Russia, China Spreading False Narratives About Coronavirus: US State Department Official | The Epoch Times

state-department-logo-700x420Johnny Liberty, Editor’s Note: While it’s true both Russia and China have their own agendas so does the Unites States. The coronavirus has taken the world by storm, with nation states unprepared for the consequences of such a globally disruptive event. Whether the coronavirus was engineered in a bioweapons laboratory and accidentally released is of less consequence than the social and economic blowback which will be felt worldwide. If the truth ever be told (which unlikely it ever will be), unscrupulous propaganda agents from any country are not serving the best interests of humanity to protect themselves against the onslaught of this lethal virus. 

By Eva Fu

U.S. adversaries such as Russia and China are propagating false information about the novel coronavirus outbreak amid a global public health crisis, according to a top State Department official tasked with countering foreign propaganda threats.

“The coronavirus is an example of where we’ve seen adversaries take advantage of a health crisis where people are terrified worldwide—to try to advance their priorities,” Lea Gabrielle, who leads the Global Engagement Center at the State Department, said during a Senate hearing on March 5.

While both countries’ propaganda malign and undermine free societies, the intent and the style of their state-directed campaigns differ greatly, according to Gabrielle.

“One of the best practices in countering propaganda and disinformation is exposing it,” she said.


The Kremlin has put “the entire ecosystem of Russia disinformation at play,” including state proxy websites, state media, and “swarms of online false personas pushing out false narratives,” she explained.

While the aim of restoring its image as a global superpower, Moscow “seeks to weaken its adversaries by manipulating the information environment in nefarious ways, polarizing domestic political conversations, and attempting to destroy the public’s faith in good governance, independent media, and democratic principles,” Gabrielle said.

In February, senior State Department official Philip Reeker accused Russia of engaging thousands of social media accounts to promote unfounded conspiracy theories, such as the claim that the United States developed the virus as a biological weapon to “wage economic war” on China.

“By spreading disinformation about coronavirus, Russian malign actors are once again choosing to threaten public safety by distracting from the global health response,” Reeker told Agence France Presse at the time.

The lies, Gabrielle said, are a convenient tool for the Kremlin to distract the public. By creating and discrediting a fictitious “enemy”—the West—the Russian government could justify its existing political system and shift its internal troubles away from the international spotlight. In doing so, the Kremlin also “seeks to nurture the most extreme or divisive elements of society,” she said.


Unlike Russia, which “seeks to chaotically disrupt the current world order to accomplish its goals, the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] seeks to deliberately shape it to Beijing’s advantage,” according to Gabrielle.

Beijing’s attempts to censor “the sheer extent of this global public health crisis” have brought such CCP goals into full display: from downplaying death toll numbers, stifling critics, to silencing whistleblowers who raised red flags about the virus during the outbreak’s early stages, she said.

A resident wearing a face mask sweeps the floor in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on March 4, 2020. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, among the first to raise attention about a “SARS-like” outbreak on social media, was accused of rumor-mongering. He later died of the virus, after contracting it from a patient he was treating. Three citizen journalists, Fang Bin, Chen Qiushi, and Li Zehua, were recently arrested while documenting the outbreak in Wuhan.

Chinese messaging app WeChat and video streaming app YY have been using keywords to censor social media posts with virus-related terms—likely due to “official guidance,” according to a new report by Canadian cyber research group Citizen Lab.

Such state-sanctioned efforts “underscore Beijing’s sensitivity to being portrayed as anything other than a responsible actor at home and abroad,” Gabrielle said.

On March 5, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution to honor Li. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said the doctor was “victimized by his own government, the Chinese Communist Party.”

‘Whole-of-Government’ Campaign

Beijing’s propaganda operatives are comprehensive, deploying a “whole-of-government approach”: political, economic, military, and information tools are used to push the regime’s narrative domestically and globally, Gabrielle said.

More recently, the Chinese regime has walked back its initial claims that the virus came from a live animal and seafood market in Wuhan. Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the country’s foreign ministry, said on March 5 that “it is yet undetermined where the virus originated,” stressing that Beijing has been “widely acclaimed” for its “signature strength, efficiency, and speed.”

Epoch Times Photo
Copies of the Africa edition of the China Daily newspaper sits on a newsstand in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Dec. 14, 2012. (Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images)

In recent days, Chinese state media have spread the false claim that the virus originated in the United States.

State outlets also published a series of articles bolstering China’s response to the outbreak. One March 5 article in China Daily, for example, said the government’s fight against the virus was “a story of pride.”

Pushing back on Beijing’s claims about the virus’s country of origin, U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo noted that the CCP itself had said “it came from Wuhan.”

“We have pretty high confidence that we know where this began [i.e. China], and we have high confidence too that there was information that could have been made available more quickly and data that could have been provided and shared among health professionals across the world,” he told CNBC on March 6.

“It’s most unfortunate,” he added.

Source: The Epoch Times

Gems amid garbage: What’s in the Senate Intelligence report on Obama’s response to 2016 ‘Russian meddling’ | RT


Johnny Liberty, Editor’s Note: Excellent source material on the origins of the Russian interference in the 2016 elections and the presumptions underlying the impeachment of Trump. Turns out the CIA Director was behind the whole affair and the Democrats were his foot soldiers.

By Nebojsa Malic

Much of the new Senate report about ‘Russian meddling’ in the 2016 election consists of Obama administration officials covering their posteriors – but is also unwittingly revealing about its (false) premises, sources and methods.

A day after its members voted along party lines in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee joined forces to publish yet another fan-fiction in the ‘Russian meddling in 2016 US presidential election’ saga, this time focusing on the Obama administration’s responses.
The problem obvious right from the start is that the committee presupposes the existence of said meddling, citing the intelligence community assessment commissioned by Obama and Mueller indictments as evidence rather than unproven assertions. The “geopolitical context” of events in the report is a perfect example of how rotten assumptions and circular reasoning lead to garbage conclusions.That said, there are a few revelations in the report that deserve attention. First of all, even while the entire section on page 11 is redacted, a footnote left up reveals that the first to raise the alarm about “Russian meddling” was John Brennan, CIA director at the time. In what must be a remarkable coincidence, he has since become an outspoken TV and Twitter pundit, specializing in accusing President Trump and Republican senators of treason.

Brennan is the one that briefed the congressional “Gang of Eight” over the course of August 2016 – starting with House Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff, then Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. The Republicans were all briefed “individually” on September 6, along with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) who sat on the Intel Committee. No notes about any of the meetings exist, of course.

Three weeks later, on September 22, Feinstein and Schiff issued a statement that they both “concluded that Russian intelligence agencies are making a serious and concerted effort to influence the US election” (p. 33). The report does not record the administration’s reaction to Schiff and Feinstein getting ahead of the White House, which was supposedly still hoping to address the whole thing with a bipartisan statement.

Schiff then went on to become the leading figure in the Democrats’ efforts to impeach Trump – first citing “Russian collusion” then latching on to the Ukraine phone call.

The report also reveals that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) colluded with the Washington Post to publish the story on June 14, 2016 about the “hacking” of their network (p.5). That is supposedly the first time anyone in the Obama administration found out about the DNC “hack.” This DNC behavior – running to the media before informing the government, which was run by Democrats! – ought to raise eyebrows, but the committee just moves on.

Here is another gem: The official ODNI-DHS statement about “Russian interference” was published at 3:30 PM on October 7, 2016 – a Friday, when news tends to get buried. Exactly 33 minutes later, the Post (them again!) publishes the Access Hollywood tape, intended to be the “October surprise” that sinks Trump’s candidacy. About half an hour later, WikiLeaks drops the first batch of emails from Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta. The rest is history.

Speaking of WikiLeaks, the section pertaining to them is entirely redacted in the Senate report. Earlier, the committee concluded that WikiLeaks was a “Russian cutout” – again, an assertion without evidence.

Keep in mind that this is the same committee whose understanding of “Russia’s social media-predicated attack against our democracy” was “significantly informed” by, among others, New Knowledge – the very outfit that masterminded an entirely fake ‘Russian meddling’ disinformation campaign during the 2017 special election for the US Senate in Alabama.

Another thing that stands out in the report is how the Obama administration perceived the whole affair. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and UN Ambassador Samantha Power both compared it to secret meetings prior to the raid on Osama bin Laden, while Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates described it as “very cloak and dagger” (p.13).

Secretary of State John Kerry even wrote a memo proposing a sequel to the Warren Commission (which investigated the JFK assassination) to tackle Russian “attempts” at interference (p.42). Instead, Obama chose to create the handpicked working group that would produce the infamous Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA).

Curiously, the report does not mention at all the FBI’s efforts to spy on the Trump campaign, using FISA warrants predicated on the Clinton-commissioned dossier compiled by British spy Christopher Steele. One would think it ought to, given that it’s a very specific “response” to alleged Russian meddling. Perhaps that’s somewhere in the redacted parts? 

In all seriousness, by now it should be intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer that “Russian meddling” has been a lie all along, foisted on the American people by political operatives and hyper-partisan spies, and that its use in an attempt to de-legitimize a presidency may have done more actual harm to US institutions and political system than anything any external actor could have hoped to achieve. 

That the Senate Intel Committee insists on flogging this particular dead horse even after the impeachment hoax fell on its face suggests that the phantom “Russian” menace is still being used to pursue some other sinister political objective.

Source: RT

Dick Morris: The Deep State is framing Trump on Ukraine | WND & The Western Journal

By Dick Morris, The Western Journal

Editor’s Note: There is always more going on than meets the eye especially via a highly politicized and polarized media from which we gather 99.9% of our information about what’s going on. To be truly informed, do your own research and learn from both sides of the equation to better understand the bigger picture. In this article we get a better understanding of why the US State Department is so riled up about Trump involving himself directly in foreign policy and building direct relationships with the leaders of the world (and why they are testifying against him).

Encased within the Democratic efforts to oust Trump is the determination of the deep state to limit presidential power to conduct foreign policy and the desire of allies of the EU to resist efforts to enlist the new Ukrainian president in their nationalist coalition.

Conservatives and Republicans are well aware by now of the deep state that permeates the Intelligence Community, having seen it operate to try to impeach President Donald Trump over phony charges of Russian collusion.

Now, meet the Deep State at State! The State Department and the National Security Council are filled with deep state operatives working feverishly to bring Trump down over the Ukraine affair.

Their pique at Trump’s heavy-handed intervention in Ukraine is rooted in their deep-seated belief that the president must be kept out of foreign policy despite the constitutional mandate that unambiguously puts in his lap.

Recognizing the president’s formal power, the deep state folks work overtime to get the president to do their bidding on foreign affairs.

William Taylor, former charge d’affaires of the U.S. embassy in Kiev told House investigators that he “began to sense that the two decision-making channels [formulating U.S. policy toward Ukraine] — the regular and the irregular — were separate and at odds.”

Translation: How dare the president conduct foreign policy without consulting us!

Atlanticist to the core, the deep state is heavily invested in the idea of globalism and the institution of the European Union. It watched, with alarm and dismay, the defection of the UK from the EU. They see Brexit as a tragedy. But now their focus turns to the eastern border of the EU as it threatens to defect as well.

There, a determined effort led by Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban (a former client) is eroding the power of the EU. Allying with like-minded leaders in Poland and Italy, he is crafting an independent course away from Brussels.

President Trump set off alarm bells in the State Department deep state when, according to The New York Times, “Trump met, over the objections of this national security advisor, with one of [Ukraine’s] most virulent critics, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary.”

At that meeting, The Times said, Trump “was exposed to a harsh indictment of Ukraine” that “set the stage for events that led to the impeachment inquiry.”

Orban’s sin is opposing the EU, restricting Muslim immigration and battling with fellow Hungarian George Soros. Defying the EU, he has built a wall around Hungary to protect his country of only nine million from a hostile takeover by Muslim refugees and immigrants. He refuses to admit his quota of refugees assigned Hungary by the EU.

Eager to protect the 150,000 Hungarians living in Ukraine from forced assimilation, he has battled for permitting Hungarian to be used in the regions in which they live.

Seeking to preserve national identity is a no-no in the world of the EU.

And Organ also struck at left-wing billionaire George Soros who founded the Central European University in Budapest after the fall of communism. It’s increasingly leftist, anti-nationalist orientation has drawn criticism from Orban who has moved to restrict its government funding.

Orban is building a nationalist coalition in Eastern Europe that opposes immigration and resists EU domination. His Polish ally, Jaroslaw Kaczyński (another former client) just won the election there a few months ago. Leaders in Italy and other eastern European countries have backed Orban’s crusade.

Source: WND & The Western Journal

Tulsi Sets The Internet Ablaze With Fiery Response To Hillary Clinton | Trending Politics

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard fires back at former first lady over comments suggesting she was being groomed by Russia.

n Friday, Democratic Presidential Candidate Tulsi Gabbard absolutely shredded failed 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton after she falsely stated that Gabbard was a Russian asset.

“Great! Thank you @HillaryClinton. You, the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long, have finally come out from behind the curtain.” Gabbard tweeted. “From the day I announced my candidacy, there has been a concerted campaign to destroy my reputation. We wondered who was behind it and why.”

She continued: “Now we know — it was always you, through your proxies and powerful allies in the corporate media and war machine, afraid of the threat I pose. It’s now clear that this primary is between you and me. Don’t cowardly hide behind your proxies. Join the race directly.”

This scathing statement from Gabbard immediately set the internet on fire, resulting in hundreds of thousands of tweets relating to the subject matter.

Gabbards tweets come in response to a conspiracy theory promoted by Hillary Clinton on Friday where she falsely claimed that Russia was “grooming” Gabbard to help President Trump win again in 2020.

The corrupt Democrat made the conspiracy theory during a podcast with President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe.

“They are also going to do third party again,” Clinton said. “I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate,” Clinton said while referring to Gabbard.

“She is a favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far. That’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not because she is also a Russian asset,” Clinton bizarrely continued.

“They know they can’t win without a third-party candidate, and so I do not know who it’s going to be, but I can guarantee you they will have a vigorous third-party challenge in the key states that they most need it.”

Unlike Clinton, Gabbard has honorably served her country and has never been an asset to a foreign country. The failed presidential candidate and the rest of the Democratic party as a whole is spreading this conspiracy theory for one reason and one reason only. Gabbard is the only Democratic candidate who hasn’t sold her soul to the far-left base.

During the CNN debate on Tuesday, Gabbard went nuclear on CNN and the New York Times for slandering her, when they, like Hillary Clinton called her a Russian asset. CNN and the NYT also previously lied about her position on regime change in Syria, which Gabbard said was “completely despicable.”

The 38-year-old Iraq War veteran shredded CNN and the New York Times to their faces over their extremely biased coverage of her.

“Not only that, New York Times and CNN have also smeared veterans like myself for calling for an end to this regime change war,” Gabbard said.

“Just two days ago The New York Times put out an article saying that I’m a Russian asset and an [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad apologist and all these different smears. This morning a CNN commentator said on national television that I’m an asset of Russia,” she added.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below!

Source: Trending PoliticsAl Jazeera


Trump impeachment effort: The Swamp strikes (again) to deflect attention |

Editor’s Note: Excellent analysis of the misguided, self-sabotaging behavior of the Democrats to destroy the President regardless of the consequences to their own political futures and the integrity of the USA.
Robert Bridge is an American writer and journalist. Former Editor-in-Chief of The Moscow News, he is author of the book, ‘Midnight in the American Empire,’ released in 2013.
Washington’s political football has taken another bounce, skipping from Russia to Ukraine in just days. Democrats made the move to impeach Trump, but why only now?

Like some rogue cyborg responding to a programmed ‘terminate’ command, the Democratic Party has shown a relentless, laser-guided determination to destroy Donald Trump regardless of the consequences not only to their own political fortunes, but to the very integrity and viability of the nation.

Indeed, rather than humbly accept defeat following the Russiagate debacle, which held the Republic in a suspended state of mind-numbing animation for three tortuous years, the malevolent machine was merely rebooted. Today, the Democrats and their liberal gimp media are no longer obsessed by the Kremlin, Wikileaks, and a pee-stained hotel bed somewhere in central Moscow, but rather a phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Hello Russiagate 2.0

For those who have lost the plot for this latest DC thriller, here is the abridged version.

During a July 25 telephone conversation, the full transcript of which is accessible here, Trump asked Zelensky to “do us a favor,” which involved digging up dirt on Joe Biden, a leading Democratic contender in the 2020 presidential race. The task wouldn’t require a very large shovel, of course, since Biden had already implicated himself when he publicly bragged about forcing Ukraine to terminate its chief prosecutor Viktor Shokin, or risk losing a cool billion dollars in US financial aid. Who is Viktor Shokin? None other than the guy leading an investigation of Biden’s son, Hunter, who received millions of dollars for the pleasure of squatting on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

In other words, Biden offered Ukraine a bald-faced quid pro quo, exactly what the Democrats are accusing Trump of doing. There’s just one glaring problem, however, with the Democratic charges: nowhere in the transcript of the call does Trump ever suggest he will compensate Kiev for carrying out his requests.

That nagging detail, however, did not stop the Democratic crazy train, with 300 million jaded American passengers on board, from departing the station for a non-stop ride to impeachment proceedings.

This latest rush by the Democrats to bring down Trump seems less of an effort based on sound political strategy than one that is driven by raw desperation. How else to explain the decision by the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to announce an impeachment inquiry against the president when she hadn’t even read the transcript? That is an incredible admission, especially considering what the country has already been through for the past three years. Moreover, impeaching a sitting president is a radical, almost unheard of step that has only occurred twice in the nation’s history, against Andrew Jackson and Bill Clinton. Neither effort resulted in those leaders being forced from office. So, why on earth risk it?

There are other telltale signs that the Democrats, with no small help from the fawning media, are spinning yet another tale of intrigue every bit as Clancy-esque as Russiagate. Not unlike Pelosi, the White House whistle-blower – alleged to have been a CIA ‘conscientious objector,’ quite possibly a historic first in the dark underworld of espionage – issued a complaint based on second-hand sources. And the plot keeps thickening.

Until just days before the transcript was made public, such ‘evidence’ would have been considered inadmissible since only firsthand knowledge was deemed worthy of consideration. Some bureaucrat, however, showed amazing acuity in altering those conditions just before the Democrats would lower the hammer. Now, just in time for the impeachment show trial, the intelligent community’s new and improved complaint form, as reported by the Federalist, “no longer requires potential whistleblowers… to have direct, first-hand knowledge of the alleged wrongdoing that they are reporting.”

In other words, it looks like the Democrats are up to their usual dirty tricks. At this point it must be asked, what is the driving force behind their obsessive hatred of Trump, which has provoked a dire situation in the country that conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh has dubbed a “cold civil war” between the two parties?

Is Democratic desperation a sign of guilt?

Without bothering to educate herself first on the Trump-Zelensky conversation, Pelosi has disgraced her office, while, at the same time, opening up the Democrats to the possibility of massive setbacks, possibly even self-destruction, on the political front.

Pelosi admitted nearly as much when she said “it doesn’t matter” when asked by a reporter if the Democrats’ push for impeachment may damage their chances of holding onto the House down the road. “Our first responsibility is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” she affirmed. Is anybody buying that explanation?

As much as we would all like to believe that modern US politicians are intrinsically guided by some patriotic and lyrical ‘love of country’ and ‘duty to the constitution,’ the evidence points to far less altruistic motives. Considering the collective wealth of congressional members alone suggests that the overwhelming majority of US politicians are in the political swamp known as Washington DC merely to enrich themselves.

Others may argue that the Democrats have essentially launched a preemptive strike against the 2020 presidential election, which they have a very narrow chance of winning given their lackluster field of contenders. Considering the high risks of pressing forward with impeachment, however, which the Democrats have admitted could even cost them the House, that suggestion also sounds implausible.

So, what is it? Why so much non-stop fear and loathing from the Democratic camp ever since Trump took over the White House in 2016?

Much of the Democratic angst goes back to the 2016 campaign trail when Trump boldly proclaimed that he would ‘drain the swamp.’ I don’t think he was just speaking rhetorically. Many Americans are unaware of it, simply because the mainstream media has concealed the news, but the Democrats are under investigation by the White House.

Back in May, Trump awarded sweeping powers to his Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate claims that the Democrats were “spying” on his campaign, a very serious charge that would make Watergate resemble a picnic by comparison. Meanwhile, in the same week that the Democrats were recklessly pushing forward with their impeachment inquiry, the New York Times reported that the US State Department had reopened its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s abuse of her email service, which compromised an untold number of classified government documents.

“As many as 130 officials have been contacted in recent weeks by State Department investigators — a list that includes senior officials who reported directly to Clinton…” The Washington Post reported.

In other words, the gloves have come off in the US capital. If you doubt that, consider this: if some Washington whistleblower, or “spy” as Trump has called the individual, was able to receive second-hand information about a classified phone call between Trump and a foreign leader, then it stands to reason that these same people knew for a long time that the Barr investigation had begun to focus on Clinton’s insecure email box. Thus, the Democrats could very well be engaged in ‘obstruction of justice’ while portraying Trump as the villain. Now, should the US president attempt to proceed with criminal charges against his opponents, the Democrats will scream in one media-backed voice that Trump is the one attempting to avoid persecution.

The Democrats, displaying incredible recklessness and impulsiveness in their latest effort to take down the House of Trump, may be less interested in winning back the White House in 2020 and far more interested in avoiding jail time. Nothing else adequately explains their crazed level of vindictiveness.


Study touts planting 1 trillion trees as most effective climate change solution | The Hill

Healthy green trees in a forest of old spruce, fir and pine trees in wilderness of a national park. Sustainable industry, ecosystem and healthy environment concepts and background.

The cheapest way to halt the effects of climate change could be planting 1 trillion trees, according to a new study.

The study in the journal Science, first reported by The Associated Press, found that planting trees could be the most effective way to remove carbon from the atmosphere, but cautioned that it would have little effect without a reduction of emissions around the globe.

“This is by far — by thousands of times — the cheapest climate change solution” study co-author Thomas Crowther, an ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, said.

“It’s certainly a monumental challenge, which is exactly the scale of the problem of climate change,” he added.

Though, Crowther cautioned, “None of this works without emissions cuts.”

Scientists with the United Nations have called for a major reduction in carbon emissions over the next decade to stave off the worst effects of climate change, including rising sea levels and dangerous weather phenomena.

Lawmakers around the world have debated on how to address the issue, and in 2017 the U.S. withdrew from a major accord meant to battle climate change due to President Trump‘s opposition to the pact.

Democratic candidates for president, including former Vice President Joe Biden, have called for the U.S. to rejoin the agreement. Progressives are pushing an ambitious plan to cut U.S. carbon emissions, the Green New Deal, introduced earlier this year by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

If enacted, the Green New Deal calls for the transition of America’s energy grid away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Source: The Hill

The Weaponization of Social Media | Counterpunch

troll-network_BF9747ECB468482488ECFF9A003635D6By Faisal Khan

The use of ‘bots’ present modern society with a significant dilemma; The technologies and social media platforms (such as Twitter and Facebook) that once promised to enhance democracy are now increasingly being used to undermine it. Writers Peter W Singer and Emerson Brooking believe ‘the rise of social media and the Internet has become a modern-day battlefield where information itself is weaponised’. To them ‘the online world is now just as indispensable to governments, militaries, activists, and spies at it is to advertisers and shoppers’. They argue this is a new form of warfare which they call ‘LikeWar’. The terrain of LikeWar is social media; ‘it’s platforms are not designed to reward morality or veracity but virality.’ The ‘system rewards clicks, interactions, engagement and immersion time…figure out how to make something go viral, and you can overwhelm even the truth itself.’

In its most simple form the word ‘bot’ is short for ‘robot’; beyond that, there is significant complexity. There are different types of bots. For example, there are ‘chatbots’ such as Siri and Amazon’s Alexa; they recognise human voice and speech and help us with our daily tasks and requests for information. There are search engine style ‘web bots’ and ‘spambots’. There are also ‘sockpuppets’ or ‘trolls’; these are often fake identities used to interact with ordinary users on social networks. There are ‘social bots’; these can assume a fabricated identity and can spread malicious links or advertisements. There are also ‘hybrid bots’ that combine automation with human input and are often referred to as ‘cyborgs’. Some bots are harmless; some more malicious, some can be both.

The country that is perhaps most advanced in this new form of warfare and political influence is Russia. According to Peter Singer and Emerson Brooking ‘Russian bots more than simply meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election…they used a mix of old-school information operations and new digital marketing techniques to spark real-world protests, steer multiple U.S. news cycles, and influence voters in one of the closest elections in modern history. Using solely online means, they infiltrated U.S. political communities so completely that flesh-and-blood American voters soon began to repeat scripts written in St. Petersburg and still think them their own’. Internationally, these ‘Russian information offensives have stirred anti-NATO sentiments in Germany by inventing atrocities out of thin air; laid the pretext for potential invasions of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania by fuelling the political antipathy of ethnic Russian minorities; and done the same for the very real invasion of Ukraine. And these are just the operations we know about.’

We witnessed similar influence operations here during the Brexit referendum in 2016. A study by the Financial Times reported that during the referendum campaign ‘the 20 most prolific accounts … displayed indications of high levels of automation’. The Anti-Muslim hate group TellMAMA recorded in its latest Annual report that manual bots based in St Petersburg were active in spreading Anti-Muslim hate online. Israel has also used manual ‘bots’ to promote a more positive image of itself online.

The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) has studied online political discussions relating to several countries on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. It claims that in all the elections, political crises and national security-related discussions it examined, there was not one instance where social media opinion had not been manipulated by what they call ‘computational propaganda’. For them, while it remains difficult to quantify the impact bots have ‘computational propaganda’ is now one of the most ‘powerful tools against democracy’.

Donald Trump perhaps more than any other US President to date understands the power of social media. The OII found, for example, that although he alienated Latino voters on the campaign trail, he had some fake Latino twitter bots tweeting support for him. Emerson T Brooker informed me that social media bots can be highly-effective; for him ‘If a bot-driven conversation successfully enters the “Trending” charts of a service like Twitter, it can break into mainstream discussion and receive a great deal of attention from real flesh-and-blood users’. He continues ‘The first unequivocal use of political bots was in the 2010 Special Senate Election in Massachusetts, which ended in the election of Senator Scott Brown. The bots helped draw journalist (and donor) interest from across the country. The Islamic State was also a very effective user of botnets to spread its propaganda over Arabic-speaking Twitter. In 2014, it repeatedly drove hashtags related to its latest execution or battlefield victory (e.g. #AllEyesOnISIS) to international attention.’

So, what can be done to better regulate bots? The OII has called for social media platforms to act against bots and has suggested some steps. These include; making the posts they select for news feeds more ‘random’, so users don’t only see likeminded opinions. News feeds could be provided with a trustworthiness score; audits could be carried out of the algorithms they use to decide which posts to promote. However, the OII also cautions not to over-regulate the platforms to suppress political conversation altogether.  Marc Owen Jones of Exeter University who has researched bots feels that in the case of twitter better ‘verification procedures could tackle the bots’. According to Emerson Brooking ‘a simple non-invasive proposal bouncing around Congress now would mandate the labelling of bot accounts. This would allow bots positive automation functions to continue while keeping them from fooling everyday media users.’

Source: Counterpunch