from the just-my-hundred-million-cents dept.
Current Affairs published an in-depth editorial on recent revelations about a $1 million astroturfng campaign by Correct the Record:
Astroturfing makes me angry. It should make you angry. It should make you fucking well see red. It's marketing evolved into something incredibly scary, sophisticated, and evil. It's essentially thought warfare, or psychological warfare, which takes away much of what was supposed to make the internet a new and beautiful frontier of communication. Worse yet, if you actually identify and approach these operatives, they'll gaslight you and deny that they are such an operative. These are people who are paid to psychologically abuse you. Do you get this? It's an ugly and evil thing, and not only does it take away our ability to take information and fact at face value, but it takes away our ability to take opinions, feelings, and personal stances at face value as sincere and legitimate.
takyon: For some additional context, "Hillary-supporting super PAC invests $1 million to hit back at online Clinton critics":
Correct the Record, a super PAC supporting Hillary Clinton's bid to become US president, has promised to invest more than $1 million to respond to users criticizing its candidate on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, and other social media services. The super PAC says its new "Barrier Breakers digital task force" will to respond "quickly and forcefully to negative attacks and false narratives found online," in addition to thanking major supporters and "committed superdelegates" directly.
Back in November 2020, the NATO Stratgic Communications Center of Excellence in Riga, Latvia published an analysis of the coordinated online harassment of Finnish government ministers. The conclusion is that the attacks and astroturfing are largely free from automated activity, aka bots. The report includes statistics, lots of analysis, and several illustrative graphs. The main topics triggering the online abuse were the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, immigration, EU relations, and social policies. Finland is not a NATO member but the lessons learned from studying the coordinated harrassment can be generalized to the alliance.
This report is informed by the findings of three recent Finnish studies, one of which investigated the extent and effects of online hate speech against politicians while the other two studied the use of bots to influence political discourse during the 2019 Finnish parliamentary eleections. The first study released by the research branch of the Finnish govenment in Novemeber 2019, found that a third of municipal decision-makers and nearly half of all membes of Finnish Parliament have been subjected to hate speech online.
[...] As social media platforms continue to grow in political importance, so does their use as a means for engaging with and criticising individual government officials with little or no consequences. An additional aim of our study was to determine the role, if any, bot accounts play in disseminating abusive messages, and whether such bot activity displayed characteristics of coordination. Based on previous Finnish studies analysing the impact of bots during election periods, we hypothesised that we would observe low levels of automation and coordination. Our findings confirmed this theory; our algorithm attributed less than 3% of abusive messages to bot-like accounts. However, the more significant finding was that over half of abusive messages were sent by anonymous accounts. Anonymity erases accountability online. This can have the effect of emboldening users to voice their dissatisfaction with ministers through unfiltered, abusive messages. It is possible for people to operate many anonymous accounts. However, our data do not show clear patterns indicating single users sending abusive messaging from multiple fake accounts. The unfortunate conclusion is that much of the offensive, sexually explicit, expletive-filled abuse targeting government officials is written and published by individuals.