“After it discovered that Russians had used its platform in an effort to sow discord in U.S. politics, Twitter released a massive trove of data about the accounts the Russians used and tweets they sent or retweeted,” Washington Post writer Philip Bump wrote. “A researcher for the security and software firm Symantec dug into the data, building an understanding of how the effort worked and the extent of its reach. From the standpoint of the 2016 election, however, the findings are significant in what they don’t show.”
The known accumulated 2016 election invasion statistics are staggering.
Research shows that accounts associated with the effort sent more than 770,000 tweets or retweets from January 2016 through the election, about 400,000 of which were original tweets.
In 2018, Twitter users sent 320 million tweets a day, meaning that the original tweets sent by Russians would have constituted about a tenth of 1 percent of a day’s tweets.
The most retweeted account, TEN_GOP, was retweeted 6 million times over its existence, including by prominent conservatives such as Donald Trump Jr.
The most interesting part of what Symantec found was that some of the accounts used a link-shortener that included display ads when clicked, allowing the Russian trolls to make ad money while they tried to sow discord in American politics.
One account that masqueraded as a pro-Trump political account may have generated an income of almost $1 million if each of its followers clicked on a link just once ($949,890).
Before the election, BuzzFeed News looked at a group of teenagers in Macedonia who were running pro-Trump websites littered with made-up stories.
It’s not new that political content — particularly conservative content — is fertile ground for scammers. In 2012, political action committees made money by tricking visitors to websites into thinking they were contributing directly to candidates.
What’s new (relatively speaking) is how social media networks have become integrated into the effort to share and monetize conservative and even more right-wing content and, specifically, how they’ve been pushed to defend outlier behavior as a result.
Bump wrote that “Crackdowns by social media networks against fake news purveyors and abusive accounts have led to a backlash on the right, including from Trump, himself.
Conservatives argue that they’re being systematically targeted for their political beliefs, a claim for which there’s no real evidence. Instead, we’ve seen multiple examples of social media companies trying to uproot falsehood or abuse and stumbling into conservative media and politics.
Now the multi-million dollar question is: What are the federal government, the political parties and the tech companies doing to eliminate the horrific, false political content that is still running rampant on the internet and will multiply many times as we get closer to the November, 2020, presidential election?
We urge everyone in the computer world to curb this abusive misconduct in what was once a free and workable democracy, with systems founded in the 1700s.