps in the growth rate of the Wilders following, several of which coincide with specific news events. In particular, Mr Wilders’ conviction for race-related discrimination offences on December 9 last year and the terrorist attack in which a truck was driven into a Berlin crowd on December 19 boosted Mr Wilders’ following, which may suggest a reactive component to the motivations of people following Mr Wilders on Twitter.
The accusations of election interference in France made by the campaign of Mr Macron prompted a denial by RT, which said in a statement that it “adamantly rejects any and all claims that it has any part in spreading fake news in general and in relation to Mr Macron and the upcoming French election in particular.” The US Office of the Director of National Intelligence, however, asserted in a January report that RT and Sputnik functioned as part of a Russian “state-run propaganda machine” that was deployed in an attempt to influence the outcome of the US election.
FT Data calculated the frequencies with which a random sample of 100,000 of Mr Wilders’ Twitter followers mentioned the accounts of RT and Sputnik (@RT_com and @SputnikInt), along with those of the top five Dutch news outlets over a six-month period. We compared these to a sample of the same size taken from followers of the office of the Dutch prime minister (@MinPres), a non-partisan governmental account.
Although Mr Wilders himself did not disproportionately share content from either outlet, his followers were 12 times more likely to mention Sputnik and almost eight times more likely to mention RT than followers of Mr Rutte, prime minister. Notably, Mr Wilders’ followers mentioned RT more frequently than they did the Dutch national broadcaster NOS (@NOS). [Continue reading…]
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: With the world relapsing into old rivalries, disinformation is emerging as the continuation of war by other means. Propaganda has always been used by authoritarian states to control populations at home — but technological advances are allowing them to also neutralize enemies abroad. None has been more aggressive and resourceful in this regard than Russia. And nowhere has this weaponized information been more lethal than in its coverage of Syria — vividly exemplified by RT, the Kremlin’s international broadcaster.
There is a virtual consensus among multinational bodies and human rights organizations that together, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Russia hold the balance of responsibility for the killing and displacement in Syria. But hewing to the official Kremlin line, RT has cast Assad as the victim, his opponents as jihadists and his repression as a “war on terror.” The aim is less to persuade than to obfuscate. RT doesn’t have to tell a credible or coherent story as long as it can cast doubt on competing ones.
“There is no objectivity,” says RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan, “only approximations of the truth.” Complete objectivity is indeed unachievable — yet it is a standard to which most journalists aspire. RT’s innovation is to dispense with objectivity altogether and make approximation of the truth its aspiration. News doesn’t have to be true as long as it feels true — and with truth thus relativized, fact becomes one with alternative fact. [Continue reading…]
Anne Applebaum writes: The Enlightenment belief that we can know and understand reality — that we can measure it, weigh it, judge it, use reason to explain it — underlies all of the achievements of Western civilization, from the scientific revolution to the Industrial Revolution to democracy itself. Ever since René Descartes asked himself how it was possible to know that melting wax is the same thing as a candle, we have believed that reason, not mythology, sensibility, emotion or instinct, provides a superior way to understand the world. But is that still true?
If the strange case of Sweden and its immigrants is anything to go by, then the answer is probably no. This odd story began last month, when President Trump began ranting, memorably, about dangerous immigrants at a rally in Florida: “You look at what’s happening last night, in Sweden! Sweden! Who would believe this, Sweden!” The following morning, puzzled Swedes woke up to find the world’s media asking them what, actually, had happened last night. The answer — other than some road closures — was nothing.
In an Enlightenment world, that would have been the end of the story. In our post-Enlightenment world, things got more complicated. Trump explained that what he had seen “last night” was not a terrorist attack — though that was certainly implied in his speech — but a filmmaker named Ami Horowitz who was interviewed by Tucker Carlson on Fox News. The interview was indeed terrifying: For those unfamiliar with the techniques of emotional manipulation — and they are the same, whether used by Fox News or Russia Today — it should be mandatory viewing. As the two were speaking, a clip of an aggressive, brown-skinned man hitting a policeman, presumably in Sweden, alternated in the background, over and over, with a clip of a burning car. The repetitive, frightening images were bolstered by more clips from Horowitz’s film, in which Swedish police officers appeared to be confirming a massive rise in crime linked to immigration. Carlson, meanwhile, marveled at the stupidity and naivete of the Swedish nation helpless to confront this menace. No wonder the president was upset.
But the next day, the Swedish police officers protested: Horowitz had never asked them about immigration, and had cut their interviews to make it seem as if they were answering different questions. Moreover, while Sweden did — generously and admirably — accept 160,000 refugees in 2015, and while there are genuine problems absorbing and acculturating them, Swedish crime rates remain low, particularly if you compare them with crime rates in, say, Florida.
A faked film had inspired the president to cite an imaginary crisis — but the story didn’t end there. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: President Trump has no regrets. His staff has no defense.
After weeks of assailing reporters and critics in diligent defense of their boss, Mr. Trump’s team has been uncharacteristically muted this week when pressed about his explosive — and so far proof-free — Twitter posts on Saturday accusing President Barack Obama of tapping phones in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.
The accusation — and the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and the former national intelligence director, James R. Clapper Jr., emphatically deny that any such wiretap was requested or issued — constitutes one of the most consequential accusations made by one president against another in American history.
So for Mr. Trump’s allies inside the West Wing and beyond, the tweetstorm spawned the mother of all messaging migraines. Over the past few days, they have executed what amounts to a strategic political retreat — trying to publicly validate Mr. Trump’s suspicions without overtly endorsing a claim some of them believe might have been generated by Breitbart News and other far-right outlets.
“No, that’s above my pay grade,” said Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary and a feisty Trump loyalist, when asked on Tuesday at an on-camera briefing if he had seen any evidence to back up Mr. Trump’s accusation. The reporters kept at him, but Mr. Spicer pointedly and repeatedly refused to offer personal assurances that the president’s statements were true.
“No comment,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said earlier in the day. Last week, Mr. Sessions recused himself from any investigations involving the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.
“I don’t know anything about it,” John F. Kelly, the homeland security secretary, said on CNN on Monday. Mr. Kelly shrugged and added that “if the president of the United States said that, he’s got his reasons to say it.”
Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the Senate intelligence panel, have said they will add Mr. Trump’s request to pre-existing inquiries into intelligence community leaks.
But Mr. Nunes and Mr. Burr said they had not seen specific evidence backing up Mr. Trump’s claim.
Other Hill Republicans have responded with similar verbal shrugs. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said on Tuesday that he “didn’t know what the basis” of Mr. Trump’s statement was. [Continue reading…]
Greenwald, Limbaugh, Hannity, Drudge, Assange all use same ‘deep state’ formula to push back against Russia story
The first step in dismissing someone’s concerns is to brand them as hysterical.
Trump’s ties to Russia, the hacking of the DNC, Trump administration officials lying about their communications with Russians, a global disinformation campaign that is undermining democracy and empowering right-wing authoritarian leaders and parties across the West — the attention being directed at all of this, is, some observers claim, all part of an “anti-Russia frenzy” that is being stoked in order to topple the Trump presidency.
The new coalition of left and right that has brought together Trump supporters and nominal Trump opponents, seem to be agreed on this: the best way of addressing the story of Russian interference in American democracy is to ignore Russia.
After all, if for decades you have been obsessed about the enemy in Washington, how can all this Kremlin talk be seen as anything other than another sinister plot spawned by the American masters of the Deep State?
Apparently the term Deep State is new to some on the right, but it’s popularization by Glenn Greenwald is serving the Trump camp well.
For those who are eager to counteract the effects of the unremitting flow of Russia-related stories involving team Trump, the latest piece of ammunition has been provided by Michael Tracey whose supposed deconstruction of the story cycle is being hailed as a “must read.”
The herd dynamics of social media play a huge role in journalism now. The pattern for every Russia story https://t.co/tICdhld1ex
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) March 3, 2017
Basic Formula Every 'Shocking Revelation'… https://t.co/BC9vAdcjMG
— DRUDGE REPORT (@DRUDGE_REPORT) March 3, 2017
Tracey: The Basic Formula For Every Shocking Russia/Trump Revelationhttps://t.co/pmnkWVz774
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) March 4, 2017
Must read https://t.co/j3Q5B1neaD
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) March 4, 2017
I don’t think Greenwald gets directions from Moscow, but if he did, they would be very concise: keep doing what you’re already doing.
Over the past several months, Americans have become acutely aware of a phenomenon that Europeans were already all too familiar with: the pervasive, corrosive nature of Russian propaganda. Russia’s purported attempts to meddle in the U.S. presidential election remain a major topic of national debate—one that could, even now, lead to fresh Congressional investigations and a political showdown between Capitol Hill and the new White House.
Yet the scope of Russia’s propaganda machine is still poorly understood by most Americans. Many may by now be familiar with Moscow’s highest profile media outlets, like television channel RT (which the Russian government funds to the tune of some $250 million annually) and the flashy Sputnik “news” multimedia website (which is likewise lavishly bankrolled by the Kremlin). But the full range of Russia’s information operations are still truly appreciated only by the small cadre of foreign policy and national security professionals who have been forced to grapple with their far-reaching and negative effects.
That effort is enormous, encompassing billions of dollars and dozens of domestic and international media outlets in an architecture that dwarfs the disinformation offensive marshaled against the West by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. [Continue reading…]
Who is Nils Bildt? Swedish ‘national security advisor’ interviewed by Fox News is a mystery to Swedes
The Washington Post reports: In a segment on Fox News’s “The O’Reilly Factor” that aired Thursday, host Bill O’Reilly spoke with two Swedish nationals about allegations that Sweden had become a more dangerous place in recent years because of immigration.
One guest, Swedish journalist Anne-Sofie Naslund of the Expressen newspaper, pushed back against O’Reilly’s comments, suggesting that her country was far safer than it was being presented.
Nils Bildt, billed as a “Swedish defense and national security advisor” by Fox News, told O’Reilly that Naslund was “rather incorrect” and that there had been big problems with integrating immigrants into Swedish society. “These things are not being openly and honestly discussed,” Bildt said.
It was only a brief segment, but it quickly caused controversy back in Sweden, where reporters and experts suggested that Bildt was unknown within the Swedish national security world.
The Dagens Nyheter newspaper reported Friday that neither the Swedish armed forces nor the Foreign Ministry had heard of Bildt. Johan Wiktorin, a fellow at the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences, took to Twitter to suggest he had not heard of Bildt either. [Continue reading…]
Hannah S. Chapman writes: This week, President Trump’s first solo news conference since taking the presidency was fodder for late-night television. But that’s just an extension of what we’ve seen since he took office. Under Trump and press secretary Sean Spicer, the near-daily White House news briefings have changed from routine interactions with a professional press corps to a high-profile media spectacle. The briefings frequently beat soap operas in daytime TV ratings and have been immortalized on “Saturday Night Live.” While that’s a shift away from normal U.S. politics, it resembles Russian President Vladimir Putin’s media strategy.
Under Putin, the Kremlin has built a media empire centered around the idea of information as entertainment. Access to the president is limited to circuslike news conferences attended primarily by regime supporters who ask the president softball questions. The most recent of these conferences, held in December, included questions about stray animals, chess and kvass, a traditional drink made from fermented bread. One reporter even asked Putin how it felt to be “the most influential person in the world.”
These news conferences offer the facade of genuine dialogue and the illusion of freedom of the press while giving the president the tools to control the political dialogue and distract the media from important issues.
What might the Russian example tell us about the White House’s communications strategy? [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Harry van Bommel, a left-wing member of the Dutch Parliament, had persuasive allies in convincing voters that they should reject a trade pact with Ukraine — his special “Ukrainian team,” a gleefully contrarian group of émigrés whose sympathies lay with Russia.
They attended public meetings, appeared on television and used social media to denounce Ukraine’s pro-Western government as a bloodthirsty kleptocracy, unworthy of Dutch support. As Mr. Van Bommel recalled, it “was very handy to show that not all Ukrainians were in favor.”
Handy but also misleading: The most active members of the Ukrainian team were actually from Russia, or from Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine, and parroted the Kremlin line.
The Dutch referendum, held last April, became a battering ram aimed at the European Union. With turnout low, Dutch voters rejected the trade agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, delighting Moscow, emboldening pro-Russia populists around Europe and leaving political elites aghast.
It is unclear whether the Ukrainian team was directed by Russia or if it was acting out of shared sympathies, and Mr. Van Bommel said he never checked their identities. But Europe’s political establishment, already rattled by Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and the election of President Trump in the United States, is worried that the Netherlands referendum could foreshadow what is to come. [Continue reading…]
The Daily Beast reports: President Trump may be continuing his public pursuit for Vladimir Putin’s affections. But behind the scenes, the United States is quietly preparing to wage an information war against Russia.
The 2016 presidential campaign alerted the public to the concept of information as a weapon — and to its incredible effectiveness when used just right. From WikiLeaks to RT to Sputnik, the Russian government tried to sow discord among Americans, according to a recent U.S. intelligence report. To some extent it succeeded, by facilitating public skepticism of American institutions and the press—and undermining Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“Russia is trying to create civic chaos, questions about what is reliable, and mistrust about institutions,” said Karl Altau, director of the Joint Baltic American National Committee, which advocates against Russian misinformation. “It’s a national threat. This is something responsible citizens need to be aware of.”
Russian intervention in the U.S. democratic process caught many American policymakers dozing at the wheel, observers say. But the dramatic nature of the intelligence community’s findings, both before and after Trump’s election, has woken them up.
“This was not paid much attention to until the Hillary Clinton [presidential campaign was upended by hacked and leaked emails] last summer,” said Donald Jensen, a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, a leading think-tank on Russian information warfare. “If you went around town last spring and asked senators and lawmakers if this is a problem, they would have said ‘no’… People are playing catch-up.”
Without fanfare, the catch-up is slowly beginning. The United States government is spending tens of millions of dollars to counter propaganda from Vladimir Putin and other state actors, a move slipped into the thousands of pages of the annual defense policy bill passed by Congress. [Continue reading…]
The Telegraph reports: Russia is seeking to influence the outcome of several key elections in European countries this year with fake news, a special task force set up by the European Union has warned.
The EU is reportedly allocating more funds to its East StratCom task force to counter the disinformation, amid fears Russia will target elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands
“There is an enormous, far-reaching, at least partly organized, disinformation campaign against the EU, its politicians and its principles,” a source close to the task force told Germany’s Spiegel magazine.
It is “highly likely” Russia will try to influence European elections “as it did in the US”, the source said.
The number one target is Angela Merkel, who has been subjected to a “bombardment” of fake news over her refugee policy and support for economic sanctions against Russia.
Disinformation is “part of state policy” and a “military tool” for the Kremlin”. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: It was early fall, and Donald J. Trump, behind in the polls, seemed to be preparing a rationale in case a winner like him somehow managed to lose. “I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged, I have to be honest,” the Republican nominee told a riled-up crowd in Columbus, Ohio. He was hearing “more and more” about evidence of rigging, he added, leaving the details to his supporters’ imagination.
A few weeks later, Cameron Harris, a new college graduate with a fervent interest in Maryland Republican politics and a need for cash, sat down at the kitchen table in his apartment to fill in the details Mr. Trump had left out. In a dubious art just coming into its prime, this bogus story would be his masterpiece.
Mr. Harris started by crafting the headline: “BREAKING: ‘Tens of thousands’ of fraudulent Clinton votes found in Ohio warehouse.” It made sense, he figured, to locate this shocking discovery in the very city and state where Mr. Trump had highlighted his “rigged” meme.
“I had a theory when I sat down to write it,” recalled Mr. Harris, a 23-year-old former college quarterback and fraternity leader. “Given the severe distrust of the media among Trump supporters, anything that parroted Trump’s talking points people would click. Trump was saying ‘rigged election, rigged election.’ People were predisposed to believe Hillary Clinton could not win except by cheating.”
In a raucous election year defined by made-up stories, Mr. Harris was a home-grown, self-taught practitioner, a boutique operator with no ties to Russian spy agencies or Macedonian fabrication factories. As Mr. Trump takes office this week, the beneficiary of at least a modest electoral boost from a flood of fakery, Mr. Harris and his ersatz-news website, ChristianTimesNewspaper.com, make for an illuminating tale.
Contacted by a reporter who had discovered an electronic clue that revealed his secret authorship of ChristianTimesNewspaper.com, he was wary at first, chagrined to be unmasked.
“This topic is rather sensitive,” Mr. Harris said, noting that he was trying to build a political consulting business and needed to protect his reputation. But eventually he agreed to tell the story of his foray into fake news, a very part-time gig that he calculated paid him about $1,000 an hour in web advertising revenue. He seemed to regard his experience with a combination of guilt about having spread falsehoods and pride at doing it so skillfully. [Continue reading…]
Natalie Nougayrède writes: One year ago in Berlin, Lisa F, a 13-year-old German-Russian girl, disappeared for 30 hours. When she returned to her parents, she claimed she had been kidnapped and raped by “Arab” men. This was a lie – as she later admitted. She had fallen out with her parents and invented the whole story. But that did little to stop the episode from becoming the centrepiece of a whirlwind Russian disinformation campaign aimed at destabilising Angela Merkel and German institutions.
Russian state media and pro-Russian websites in Germany immediately swirled with reports. Merkel was already under pressure for her open-door policy on refugees. Now German far-right groups and representatives of Germany’s ethnic Russian community held demonstrations. The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, described Lisa (a dual German-Russian citizen) as “our girl” and accused German authorities of a cover-up and “whitewashing reality to make it politically correct”.
A diplomatic spat ensued, with the German foreign minister accusing Russia of “political propaganda”. Berlin officials struggled to counter the Russian campaign. But Moscow’s overt meddling in Germany’s domestic politics seeped into the public consciousness – for a while, at least.
Fast-forward to January 2017. The fallout from the Trump-Russia dossier has now placed Vladimir Putin and his power structure at the centre of American politics. For Europeans, a question arises: what could this all mean for the old continent, as it approaches key elections? This year, voting will take place in France, the Netherlands and in Germany. Remembering the Lisa scandal is important, for it says something about what may lie ahead.
Now that Russia’s covert activities are being so intensely discussed in the US, it is high time Europe placed as much attention on what it might, in turn, be confronted with – and to prepare itself. [Continue reading…]
Three thousand fake tanks: How a network of conspiracy sites spread a fake story about U.S. military reinforcements in Europe
Digital Forensic Research Lab reports: On January 4, a little-known news site based in Donetsk, Ukraine published an article claiming that the United States was sending 3,600 tanks to Europe as part of “the NATO war preparation against Russia”.
Like much fake news, this story started with a grain of truth: the US was about to reinforce its armored units in Europe. However, the article converted literally thousands of other vehicles — including hundreds of Humvees and trailers — into tanks, building the US force into something 20 times more powerful than it actually was.
The story caught on online. Within three days it had been repeated by a dozen websites in the United States, Canada and Europe, and shared some 40,000 times. It was translated into Norwegian; quoted, unchallenged, by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti; and spread among Russian-language websites.
It was also an obvious fake, as any Google news search would have revealed. Yet despite its evident falsehood, it spread widely, and not just in directly Kremlin-run media. Tracking the spread of this fake therefore shines a light on the wider question of how fake stories are dispersed. [Continue reading…]
Casey Michel writes: In the aftermath of the U.S. intelligence community’s recent report on the Russian-directed hacking of the Democratic National Committee, it’s easy but misleading to conclude that the Russian government’s propaganda strategy lies solely in advancing the careers of conservative Republicans in the United States. Backing Donald Trump’s candidacy, via steady leaks of stolen communiques to organizations like WikiLeaks, was but one prong of the Kremlin’s assault on American liberal democracy. Part of its campaign to vilify Hillary Clinton involved catering to her rivals on the far-left and pushing any number of crankish conspiracy theories that appeal as much to “anti-imperialists” as to neo-Nazis.
There’s nothing new in that, really.
Moscow’s attempts to cultivate America’s far-left long predate the presidency of Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin, according to available evidence, donated more funds per capita to the U.S. Communist Party than any other communist claque during the Soviet period, when Moscow’s intelligence operations against the “main adversary” involved recruiting agents of influence and spies of a progressive background who were sympathetic to the Soviet cause. But the past 18 months have seen a noted spike in information warfare aimed at gulling the Bernie Bros and Occupy-besotted alternative media set, which saw Clinton as more of a political danger than it did Trump.
Perhaps the starkest case in point is Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and her constituency. In December 2015, the Kremlin feted Stein by inviting her to the gala celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Kremlin-funded propaganda network RT. Over a year later, it remains unclear who paid for Stein’s trip to Moscow and her accommodations there. Her campaign ignored multiple questions on this score. We do know, however, that Stein sat at the same table as both Putin and Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, Trump’s soon-to-be national security adviser. She further spoke at an RT-sponsored panel, using her presence to criticize the U.S.’s “disastrous militarism.” Afterward, straddling Moscow’s Red Square, Stein described the panel as “inspiring,” going on to claim that Putin, whom she painted as a political novice, told her he “agree[d]” with her “on many issues.”
Stein presents herself as a champion of the underclass and the environment, and an opponent of the surveillance state and corporate media, and yet she seemed to take pleasure in her marriage of true minds with a kleptocratic intelligence officer who levels forests and arrests or kills critical journalists and invades foreign countries. Their true commonality, of course, is that both Putin and Stein are dogged opponents of U.S. foreign policy. [Continue reading…]