Putin's Internet Trolls Are Stoking The Vitriolic Fire By Posing As Trump Supporters

from the disinformation-nation dept

Over the last year we’ve repeatedly noted how Putin’s Internet propaganda efforts go well beyond flinging insults in news story comment sections. Thanks to whistleblowing by the likes of Lyudmila Savchuk, we learned how Putin employs multiple factories operated by a rotating crop of shell companies whose sole purpose is to fill the internet with Putin-friendly drivel twenty-four-hours a day. Early reports noted how these efforts focused on what you’d expect from Putin: discrediting reporters, distorting Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, or opposing Finland’s entry into NATO.

But a little more than a year ago, New York Times Magazine’s Adrian Chen decided to see just how deep that particular rabbit hole went.

What he uncovered was a global, not-at-all subtle disinformation network of well-constructed hoaxes, heavily-produced YouTube videos, fake Wikipedia entries, and tens of thousands of bogus social media accounts — many of which were designed to pollute the global discourse pool here in the States. The report went so far as to highlight one disinformation effort where Putin-paid trolls posed as Americans online, directing users to a fully-realized museum in Chelsea, Manhattan professing to show the “other side” of the Ukranian conflict (you say invasion, I say tomahto).

That Putin’s trolls have extended these tactics to the US election is more than likely. In fact, in an accompanying podcast discussing his story, Chen notes that he also discovered that a number of Putin’s disinformation pugilists have been posing as Trump supporters for some time — something New Yorker contributor Ben Taub was quick to highlight this week just as the DNC e-mail hack hysteria began to peak:

Obviously this insight begins to carry new meaning as Russia’s involvement in the DNC hack becomes clearer. Many of course have spent significant calories trying to suggest a direct Putin to Trump connection; that’s certainly the narrative being pushed by a DNC with a vested interest in avoiding any real conversation about what the e-mails actually say. But it’s equally possible that Putin’s simply using Internet propaganda to pour gasoline on a rolling dumpster fire that’s already veering out of control.

This level of propaganda is something the United States — already effectively at war with itself — is not only very good at, but incredibly susceptible to. As a nation we’re already prone to over-reaction in tech policy (ban all encryption!), adore responses that make already bad situations worse (immediately launch a cyberattack on Russia!), have an echo-chamber media for whom fact checking is often optional, and an ongoing, passionate relationship with cybersecurity hypocrisy.

During election season we’re additionally susceptible to this type of attack; sportsmen in our color-coded onesies and ear plugs — ready to pounce at the faintest suggestion that our preferred punishment candidate has anything other than the noblest of intentions. We’re wading into some very dangerous and ugly territory during what’s already been one of the most divisive years on record. Enter the latest expanded claims that the DNC hacker was likely under Putin’s employ:

“The researchers, at Arlington, Va.-based ThreatConnect, traced the self-described Romanian hacker Guccifer 2.0 back to an Internet server in Russia and to a digital address that has been linked in the past to Russian online scams. Far from being a singly, sophisticated hacker, Guccifer 2.0 is more likely a collection of people from the propaganda arm of the Russian government meant to deflect attention away from Moscow as the force behind the DNC hacks and leaks of emails, the researchers found.”

?These are bureaucrats, not sophisticated hackers,? Rich Barger, ThreatConnect?s chief intelligence officer, told The Daily Beast. In blog posts and in interviews with journalists, Barger said, Guccifer 2.0 has made inconsistent remarks and given a version of how he penetrated the DNC networks that technically don?t make sense. For instance, the hacker claims to have used a software flaw that didn?t exist until December 2015 in order to break into the DNC networks last summer.

Given countries are busy hacking each other every god damned day, Russia’s involvement here — if true — shouldn’t be a shock. Neither should Russia’s use of propaganda and hybrid warfare, a response it believes is justified retaliation to decades of this country’s own information warfare efforts. Enter the U.S. media stage left, not only hysterically surprised that nation states hack each other, but immediately losing the forest for the trees; happily insisting the actual content of the e-mails are meaningless — when they’re not busy pushing op-eds advocating all out cyber war. If this is a test of things to come, it’s one the press is already failing.

We’re already up to our necks in our own marketing, political disinformation and propaganda, leaving us incapable of differentiating Russian disinformation from home grown vitriol. We’re barely coordinated enough to agree on what cybersecurity should mean — much less differentiate hostile Russian propaganda from the vanilla rancor and bile pervading the internet on any given afternoon. Ill-prepared, poorly informed and confused as hell, there’s numerous possible responses from the United States here. Given our history with abysmal cybersecurity policy and even worse media dysfunction — none of them are likely to be any good.

Welcome to the post-truth era’s disinformation wars, ladies and gentlemen. Team “level headed” is going to need all the help it can get.

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Comments on “Putin's Internet Trolls Are Stoking The Vitriolic Fire By Posing As Trump Supporters”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Host: Who’s paying for that?

Chen: I don’t know (and then he goes on to say other things)

If it was Russia, wouldn’t they expect this to come to light, and when it does come to light, will put Trump in a bad light? So if it was Russia, was it done not to support Trump, but make him look bad?

Either way, seems Hillary and the DNC doesn’t do a good job of protecting email.

All the talk now is about the aftermath, not what was actually in the emails. Two thoughts here, Hillary used a private server for her emails to keep the public from being able to know what she is doing and to subvert the FOI process. The DNC worked against a candidate to subvert the democratic process.

These are people we should support?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Many people have a difficult time thinking about more than than two things at a time. Thus, we wind up hearing about things like “both sides of the story” (when there may be far more than that), the left vs the right, democrats vs republicans, etc. Ever notice how most team sports are limited to just two teams at a time? Any more than that would make people’s heads explode.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

As I’ve been saying here often enough recently that I’m starting to sound like a one-note shill even to myself, this is because we have a single-choice first-past-the-post voting system, rather than a ranked-preference Condorcet-compatible system.

In a single-choice voting system, natural ‘market forces’ provide inexorable pressure for things to devolve into a two-party setup, due largely to one variation or another of what is called the “spoiler effect”. With a properly designed and implemented ranked-preference / ranked-choices voting system, this effect does not exist, and additional parties can much more easily make headway.

Those already in power were elected by the existing single-choice voting system, so they’re already beneficiaries of that system, and switching to a ranked-preference voting system would be more likely than not to decrease their chances of being re-elected – so they have an incentive against reforming voting in that direction. In smaller circles, however – i.e., at the more local levels – there is a better chance of convincing people to implement such… and with the new system in place at those lower levels, it becomes easier to press to implement them at higher ones.

Thus, the road to the solution here involves campaigning for ranked-preference voting at the state and local level.

DannyB (profile) says:

Is this the best use of taxpayer resources?

Should the government really be worrying about geopolitical concerns when there are more important pressing matters such as: potentially other people like Aaron Swartz who might make public documents available to the public (gasp!). And shouldn’t the government be busy acting as Hollywood’s private police force?

Wes says:

Psychologic Subterfuge

I’ll just point out, this lost confused attitude (not personal, no animosity whatsoever intended) is the designed outcome that Putin has perfected and for which the internet is the perfect millinial platform:

“We’re already up to our necks in our own marketing, political disinformation and propaganda, leaving us incapable of differentiating Russian disinformation from home grown vitriol. We’re barely coordinated enough to agree on what cybersecurity should mean — much less differentiate hostile Russian propaganda from the vanilla rancor and bile pervading the internet on any given afternoon. Ill-prepared, poorly informed and confused as hell, there’s numerous possible responses from the United States here. Given our history with abysmal cybersecurity policy and even worse media dysfunction — none of them are likely to be any good.”

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The point, assuming it is Russia, would be to sow confusion and discord. It doesn’t really matter if Russia supports either one or not.

As for hurting Trump. Lol, nothing really hurts Trump, which is why he is where he is. People with sections of completely contradictory ideologies, including those that conflict with Trump’s personal behaviors, love him. You could show him palling around with Bin Laden and hugging him, post 2001-09-11, and people would say it just proves that the terrorist attacks were false flag ops.

Not that we don’t put up with all sorts of atrocious behavior from nearly every politician ever.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

True, but if I were a political opponent of the US and wanted to weaken it, I would take advantage of this easy weak spot to accelerate the process. Or at least as a poke in the eye.

I’m speaking in the general sense. I’m not saying that’s what Russia is doing, as they stubbornly refuse to give me any insider information so I don’t know.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If Russia could make the choice between Trump and Clinton it would be Trump 100%.
Aside from behaving friendly. You know things like I can talk to Putin on the same level, he’s a good buddy. There is the notion that Trump seems to want to go slightly isolationist meaning removing sections of the armed forces back to the US & stopping this one up manship of which US president can invade more countries.
This compared to Clinton who is inherently hostile to the Russians. Her, and the clique she is part of, greatest setbacks are courtesy of Russia. Some of which were very public. And she holds a grudge. Further she’s never met an invasion of a country she would not support. Or take over a proxy war to do the real fighting with US soldiers when the proxy can’t make progress. That last one is what worries the Russians a bit seeing the current proxy war in the Ukraine (there is an unspoken agreement that the US & Russia NEVER fight directly with each other since that is the start of WW3).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Above all else the Americans don’t want another pointless war in the Middle East, let alone another Vietnam-esque proxy war with Russia costing millions more lives and trillions more dollars doing nothing more than enriching the pockets of defense contractors and other profiteers.

Hillary wants war because taking out Assad is a continuation of the same failed Obama doctrine that failed with Bush and created ISIS out of the void that Saddam left. Putin knows that. Trump wants to pull everyone out and invest in “America First.” Whether that’s posed to be disastrous is anyone’s guess. But Americans are sick and tired of fighting other people’s wars and kicking the turban-head hornet’s nest that only comes back to bite the little guy in New York skyscrapers, Florida nightclubs, California special needs charities, Boston sporting events, on and on and on and on.

So whether Putin supports Trump, Hillary, Johnson, Deez Nuts or Vermin Supreme is irrelevant. Whether Trump is Putin’s gay lover is irrelevant. Fact of the matter is, the American people will get behind Trump as long as he is opposed to sending any more of our troops into the ISIS sandbox to die needlessly for other people’s wars. A vote for Killary is a vote for the PNAC/NATO agenda and WW3.

Rana says:

...this country's own information warfare efforts.

You reap what you sow.

Meanwhile, various elements of the US government (FBI director Comey, et al) are doing everything they can to make US citizens *more* susceptible to hackers, especially of the state-sponsored type. It almost makes one wonder if Comey himself is on Putin’s payroll.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: ...this country's own information warfare efforts.

thank you for pointing out the original sinners here…
further, doesnt hillborg not only have her own legions of online shills, have not they alresdy employed mercenary posters to burnish their image, doesnt she have several libtard ‘news’ sites like huffpoo running anti-trump bullshit 24/7 and pro- hillbot bullshit ?
but releasing REAL emails that are less than flattering, but REAL, is the sin, here ? NOT the anti-democratic actions of the dem’rats ?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: ...this country's own information warfare efforts.

“releasing REAL emails that are less than flattering, but REAL, is the sin, here ?”

I know better but here goes (and this would apply to ‘leaked’ emails/communications affecting either side):

How do you know they are REAL and not doctored? How would you YOU prove that you didn’t send an email with unsavory/’crooked’ content within the timewindow of the hack? Say the hacker released a doctored/invented message from ‘you’ which reveals you plotting insurrection in conjunction with known terrorists? How would YOU prove that you did not do that? Quick, quick, quick!!!! The press is doorstepping you, your career is getting vaposized, your kids are being threatened at school, your wife got fired, your name is mud. Quick – prove you didn’t do it !!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: ...this country's own information warfare efforts.

It almost makes one wonder if Comey himself is on Putin’s payroll.

No need to toss around unlikely maybes when the more likely answer is much simpler:

Comey wants to undermine encryption and public safety and security not because he’s on someone’s payroll, but because he doesn’t give a damn what happens to anyone but himself and weakened encryption makes his job easier. It’s likely that simple, weaker/broken encryption means he has access to more information with less work, and since he isn’t likely to be directly harmed by the fallout he doesn’t care in the slightest what damage will result from broken encryption.

Anonymous Coward says:

We're barely coordinated enough to agree

What do you mean by “We” white man?

HRC is to the Internet as Trump is to illegal aliens. If they make this a popular topic to vector hate at the Russians the fallout is going to be on the DOMESTIC tech sector, and it will be oh so unpleasant.

So please put down the can of gasoline and the lighter. I don’t know what motivated you to set this fire. But if you agree with the other positions that TD takes, you really, really, don’t want to do what you are doing by posting what you just posted.

Richard (profile) says:

hostile Russian propaganda

What exactly do you believe the Russians are trying to achieve here?

It’s not as if they were trying to win the world for communism anymore.

In other words why do you think Russia doesn’t like the west and – equally what is there about them to dislike?

After all Russia’s interest in what it regards as its own backyard (ie Ukraine – incidentally Kiev was the original capital of Russia) is really no different from the US meddling in South and central America and the Caribbean ( Chile and Grenada spring to mind in an instant.

Also why do we complain about Russia’s actions in Ukraine whilst turning a 40 year blind eye to Turkey’s blatant military invasion of North Cyprus, Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemen etc etc etc

Kojiro Ame Kamex says:

Re: hostile Russian propaganda

Weakening the US through internal struggle, taking pressure of their nearer concerns.
Maybe even weakening the NATO.

So, I do see a motive for them doing so.
That said, I still have to be convinced that they did it.
I also have to be convinced that they didn’t do it.

(People seem to forget far to often, that there is a middleground in such questions to take, between x did it and x didn’t do it, a simple “I/we don’t know, both possible, neither proven)

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: hostile Russian propaganda

Weakening the US through internal struggle, taking pressure of their nearer concerns.
Maybe even weakening the NATO.

The only reason why they have any of these concerns was that their attempt in the immediate post cold war era- to join NATO was rebuffed. It seems to me that many western politicians want to retain them as an enemy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: And the other shoe drops...

You know, after thinking about it for a few hours, I’ve realized what this means.

It means that the candidate for President of a major US political party just asked another nation to conduct espionage against the United States.

(If the Russians acquire those emails, that’s espionage. It doesn’t matter how. It doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t matter what they do with them. It’s espionage the moment they have them.)

I think “insane” is probably too mild a term for this situation. How could anyone even think of giving Trump a classified briefing under these circumstances?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: And the other shoe drops...

“How could anyone even think of giving Trump a classified briefing”

If they can, then THAT is the problem isn’t it? What? The world espionage community should throw her a bone so they aren’t mean to a girl?

And lets not pretend that every foreign nation state with two cents to rub together isn’t pitching in to screw with domestic politics in the U.S. every day, all day already.

What you think THIS is first, worst, or even remotely significant in the total scope of infosec compromises in the U.S. government? Not even a blip. And probably not even true.

Not to mention that Citizens United made it LEGAL for foreign states to meddle in domestic politics. Corporate funding is not strictly domestic, and corporate funding is what pays for the election cycle. So if you want to talk about acts of terrorism against article 1 section 2, there are plenty of domestic sources to look at.

Oh the humanity! Oh the horror! Whateva’ shall I do?

Stop pissing into the wind and join a third party. IF this was a hack, and IF it was from Russia, (both less likely than the alternative) then it pales in comparison to the blatant disrespect for the electoral process already shown by the DNC.

You can’t save Democracy by corrupting the voting system. And this is just the first phase. A number of swing states, are at this point unlikely to have any real validation of the electoral process in place when the time comes.

Again, who gives a fuck what the Russians did? IF they did it? There are way more problems HERE. OK, so HRC says I should be scared of Russians, and computer technicians. Very scared. WooooOOoo!

O.K. I’m shaking. Really… No… Really, petrified…

Can we get back to regularly scheduled programming now?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: And the other shoe drops...

” How could anyone even think of giving Trump a classified briefing under these circumstances?”

What is the legal footing under which these briefings are given? Anybody? Is it just a matter of custom & practice or are there actual laws governing this in terms of the security services being able to deny to provide information at their discretion or under the review of ??

If I had a free hand I would provide briefings full of junk knowing that one candidate (with the hairtrigger mouth) may have ‘Yuge’ trouble distinguishing fact from fiction (example – just randomize the names of countries mentioned) and let the candidate who doesn’t spot the obvious mistakes make a fool of themselves in public when they spew some impetuous, irrational off-the-cuff remark that can only have basis in the briefings. Let the chips fall. Sounds like the kind of fun spies have everyday anyway, shouldn’t be hard to be plausible.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: And the other shoe drops...

Actually, I don’t read what he said as being a request for Russia to “hack” (or otherwise perform espionage against) any US target.

What I think he was probably getting at is something like “Hey, we know Hillary’s private E-mail servers were insecure, so there’s good odds the Russians already hacked it. Hey, Russia, how about you dig into the stuff you got when you did that and see if you can find any of these mails which got deleted on our end?”.

That’s still politically inappropriate and potentially despicable, but not nearly the same level of offense (potentially in the criminal sense) as inviting / soliciting espionage.

(Understand, I do not say this as a Trump supporter; I think he’s incredibly dangerous at this point, to the extent that I’m almost looking forward tovoting for Hillary, even though I’d decided back in 2014 that I would vote third-party sooner than do that. I just think we should oppose him for his actual positions, not for whatever positions we can accuse him of holding.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: And the other shoe drops...

Go watch Clinton Cash. Killary’s “nonprofit foundation” facilitated the sale of uranium deposits in Los Alamos to the Russians by acting as a conduit for a deal between ROSCOM (Russian state-sponsored company operating under the authority of the nuclear agency) and a Canadian mining speculator. The Clintons didn’t care that Russia would have access to uranium on American soil. They just cared that they profited from the arrangement.

Anyone voting for the Clintons is voting for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg at this point. The first nuke that drops from Moscow will have a price label from Bill and Hillary’s Charity Discount Store slapped right on it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Isn’t it just a tiny bit hypocritical to complain about anything Russia may or may not have done in Ukraine when the entire coup in Ukraine was the result of interference by the USA in Ukraine to begin with? Have you forgotten about Senator McCain’s little speech in Kiev a couple months prior to the coup? He wasn’t shy about supporting such action and what was done in public is no doubt only the tip of the ice berg in terms of American masterminding and facilitation of the coup. If it weren’t for these actions by the USA, Russia would have never been in a position to annex Crimea and none of the military hostilities in east Ukraine would have even happened! I suppose it’s all a matter of how one CHOOSES to frame the situation, but pretending that Russia is the bad guy seems only possible from a Cold War mindset.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Well

Russia IS a bad guy to the people in power in the US.
It was defeated in the cold war so why doesn’t it behave like a defeated nation. You know like the Europeans do who basically follow any diktat coming from Washington (See what happened to Evo Morales during the Snowden hubhub).

And then the hubris of Russia of daring to diplomatically intervene in US business. It is the US who owns the world and it didn’t say you (Russia) is allowed to play on it’s stage. That mindset has been in effect since the end of the cold war. I remember that Russia made some treaties with a spec of dust sized post USSR nation, which was rabidly pro Russia since it’s big neighbor was rabidly pro US and eying to annex said spec of dust, the US basically threw a tantrum about the Russian not having asked the US permission for concluding those treaties.

And that mindset is still in full force.
You could basically hear the group of people, who instead of walking softly while carrying a big stick are looking for a dog to beat with, go: “fuck they tricked us” when Russia managed to get Iran back into the diplomatic game then kept the US honest. And you could almost hear Kerry whine that Russia should stay the hell out of US business in Syria (after the rebels used chemical weapons) instead of stopping the planned invasion.

So yes Russia is the bad guy for not listening to the diktats coming from Washington and actively interfering with US interests internationally when it, Russia, thinks it suits its own interests.

Anonymous Coward says:

About that invasion.

ok where did my comment go.
Russia has not invaded the Ukraine.
I know that it is pure sophistry & fig leaves in my explanation but at this level of diplomacy that is all that counts.

So the US instigated the coup in the Ukraine. Don’t ask me why, they’d gotten everything (what they lost by starting that coup, that is the control of the gascrossing of Europe and the ability to kick the Russians out of Sebastopol) in the elections coming up a month or two later.
Russia retaliated by suggesting that Crimea hold a referendum. Pointed towards what happened during Bill Clintons term in the Balkans (oh yes the US gave this trick a veneer of legality) as showing that both the referendum and their response to it was legal. Then they used the twenty thousand or so soldiers they were by treaty entitled to have in Crimea to follow the will of the people of Crimea.

Still bothers me that the US didn’t wait until the elections in the Ukraine though; They didn’t spend billions for nothing on making sure that the only people electable would be moderately to enthusiastically in favor of relations with the US & the EU while wanting to get rid of the relations with Russia.

Anonymous Coward says:

So now we know what that FBI meeting a few weeks back was really about.

FBI drops it’s investigation. Clinton stirs up a bunch of fear and intrigue about communications security and cyberterrorism to back the FBI’s play for weaker citizen cryptographic privacy rights. Nice deal. Hope they got the premium interior package with it.

shanen (profile) says:

Which way does the meddling go?

Is this turnabout fair play for America’s meddling in world politics? Or should we regard it as the natural exploitation of America’s divided weakness?

On one hand, of course we’re supposed to say that America was right in meddling because of the noble intentions. Oil does not count and let’s forget about such tawdry money-related things.

On the other hand, “Politics stops at the water’s edge” is certainly a sad joke these years. Today’s so-called Republicans pledged themselves to President Obama’s failure, both foreign and domestic, on day one. The miracle is that he was able to do anything with Dubya’s mess over the last eight years, and there’s no surprise that Hillary had trouble cleaning up Cheney’s mess over the neo-GOP obstructionism.

Putin would be a fool not to take advantage of the situation, and paid trolls certainly would explain some of the tide of mass insanity that the Donald of Trump is now surfing towards the White House. Putin would love to watch Trump throw America into reverse at 90 miles an hour.

Whatever says:

This post will be held for moderation for 24 - 72 hours

“Welcome to the post-truth era’s disinformation wars, ladies and gentlemen. Team “level headed” is going to need all the help it can get.”

Techdirt has been working on the “post truth” era for more than a decade now. Why are you suddenly welcoming us to something that’s been ongoing that long?

One sided “information” sites are (IMHO, suck it up Paul) a major contributor to the problems in modern society. Sites from Drudge to Fox “news” to Techdirt and Huffington Post all end up pushing their own somewhat extreme agenda, all under the guise of being (to quote Fox) “Fair and Balanced”.

The world is full of people with 1% opinions talking like they are the majority. Civil discourse has died (f-you Paul). See?

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