Indictment: Social media firms got played by Russian agents - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Indictment: Social media firms got played by Russian agents

Posted: Updated:
WASHINGTON -

Friday’s election-interference indictment brought by Robert Mueller, the U.S. special counsel, underscores how thoroughly social-media companies like Facebook and Twitter were played by Russian propagandists.

And it’s not clear if the companies have taken sufficient action to prevent something similar from happening again.

Thirteen Russians, including a businessman close to Vladimir Putin, were charged Friday in a plot to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election through social media propaganda. The indictment said the Russians’ conspiracy aimed, in part, to help Republican Donald Trump and harm the prospects of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

The alleged scheme was run by the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm based in St. Petersburg, Russia, which used bogus social media postings and advertisements fraudulently purchased in the name of Americans to try to influence the White House race. The messages also sought to denigrate Trump GOP primary rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, and to support Clinton’s Democratic opponent Bernie Sanders.

“I created all these pictures and posts, and the Americans believed that it was written by their people,” wrote one of the defendants, Irina Kaverzina, in an email to a family member obtained by investigators.

Tech companies have spent months pledging to fix their platforms ahead of the upcoming midterm elections this year, and reiterated those promises Friday. Twitter said in a Friday night statement it is “committed to addressing, mitigating, and ultimately preventing any future attempts to interfere in elections and the democratic process, and to doing so in the most transparent way possible.” Facebook thanked U.S. investigators for taking “aggressive action” and pointed out its own role in helping the investigation.

Researchers, however, noted that the companies’ business incentives don’t necessarily align with improved security and anti-hoaxing measures that might have frustrated Russian agents.

“I’ve never been convinced that these sites are motivated to fix a problem like this,” said Notre Dame business professor Timothy Carone, who added that security controls make it harder for sites like Facebook to offer users new features and keep advertisers happy. “It’s a really, really, really difficult problem.”

The indictment confirms earlier findings from congressional investigations that Russian agents manipulated social media to promote social division by mimicking grassroots political activity. It also underscores that the problem wasn’t just “bots” — i.e., automated social-media accounts — but human conspirators who fine-tuned propaganda and built online relationships with American activists.

The idea was to “sow as much discord as possible,” said Melissa Ryan, a Democratic social media marketing expert who now keeps track of right-wing online activity. “This was America that was attacked.”

Social-media companies weren’t the only ones subverted in the influence campaign. Federal prosecutors allege that Russian criminals used PayPal as a primary conduit to transfer money for general expenses and to buy Facebook ads aimed at influencing voters. Prosecutors say the accounts were opened using fake identities to help bypass PayPal’s security measures.

PayPal spokesman Justin Higgs said the San Jose, California, company has been cooperating with the Justice Department and is “intensely focused on combatting and preventing the illicit use” of its services.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer outlined the complexity of preventing abuse.

“Election integrity is challenging because again, you’re dealing with adversaries,” Schroepfer said during a conference in Half Moon Bay, California. “They are trying to accomplish a goal and they have smart people who are trying to figure out their way into the system to accomplish that.”

For instance, infiltrators often react immediately to countermeasures. If they figure out Facebook is checking the internet addresses of computers to identify visitors from particular countries, Schroepfer said, “they’ll take over a machine with malware in the U.S. and post from there instead. People say, ‘Why don’t you just check the currency or the IP address?’ And as soon as you do that, literally that afternoon, they will change tactics.”

Schroepfer said the company is making “good headway” on the problem, although he declined to give specifics. “By kind of doing a lot better job of trying to figure out the authenticity of these different actors, we can certainly stop that sort of behavior,” he said. “There’s a big focus on that.”

On the other hand, now that the Russians have shown how this sort of campaign is done, the door is open for others — including American special interest groups — to use the same tactics to target disaffected voters in the right places, said David Gerzof Richard, a communications professor at Emerson College.

“This is the new norm,” he said. “It’s not going away. It’s not going to be magically fixed by a Silicon Valley CEO or a group of executives saying they’re going to do better.”

__

AP Technology Writer Ryan Nakashima in Half Moon Bay, California, contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • Family tries euthanizing cat after he walked 12 miles to return home

    Family tries euthanizing cat after he walked 12 miles to return home

    Thursday, April 19 2018 1:23 AM EDT2018-04-19 05:23:12 GMT
    @a.cat.named.toby@a.cat.named.toby
    @a.cat.named.toby@a.cat.named.toby

    RALEIGH, North Carolina - A North Carolina family gave their cat away and then tried to euthanize him after he walked 12 miles back to his home. According to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Wake County, North Carolina, Toby the cat made the long trek back to his family after they tried to give him away. When he returned, they took him to a shelter to put him down. The shelter called the SPCA to ask if they would help 

    >>

    RALEIGH, North Carolina - A North Carolina family gave their cat away and then tried to euthanize him after he walked 12 miles back to his home. According to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Wake County, North Carolina, Toby the cat made the long trek back to his family after they tried to give him away. When he returned, they took him to a shelter to put him down. The shelter called the SPCA to ask if they would help 

    >>
  • Toddler shoots pregnant mom outside Indiana thrift store

    Toddler shoots pregnant mom outside Indiana thrift store

    Wednesday, April 18 2018 4:40 PM EDT2018-04-18 20:40:25 GMT

    MERRILVILLE, Indiana - An Indiana woman is in critical but stable condition after her 3-year-old daughter accidentally shot her with a gun her father left in the car. Police in Merrillville say two small children were waiting in the car with their mother while their father shopped inside a thrift store when the shooting happened Tuesday afternoon.

    >>

    MERRILVILLE, Indiana - An Indiana woman is in critical but stable condition after her 3-year-old daughter accidentally shot her with a gun her father left in the car. Police in Merrillville say two small children were waiting in the car with their mother while their father shopped inside a thrift store when the shooting happened Tuesday afternoon.

    >>
  • Community comes together at candlelight vigil for Medical Lake students

    Community comes together at candlelight vigil for Medical Lake students

    Thursday, April 19 2018 2:14 AM EDT2018-04-19 06:14:13 GMT

    MEDICAL LAKE, Wash. - It was an incredibly emotional night in Medical Lake as a candlelight vigil was held in this community that continues to heal. The Medical Lake family gathered tonight to be with each other and be there for each other.  On Saturday, 17-year-old Journey Tueller was killed, and three other students, Laci Sica, Savannah Sutton and Hailey Gross were injured in a crash as they were on their way to catch a team bus. 

    >>

    MEDICAL LAKE, Wash. - It was an incredibly emotional night in Medical Lake as a candlelight vigil was held in this community that continues to heal. The Medical Lake family gathered tonight to be with each other and be there for each other.  On Saturday, 17-year-old Journey Tueller was killed, and three other students, Laci Sica, Savannah Sutton and Hailey Gross were injured in a crash as they were on their way to catch a team bus. 

    >>
HD DOPPLER 6i
/
  • Top Stories from KHQHomeMore>>

  • Michigan mother leaves 2 infant girls in suitcase on curb

    Michigan mother leaves 2 infant girls in suitcase on curb

    Thursday, April 19 2018 11:16 AM EDT2018-04-19 15:16:15 GMT

    FLINT, Mich. - Police say a 26-year-old Michigan woman left her two infant daughters inside a suitcase on the side of the road as child welfare workers arrived to take the children away. Police say officers assisting Child Protective Services workers Wednesday were unable to find the children inside the Flint home, about 50 miles northwest of Detroit.

    >>

    FLINT, Mich. - Police say a 26-year-old Michigan woman left her two infant daughters inside a suitcase on the side of the road as child welfare workers arrived to take the children away. Police say officers assisting Child Protective Services workers Wednesday were unable to find the children inside the Flint home, about 50 miles northwest of Detroit.

    >>
  • 'Seinfeld' actor shows up at Devils game with face painted

    'Seinfeld' actor shows up at Devils game with face painted

    Thursday, April 19 2018 10:56 AM EDT2018-04-19 14:56:39 GMT

    NEWARK, N.J. - Life imitated art at the Stanley Cup playoffs as the actor who played Puddy on the TV sitcom "Seinfeld" showed up at the game with his face painted as a New Jersey Devils fan. Patrick Warburton is a Devils fan and in a 1995 episode of the hit show he appeared with his face painted in red and green. 

    >>

    NEWARK, N.J. - Life imitated art at the Stanley Cup playoffs as the actor who played Puddy on the TV sitcom "Seinfeld" showed up at the game with his face painted as a New Jersey Devils fan. Patrick Warburton is a Devils fan and in a 1995 episode of the hit show he appeared with his face painted in red and green. 

    >>
  • Louisiana homeowner finds naked intruder in her tub, eating Cheetos

    Louisiana homeowner finds naked intruder in her tub, eating Cheetos

    Thursday, April 19 2018 9:29 AM EDT2018-04-19 13:29:24 GMT
    PHOTO: Ouachita County Sheriff's OfficePHOTO: Ouachita County Sheriff's Office

    MONROE, La. - Police in Louisiana say a woman came home to discover a naked stranger in her tub, eating her Cheetos while taking a bath. A Monroe police affidavit says 29-year-old Evelyn Washington was arrested on burglary and property damage charges. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that a responding officer found "a full tub of water and a plate of food along with half eaten Cheetos belonging to the victim on the toilet next to the tub."   

    >>

    MONROE, La. - Police in Louisiana say a woman came home to discover a naked stranger in her tub, eating her Cheetos while taking a bath. A Monroe police affidavit says 29-year-old Evelyn Washington was arrested on burglary and property damage charges. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that a responding officer found "a full tub of water and a plate of food along with half eaten Cheetos belonging to the victim on the toilet next to the tub."   

    >>