Articles about bots & trolls around the world
The following is a chronological list of articles and mentions I’ve found about bots, trolls & astroturf from around the world. If you know of other articles (any language) please DM them to me (@3r1nG) and I’ll add them.
The Fake Persuaders by George Monbiot
While, in the past, companies have created fake citizens’ groups to campaign in favour of trashing forests or polluting rivers, now they create fake citizens. Messages purporting to come from disinterested punters are planted on listservers at critical moments, disseminating misleading information in the hope of recruiting real people to the cause. Detective work by the campaigner Jonathan Matthews and the freelance journalist Andy Rowell shows how a PR firm contracted to the biotech company Monsanto appears to have played a crucial but invisible role in shaping scientific discourse.
China’s internet ‘spin doctors’ by Michael Bristow/ BBC
Comments, rumours and opinions can be quickly spread between internet groups in a way that makes it hard for the government to censor. So instead of just trying to prevent people from having their say, the government is also attempting to change they way they think. To do this, they use specially trained — and ideologically sound — internet commentators. They have been dubbed the “50-cent party” because of how much they are reputed to be paid for each positive posting (50 Chinese cents; $0.07; £0.05).
A document released by the public security bureau in the city of Jiaozuo in Henan province boasts of the success of this approach. It retells the story of one disgruntled citizen who posted an unfavourable comment about the police on a website after being punished for a traffic offence. One of the bureau’s internet commentators reported this posting to the authorities within 10 minutes of it going up. The bureau then began to spin, using more than 120 people to post their own comments that neatly shifted the debate.
“Twenty minutes later, most postings supported the police — in fact many internet users began to condemn the original commentator,” said the report.
In the course of the research, they found that one of the more active accounts was one that was tied to the American Future Fund, a conservative organization based in Iowa that also ran television ads critical of Coakley. But because messages were done anonymously through a social networking site, it would have been difficult for any voter to tie the messages to the group.
The firm apparently set up nine accounts that sent 929 tweets over the course of about two hours — a method the study refers to as a “Twitter-bomb.” Those messages would have reached about 60,000 people, according to the authors.
These astroturf libertarians are the real threat to internet democracy by George Monbiot
The weapon used by both state and corporate players is a technique known as astroturfing. An astroturf campaign is one that mimics spontaneous grassroots mobilisations but which has in reality been organised.
Syria’s Twitter spambots by Jillian C York
As demonstrations rage on Arab streets, a different battle is happening on Twitter. In Morocco, Syria, Bahrain and Iran, pro-revolution users of the site have found themselves locked in a battle of the hashtags as Twitter accounts with a pro-government message are quickly created to counter the prevailing narrative.
According to an embedded MS Word document found in one of the HBGary emails, it involves creating an army of sockpuppets, with sophisticated “persona management” software that allows a small team of only a few people to appear to be many, while keeping the personas from accidentally cross-contaminating each other. Then, to top it off, the team can actually automate some functions so one persona can appear to be an entire Brooks Brothers riot online.
Military’s ‘sock puppet’ software creates fake online identities to spread pro-American propaganda
The project has been likened by web experts to China’s attempts to control and restrict free speech on the internet. Critics are likely to complain that it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives.
The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities — known to users of social media as “sock puppets” — could also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organisations to do the same.
Difunden cuentas falsas de Twitter que promovían el “gobierno K” (Fake twitter accounts promoting “government K” — Kirchner’s government)
An investigation revealed by journalist Jorge Lanata on his program Periodismo para todos denounced the existence of 400 false Twitter accounts that were used to send tweets in favor of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. According to the engineer who led the research, Juan Carlos Lopez, a special program was used to accelerate the creation of trending topics in favor of Fernández. In this manner they inflated “pro Cristina” messages.
A report by ABC news said the fake network also “launched aggressive attacks against journalists who disapproved of her government.”
Hacked emails that are believed to show correspondence between Nashi’s first leader, Vasily Yakemenko, its spokesperson Kristina Potupchik and other activists and bloggers, appear to reveal the notorious Kremlin youth group’s goals, priorities, means and concerns.
Many of the emails concern how to boost positive coverage on the internet. One includes payments, noting that 200 pro-Putin online comments left on 60 articles cost 600,000 roubles (£12,555). It also details paid-for coverage. […]
Several emails sent to Potupchik give accounts of the group’s monthly work and expenses. One account of the St Petersburg branch’s work in October includes a detailed list of the blogs attacked by Nashi commenters.
It said 10 activists, via 50 accounts on LiveJournal, Russia’s blogging platform of choice, and 50 Twitter accounts, could “regularly monitor LiveJournal publications” of bloggers and activists, such as Navalny and his fellow opposition opposition leaders, Boris Nemtsov and Ilya Yashin.
“More than 1,200 comments were left,” it says. “Twelve publications on social-political themes and in support of the prime minister were written, and reposted more than 200 times,” noting that only half the allotted budget of R300,000 was spent.
Twitter bots are being used as a tool to suppress political dissent, as evidenced by an ongoing flood of meaningless tweets directed at hashtags popular for tracking Tibetan protesters who are taking a stand against Chinese rule.
Persona management entails the use of software by which to facilitate the use of multiple fake online personas, or “sockpuppets,” generally for the use of propaganda, disinformation, or as a surveillance method by which to discover details of a human target via social interactions. Various incarnations of this capability have been discovered in the form of patents, U.S. military contracts, and e-mail discussions among intelligence contractors.
The head Prosecutor has confirmed that from 2011 to December 2012, NIS employees of the Psychological Operations Group made 22 million tweets from 2270 Twitter accounts, tweets that were systematically posted or re-tweeted. This is 20,910,000 more tweets than had been found by earlier investigations. Due to limited resources for the investigation and court schedules, evaluating the tweets has become increasingly difficult. The number of NIS tweets identified as linked to interference in the presidential election and politics is expected to increase exponentially.
The Defense Ministry in South Korea said Thursday that at least 11 officials at its cyberwarfare unit, created four years ago to fight North Korean propaganda, had spread 2,100 online political messages praising President Park Geun-hye and her party or attacking their domestic opponents ahead of her election a year ago.
Spanish People’s Party Hires Out Online Commenters to Toe the Party Line by Julia Wetherell
Turkish media reported in September that the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) formed a 6,000-strong team to set the agenda, drive trends and counter its critics on social media, where more than 30 million Facebook users and almost 10 million Twitter users log in from Turkey every day. This report, which was also published by pro-government newspapers, was not refuted by the AKP. In fact, Erdogan said on Oct. 30, “Nice things started to happen on Twitter,” referring to the increasing number of pro-government tweets, especially about his controversial mega-project, “Marmaray.”
Vietnam’s Government-Hired Propaganda Bloggers by Julia Wetherell
The Vietnamese government acknowledged last week that up to 1,000 bloggers and online tastemakers in the country are hired propaganda agents, enlisted to steer Internet discourse towards support of Communist policies. These mercenary netizens have been a vocal presence in the Vietnamese blogosphere and on social media over the past few years, espousing pro-governmental opinions and attacking dissidents.
Armenia & Azerbaijan
Russia & Ukraine
A set of documents leaked by a group identifying itself as Russian hackers purports to be training materials for Russian psyops agents who were paid to make favorable comments about Russia’s position in Ukraine on western media websites. The group of fake commenters, called the Internet Research Agency, is based in Saint Petersburg, and its operatives were ordered to maintain multiple commenter identities based on certain archetypes, and to post a minimum quota of pro-Russia messages every day.
GCHQ has developed a toolkit of software programs used to manipulate online traffic, infiltrate users’ computers and spread select messages across social media sites including Facebook and YouTube.
“My policy has been to consistently engage and respond to anyone who I don’t feel is being particularly obnoxious, or who is coming from a point of view where they’re trying to understand,” he says.
“But I got a lot of (online harassment from social networking users), with some I’d maybe go 30–40 tweets back and forth, before it eventually stopped. I blocked some of them.”
Planas found that there were often dozens of people at times who would try to engage with him with a set of ultra-nationalist talking points.
“I found that there was sort of a little army of Dominican nationalists that were popping up from time to time … and that were basically dedicated to going around and sort of approaching journalists who were covering the issue.”
Planas noticed a level of organization to some tweets and comments.
South Korean spy chief was arrested for running an illicit online campaign to support then-ruling party candidate and current President
Turkey’s trolls are taking over Twitter — and their calls for violence are turning into real attacks.
Europe, the Middle East, and Africa
Juan Orlando Hernández’s (JOH) Network of False Accounts
(interactive network map — desktop only)
Latin America (several countries)
How to Hack an Election by Jordan Robertson, Michael Riley, and Andrew Willis
As for Sepúlveda, his insight was to understand that voters trusted what they thought were spontaneous expressions of real people on social media more than they did experts on television and in newspapers. He knew that accounts could be faked and social media trends fabricated, all relatively cheaply. He wrote a software program, now called Social Media Predator, to manage and direct a virtual army of fake Twitter accounts. The software let him quickly change names, profile pictures, and biographies to fit any need. Eventually, he discovered, he could manipulate the public debate as easily as moving pieces on a chessboard — or, as he puts it, “When I realized that people believe what the Internet says more than reality, I discovered that I had the power to make people believe almost anything.”
There is talk of teams working on three levels — the first being semi-institutional accounts or organized groups and supporters of Fujimori — although they are not officially part of her political party. For example, groups such as @CibernautasFP and @Jovenesconkeiko broadcast official statements of Keiko Fujimori and spokespeople of Fuerza Popular. The second level consists of personal accounts of Fujimori supporters (@uterofavre, for example, and @duchope, whose account was recently deleted), which were responsible for creating the trends #BajaBajaPPK (Down Down PPK) and #PPKaos (a play on PP Kuczynski’s name and the “PPKausas” team that supports him, making it sound like “chaos”). The third level is a paid anonymous team that work two shifts, attacking Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and his supporters.
How Twitter Bots Are Shaping the Election by Douglas Guilbeault and Samuel Woolley
The Federal Elections Commission has shown no evidence of even recognizing that bots exist.
Countries where digital propaganda has been documented: Mexico, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Argentina, Peru, Spain, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Tibet, China, UK, USA, Australia, South Korea.