If The US Government Can't Figure Out Who's A Russian Troll, Why Should It Expect Internet Companies To Do So?

from the it's-not-that-easy dept

A few weeks back, following the DOJ's indictment of various Russians for interfering in the US election, we noted that the indictment showed just how silly it was to blame various internet platforms for not magically stopping these Russians because in many cases, they bent over backwards to appear to be regular, everyday Americans. And now, with pressure coming from elected officials to regulate internet platforms if they somehow fail to catch Russian bots, it seems worth pointing out the flip side of the "why couldn't internet companies catch these guys" question: which is why couldn't the government?

Declan McCullagh has an excellent article over at Reason pointing out that all these government officials trying to blame internet companies should probably look a little more closely at their own houses first.

In the bowels of Washington officialdom, despite billion-dollar intelligence budgets and a peerless global surveillance apparatus, very little appears to have been done. No Russian nationals associated with the disinformation campaign were deported from the United States. (Three were improvidently granted U.S. visas.) No official warnings appear to have been sent to social networks or payment processors. And no indictments were made until a few weeks ago.

Facebook notified the FBI about Russian activity in June 2016, but no U.S. law enforcement or intelligence officials visited the social media company to compare notes. During the 2016 presidential campaign, the State Department pulled the plug on a project to combat Russian disinformation. The New Yorker concluded that the FBI, despite its $9 billion budget and 35,000 employees, simply "is not up to the job of detecting and countering Russian disinformation." The Washington Post summarized the bureaucratic failures: "Top U.S. policymakers didn't appreciate the dangers, then scrambled to draw up options to fight back. In the end, big plans died of internal disagreement."

So it's a surprise to see senior members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, which are charged with providing "vigilant legislative oversight" of the nation's spy and counter-espionage agencies, pointing fingers approximately 2,800 miles westward instead.

Of course, you can argue that now, way after the fact, the DOJ has brought out this indictment. But, so too, have most of the internet platforms now been able to research and investigate what happened. But looking back retrospectively is quite different from proactively determining any of this on the fly.

McCullagh notes, correctly, that this doesn't mean internet platforms should do nothing. They obviously all are scrambling to figure out what to do going forward. But it does raise questions as to why the government seems to think the internet platforms can magically figure all of this out when they themselves could not. And, it's particularly telling that it's the two Congressional Intelligence Committees, which are supposed to oversee the intelligence community -- but usually just bolster or shield the intelligence community from criticism -- that are doing the most finger pointing. Perhaps it's more because they want to distract from the failures of the intelligence community.

I'm sure that some will argue some version of the "nerd harder" excuse for why internet companies should be better at detecting foreign influence than the NSA, but (1) any "nerd harder" argument is automatically void for being specious and (2) come on, the NSA has much great ability to connect these threads than any internet platform, no matter what some people will tell you.


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 12 Mar 2018 @ 12:13pm

    Because all those brilliant minds must nerd harder. Legal emphasis on "must".

    It's all about how you ask.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2018 @ 12:39pm

    But it does raise questions as to why the government seems to think the internet platforms can magically figure all of this out when they themselves could not.

    This is actually self-consistent. The government believes that secure encryption with a Law Enforcement Agency Key ("LEAK") is possible if the technology companies would just "nerd harder," even as the government offers neither reference implementation nor convincing proof that this can be done. Likewise, the government now seemingly believes that the companies could identify, in real time, trolls that the government's own intelligence/surveillance agencies failed to spot. In both cases, the government:

    • Expects the private sector to solve the problem, and is actively demonizing anyone who fails to drop everything to work on the problem
    • Provides no useful assistance in solving the problem
    • Provides no reasonable explanation for why, with its vast resources and supposed subject matter expertise, the government cannot offer useful assistance solving the problem

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    DONT BE STUPID BE EDUCATED, 12 Mar 2018 @ 12:43pm

    cause...

    cause there are bridges everywhere and trolls live under them?

    Beacuse it is becoming completely clear that:
    A) all gov't is so paranoid of telling the truth they must lie
    B) all gov't is actually insane and does stuff just cause...

    not sure which is whats really scary

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2018 @ 1:22pm

    The Intelligence Agencies

    can't even figure who is leaking data from their own agencies!

    They want tech companies who have no access to all of this "secret" data to do what they can't while having access?

    Precisely how delusional are they?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2018 @ 1:28pm

    Whole "Russian trolling" STORY misleads away from DEEP STATE.

    Begun and continued SOLELY to cover for the real criminals: FBI / Steele / DNC / Clinton all fabricating a story and colluding to take it FISA to spy on Trump, since been spun yet further as if 13 Russians nearly swayed the election!

    Mueller seized on indicting a click farm to show results after a year of ZERO evidence for one of the least factual and most fraudulent STORIES ever. I laughed when first heard it -- and Masnick ran pieces on it for MONTHS last year. Now he's spinning it yet again into basis for not regulating the very "internet" corporations that produced and promoted the fraud!

    Masnick and anyone of his political persuasion still can't admit the laughable flaws to the STORY: they don't know lies when see, want it to be true, and if isn't true, then the NYTimes and WashPo LIED! It'd wreck their propaganda bubble.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2018 @ 1:40pm

      Re: Whole "Russian trolling" STORY misleads away from DEEP STATE.

      Mueller
      Ain’t
      Going
      Away

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2018 @ 2:59pm

      Re: Whole "Russian trolling" STORY misleads away from DEEP STATE.

      "FBI / Steele / DNC / Clinton all fabricating a story and colluding to take it FISA to spy on Trump, since been spun yet further as if 13 Russians nearly swayed the election!"

      Literally a lie.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2018 @ 3:09pm

      Re: Whole "Russian trolling" STORY misleads away from DEEP STATE.

      Oh? So then who is it that is calling for all these internet companies to nerd harder? Oh wait, it's a Democrat. That's weird. I thought you said the left was all against internet regulation.

      And speaking of regulation, do you really think the internet companies should become the speech police on the internet? I thought you said it was all these internet companies who were violating our First Amendment rights because they have none themselves and as such can't stop anyone from saying anything on their platforms?

      Hypocrite much?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2018 @ 6:08pm

      Re:

      Yeah, Techdirt covers for the FBI... despite all the times Masnick has constantly criticized the FBI.

      You realize that the FBI is responsible for covering the police you like to suck the cocks of so much, right?

      out_of_the_blue just hates it when due process is enforced.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 12 Mar 2018 @ 1:40pm

    Evidence of Absence*

    I'm sure that some will argue some version of the "nerd harder" excuse for why internet companies should be better at detecting foreign influence than the NSA, but (1) any "nerd harder" argument is automatically void for being specious and (2) come on, the NSA has much great ability to connect these threads than any internet platform, no matter what some people will tell you.

    Very telling indeed as with Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes tale "The Adventure of Silver Blaze" this is another "curious incident of the dog in the night-time" not barking.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Adventure_of_Silver_Blaze

    NSA/CIA/FBI squander tens of billions of dollars per annum in pursuit of total electronic surveillance/storage (eg PRISM, CLANSIG, DITU) of every bit/byte transmitted on planet Earth.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PRISM_(surveillance_program)

    NSA/CIA/FBI along with hundreds of private corporations have teamed together and tapped into fiber optic cables where they make landfall in the US (and elsewhere) which enables the criminals infesting the US government to surveil/store every bit/byte sent via the intertubes.

    https://www.wired.com/2006/05/whistle-blowers-evidence-uncut/

    Which brings us back to the "curious incident of the dog in the night-time" not barking.

    How is it possible that these multi-billion dollar boondoggles of intelligence agencies have presented zero evidence to support these allegations in light of the fact they surveil/store every last bit/byte sent globally 24/7/365?

    Baseless allegations that seek to taint and remove from office a sitting US president (yes trump is a putz but it does not mean we should commit national suicide to remove him from office as he is no better/worse than the loser he replaced or the losers he ran against) while at the same time causing tremendous harm to the US hoi polloi.

    Who benefits from this ridiculous circle-jerk?

    * In some circumstances it can be safely assumed that if a certain event had occurred, evidence of it could be discovered by qualified investigators. In such circumstances it is perfectly reasonable to take the absence of proof of its occurrence as positive proof of its non-occurrence. — Copi, Introduction to Logic (1953), p. 95

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidence_of_absence

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2018 @ 1:52pm

    "Perhaps it's more because they want to distract from the failures of the intelligence community."

    More likely they are trying to distract from their failure to properly provide oversight...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 12 Mar 2018 @ 1:56pm

    THIS IS NOT McCARTHYISM..

    Im sorry..
    But this is a land of the free, and OPINIONS are one of those FREE THINGS..
    The problem we have is SHEEP MENTALITY.. If something seems Good..IS IT??
    Everyone can have a SAY, and many can be heard..Everything costs MONEY. The more you spend, the more people you can Yell/debate/comment/bitch at.

    How many TV adverts(paid by hidden groups/Agencies/idiots/reps/demo/...) have been posted on TV, infront of millions.. TO PROMOTE another idiot or persecute the OTHER SIDE.. or to sell you garbage that just dont work..

    If we had truth and honesty in this country, how much BS would ever get on TV/NEWS/PAPERS/internet/...

    We are not taught how to be Super critical of what happens and is said. HOW to pick apart what is debated, or even being sold to us(in many ways)..

    Faith in god is 1 thing..
    Faith in MAN, is worse then shooting yourself in the foot, and blaming the Duck you missed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2018 @ 2:04pm

    There's actually an answer to this

    "But it does raise questions as to why the government seems to think the internet platforms can magically figure all of this out when they themselves could not."

    Because the Internet platforms have all the metadata. And as we've seen over and over and over again, that's the key to detecting trolls, spammers, frauds, etc.

    The government doesn't have all the metadata, and it's not going to, unless some FISA judge grants an amazingly broad warrant (which won't happen) and unless the platforms acquiesce (which won't happen) and unless the platforms subsequently lose in court (which might happen but won't for a long time). `Yet it's all the metadata, emphasis on "all", that's the key to this.

    Projects like Hamilton 68 have managed to use only a small fraction of the metadata to generate reliable, solid results. Surely a platform with access to all of it, including real-time access, and with essentially unlimited computing resources should be able to do much better.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Richard (profile), 12 Mar 2018 @ 2:17pm

      Re: There's actually an answer to this

      Projects like Hamilton 68 have managed to use only a small fraction of the metadata to generate reliable, solid results.

      Well Assange said

      "Hamilton 68 doesn't track propaganda - it IS propaganda"

      and I'm inclined to believe him.

      The problem is this:

      The internet companies primary objective is to make money - and they do it by serving targeted advertising.

      That is a task where neither false positives nor false negatives matter much. We all know how internet advertising is always offering us things we just bought! The point is that it only has to be better than blanket advertising on TV. That is not hard!

      The tasks the government wants them to perform are VERY different and much harder.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2018 @ 3:50pm

        Re: Re: There's actually an answer to this

        You mean rapist Julian Assange, de facto agent of the Russian government? Yeah, there's a lot of credibility there.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Mirror Mirror, 12 Mar 2018 @ 7:46pm

          Re: Re: Re: There's actually an answer to this

          You mean rapist Julian Assange, de facto agent of the Russian government?

          There you go projecting again.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2018 @ 7:56am

          Re: Re: Re: There's actually an answer to this

          While he is a rapist. They were sleeping together naked and had consensual sex earlier. Don’t know the details about the second women.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Personanongrata, 12 Mar 2018 @ 2:41pm

      Re: There's actually an answer to this

      Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2018 @ 2:04pm

      The government doesn't have all the metadata, and it's not going to, unless some FISA judge grants an amazingly broad warrant (which won't happen) and unless the platforms acquiesce (which won't happen) and unless the platforms subsequently lose in court (which might happen but won't for a long time). `Yet it's all the metadata, emphasis on "all", that's the key to this.

      Evidently you must have been asleep under a rock in a cave located in a vacuum chamber because the lovelies in the US government have all the meta-data plus they can view all of your messages (eg email, video, audio, etc). The US along with it's 5-Eyes cronies have been surveilling/storing every bit/byte sent on Earth for over a decade.

      The italicized/bold text below was excerpted from a report titled Whistle-Blower's Evidence, Uncut found at the website wired.com:

      In 2003 AT&T built "secret rooms" hidden deep in the bowels of its central offices in various cities, housing computer gear for a government spy operation which taps into the company's popular WorldNet service and the entire internet. These installations enable the government to look at every individual message on the internet and analyze exactly what people are doing. Documents showing the hardwire installation in San Francisco suggest that there are similar locations being installed in numerous other cities.

      https://www.wired.com/2006/05/whistle-blowers-evidence-uncut/

      Projects like Hamilton 68 have managed to use only a small fraction of the metadata to generate reliable, solid results. Surely a platform with access to all of it, including real-time access, and with essentially unlimited computing resources should be able to do much better.

      Hamilton 68? You must be kidding? Hamilton 68's advisory council is comprised of the same low life war criminal neocon SOB's who lied the US into waging an elective war in Iraq in 2003.

      http://securingdemocracy.gmfus.org/team/advisory-council

      They have zero credibility.

      The the lying war criminal neocon SOB's at Hamilton 68 provide zero evidence at their site to back any of their allegations.

      The methodology used by the neocon war criminal liars at Hamilton is highly suspect as all their site proports is monitoring suspect twitter accounts.

      http://securingdemocracy.gmfus.org/publications/methodology-hamilton-68-dashboard

      Hamilton 68 and it's team of neocon war criminals are putting forth disinformation/propaganda in a subtle attempt to sway a gullible/ignorant people that the Russians tried to subvert the US government via twitter.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2018 @ 3:59pm

        Re: Re: There's actually an answer to this

        I hate to break it to you, but no, the USG doesn't have all the metadata. Not even close. Apparently you are new to this and don't understand how data (and metadata) are acquired, what the limitations on that are, and how enormous the quantities of both are. Despite the pathetic bleating of many people here, the USG is not the all-seeing all-knowing eye that clueless paranoids imagine it to be.

        I suggest that you spend a decade or two architecting, building and running a large operation -- so that you can get a first-hand look at just how much data there is and how very little of it is available to outsiders. Based on my experience -- which is quite a bit more than that -- and includes working in the private sector and for the USG -- I would be very surprised if the USG has as much as 1% of the metadata available at YouTube or Twitter or Reddit or any similar operation.

        I know that it's fashionable for clueless newbie lusers here on Techdirt to fantasize that Snowden is a hero (he's not, he ran straight into the arms of Putin) and that the entire USG is nefariously bent on acquiring every scrap of data (it's not, it has better things to do) and that Facebook and Google et.al. are staunch defenders of privacy (they're not, they just want to make money and fuck your privacy if it gets in the way) but in the real world the USG has vastly less data about these operations than they do themselves.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2018 @ 5:08pm

        Re: Re: There's actually an answer to this

        Did you know that repeating the same silly phrase over and over again doesn't make it less silly?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 12 Mar 2018 @ 4:54pm

      Re: There's actually an answer to this

      Because the Internet platforms have all the metadata.

      Actually, the US government has access to more metadata, as it can look at metadata cross platform.

      And as we've seen over and over and over again, that's the key to detecting trolls, spammers, frauds, etc.

      That's not actually true on two levels. One, these platforms aren't that great at detecting those things, and most use more than simply metadata.

      The government doesn't have all the metadata

      It has cross platform metadata, though, on more targeted sets. No it doesn't have "all" the metadata, but neither do platforms.

      Projects like Hamilton 68 have managed to use only a small fraction of the metadata to generate reliable, solid results.

      LOL. Um, no. https://www.buzzfeed.com/miriamelder/stop-blaming-russian-bots-for-everything?utm_term=.cuZneN3WL#.w aW2AeRWL

      Surely a platform with access to all of it, including real-time access, and with essentially unlimited computing resources should be able to do much better.

      Nerd harder!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2018 @ 6:17pm

      Re: There's actually an answer to this

      "The government doesn't have all the metadata, and it's not going to, unless some FISA judge grants an amazingly broad warrant (which won't happen)"

      There was a guy a few years back who leaked information on the Gov spy thing and the info showed they have access to kind of everything and spy on everyone even if they shouldn't like US citizens.

      And later the Gov said they kill based on metadata. So they can't detect trolls but are fine killing people? sure...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 12 Mar 2018 @ 3:30pm

    Can't tell or didn't do?

    What is the difference between the government not being able to figure things out and the government having a whole lot of information about something and not doing anything about it? Can anyone outside of government tell the difference?

    Yes, because sometimes the government is stupid enough to tell us after something happens that they had a whole bunch of information before it happened and didn't act on it.

    Then there are the instances where they just plain lie...erm I mean tell us the least untruthful thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2018 @ 5:30pm

    Then they arrest Reality Winner

    And then they arrest Reality Winner for revealing classified information along those same lines.
    Go figure.



    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reality_Winner

    Winner was arrested on June 3, 2017. The U.S. Department of Justice announced news of her arrest on June 5, shortly after The Intercept published an article describing Russian attempts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election by hacking a U.S. voting software supplier and sending spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before the November 8 election. The Intercept's story was based on a top-secret May 5, 2017 National Security Agency (NSA) document leaked to them anonymously.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2018 @ 6:08pm

    FB, posts?

    Really? So the whole "Russia took over the US election" thing is about posts on social media? That is it?

    I thought they somehow hacked i.e. polls to manipulate the thing. But if it is just posts on FB then hey, don't worry about Russia, the Reptilians have already taken over your Gov , a youtube video said so!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2018 @ 6:33pm

    Just shut down fakefuck

    Just stop I don't care if it's russians or not fakebork is poison. hang zuckerberg as a traitor and his DoD masters and end the surveillance platform

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2018 @ 7:02pm

    Answer

    Answering your rhetorical question in the headline:
    "Me US government. Me dumb. You internet company. You smart. You do for me, yes?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 12 Mar 2018 @ 11:03pm

    The short simple answer...

    They saw it in a movie or on tv & expect it is real.
    They are so far removed from reality they imagine flying robots will be deployed to battle kajui.
    There are firms being paid BILLIONS who promised they can deliver these impossible things & will keep pouring billions into it because they can't admit it isn't possible.

    Government is a giant ship, it set its course, people have pointed out the ice berg, but the course can't be changed & why should we we have ice berg repelling rocks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2018 @ 4:19am

    How long until the MPAA puts forward the idea that this could have been prevented if only VPNs were banned and proper geofencing implemented

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2018 @ 2:38pm

    Maybe the more pressing question is this:

    Why did many people so unquestionably believe what they saw on Facebook ads to the point that the government believes it (excessively) influenced they way they chose to vote in the upcoming election?

    No, of course nobody's interested. Especially the mainstream media.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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