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The Russians Are Back:  Actually They Never Left!

By now you’ve heard the stories about how Russia used social media bots to persuade the American people to vote or not vote in the 2016 presidential election.  It was a coordinated and sophisticated attack on a grand scale, a war that the U.S. has never faced before. A war of disinformation, gas lighting and repetitive physiological warfare with social media accounts masquerading as real people but really were just Russian bots. Millions of people have been influenced by celebrities tweeting and sharing fake information.  Even politicians did the same thing often knowing it was fake.

It struck many as odd, because Hilary R. Clinton won the popular vote and was projected by many polls to be a clear winner, but she wasn’t. Weeks and months later it came to light from the top U.S. intelligence agencies that Russians had interfered in our elections on behalf of Donald J. Trump. Still, questions remain whether  he knew or not. The facts are, Russia sowed seeds of doubt in the American people for the benefit of the Republican nominee is of grave consequence.  According to Axios, “A new study by the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) states that, 770,005 analyzed tweets in English were from known Russian troll accounts.”  This data also corresponded with poll data from FiveThirtyEight’s archive of multiple polling outlets as well.

Every 25,000 retweets of Russian accounts correlated to a 1% increase in Trump’s poll numbers one week later.  Given the frequency of tweets from Russian accounts, 25,000 retweets would average around 10 retweets per tweet.  Retweets did not have a similar effect on Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers.  The study also found that 91% of first retweeters of known Russian bots were non-Russian bots, which suggests that propaganda spread into networks of real U.S. citizens.

After a huge backlash, social media giants were urged to increase security measures and eradicate all the fake accounts.  To their credit they did the best that they could but they didn’t get it all.  Now, just in time for 2020 election, the bots are beginning to ramp up their presence. Silicon Valley is set to monitor tweets and engagements dealing with the first presidential debates.   When Russians first began to try to persuade the American people with lies and fabrications, according to Menlo Park (CBS SF/CNN). “the social media companies shared with Congress that during the 2016 campaign, the Russian troll group later charged by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, sent thousands of social media posts on debate nights. The U.S. intelligence community has warned that Russian efforts to spread disinformation through social media have continued “virtually unabated” since 2016.” 

If you noticed, after the first Democratic Debates of 2019, there was an influx of tweets about Kamala Harris’ ethnicity.  These attacks were traced backed to an account by the black MAGA (Make America Great Again) supporter, Ali Alexander. He said, “Kamala Harris is *not* an American Black. She is half Indian and half Jamaican. I’m so sick of people robbing American Blacks (like myself) of our history. It’s disgusting. These are my people not her people, freaking disgusting.”  He goes on to explain, “she is a person of color, not an African-American.”  This was retweeted, shared and liked by thousands and even shared by Donald Trump, Jr., to his millions of followers. It echoes the early 2000’s of his father, when he started the ‘ birtherism’ conspiracy theory that Obama was a secret Kenyan Muslim. The apex of birtherism lead to Obama having to show his birth certificate. 

Although this topic is not being circulated in the news media as much as it should be, there is a very real active cyber threat and it extends to the 2020 Presidential election. Always question the source of your information, always verify the information with credible sources and double-check what you’re sharing with your friends.

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