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Should Congress Force Social Media To Investigate Foreign Propaganda Trolls? (politico.com) 266

"I fought foreign propaganda for the FBI," writes a former special agent from its Counterintelligence Division. Now an associate dean at Yale Law School, he's warning that "the tools we had won't work anymore." An anonymous reader quotes Politico: The bureau is now faced with huge private companies, like Facebook and Twitter, which are ostensibly neutral and have no professional or ethical obligation to vet the material they distribute. Further, foreign intelligence service propaganda agents are no longer human operatives on American soil -- they are invisible "trolls," often operating from a foreign country and behind social media accounts that make them impossible for the FBI to approach directly. Or, in the case of so-called bots -- software programs designed to simulate humans -- they might not even be people at all... [S]ocial media platforms can reach an almost limitless audience, often within days or hours, more or less for free: Russia's Facebook ads alone reached between 23 million and 70 million viewers.

Without any direct way to investigate and identify the source of the private accounts that generate this "fake news," there's literally nothing the FBI can do to stop a propaganda operation that can occur on such a massive scale... But Congress could pass legislation that requires social media companies to cooperate with counterintelligence in the same ways they do with law enforcement. For example, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act requires telecommunications companies to design their digital networks in such a way that would permit wiretaps for criminal cases. Similarly, requiring social media platforms to develop ways to vet and authenticate foreign users and proactively report potential bots to the FBI would enable the FBI to identify perception management operations as they are occurring. In addition to monitoring these specific FIS-based accounts, the FBI could publicly expose the source of particular accounts, ads or news...

"At this point, we have no choice: It's clear that our current counterintelligence strategy hasn't caught up to the age of asymmetrical information warfare," the former counterintelligence agent concludes. "Until it does, we'll be silently allowing our freedoms to be manipulated...."

Should Congress Force Social Media To Investigate Foreign Propaganda Trolls?

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  • No (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Free speech, anyone?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Why would that be modded down? Free speech is precisely the issue. If one doesn't like what's being said, they can tune out. Nobody is being forced to listen or believe. It really is that simple.

      • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Saturday September 09, 2017 @05:22PM (#55166471)

        Nobody is being forced to listen or believe. It really is that simple.

        No, it isn't that simple. The advocates of censorship don't just want to avoid hearing the message. They also want YOU to not hear the message.

        This isn't about controlling what the Russians do. It is about controlling what the American people see and hear. The Russians are just the boogeyman being used as the justification.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by unixisc ( 2429386 )

      Free speech, anyone?

      Precisely, how about making it clear to Zuckerburg, Dorsey, Pichai, Nadella, et al that EU restrictions on speech better not apply to US citizens, and if they do, those 4 companies should be banned from operating in the US?

      I know, the First Amendment doesn't apply to private organizations, which are at liberty to ban whatever they like. However, when something starts out as an open (as in free speech) platform and then morphs into something else at the behest of governments outside the US and that gets u

    • For better or worse, it has long been established, that False Advertising is not protected by the Amendment.

      Most social media companies promise — explicitly or implicitly — interaction with other people. Or, when it is with businesses or other organizations, the accounts are clearly marked as such — or are supposed to be under the terms and conditions of the usage. For example, this line from Facebook's Terms:

      1. You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an
  • by bwanagary ( 522899 ) on Saturday September 09, 2017 @12:48PM (#55165161)
    Let's start with our own media and politicians who can say whatever they want without any accountability.  This is the new millennium "boy who cried wolf".  With the deluge of fake news, misinformation, disinformation and unsubstantiated information that we are bombarded with daily people are now disbelieving of anything and everything.  Before we concern ourselves with foreign "information" we need to first get our own house in order.
    • In other words, maybe they should change the way they do news so that it is distinguishable from fake news.
    • by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Saturday September 09, 2017 @01:11PM (#55165295)

      Let's start with our own media and politicians who can say whatever they want without any accountability. This is the new millennium "boy who cried wolf". With the deluge of fake news, misinformation, disinformation and unsubstantiated information that we are bombarded with daily people are now disbelieving of anything and everything. Before we concern ourselves with foreign "information" we need to first get our own house in order.

      No clue why you were down-modded - what you're saying makes perfect sense to me. I understand that the 'intelligence community' needs to concern itself with foreign influences; but really, as you've pointed out, the more direct, present, day-to-day threat to democracy and social well-being comes from within. Yammering about vague foreign threats is just one more circus act distracting the populace from how they're being lied to and screwed over by corporations and by their own governments.

    • by Mr307 ( 49185 ) on Saturday September 09, 2017 @01:16PM (#55165337)

      I miss the old days when we could get some reliable information from the MSM and make up our own minds, rather than this general collection of very politicized opinions with almost no facts.

      Nowadays I am getting my info from many many locations and doing my best with it. Seems like a luxury item now to have a news organization actually do some real ground pounding legwork investigative journalism.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    We all know where this is headed, classifying what we don't like as trolls and foreign propaganda, even if it doesn't fit the definition. The former happens here all the time.

  • Nothing? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@NOSPAM.world3.net> on Saturday September 09, 2017 @12:55PM (#55165201) Homepage Journal

    There is nothing they can do? I'm sure they could post a rebuttal, from their official account, and people would share it in response. Facebook already adds "contested" tags to some stories, with links to sources that contest it. Have they asked about being added to that system?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I'm sure they could post a rebuttal...

      Yes, that is the only appropriate response to "propaganda". Anything beyond that is excessive.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gurps_npc ( 621217 )

      Not true.

      They can add a tag that says "Paid Russian Post" (or Paid Chinese) etc.

      Say contested is very different than telling the source.

      • This will work until Facebook has a false positive on such identification twice. First time it will sow doubt. After the 2nd time the whole mechanism will become a subject for ridicule.
        • You are suggesting that we don't even call out the bad guys for fear of getting it wrong and making it worse? Would you refuse to name a criminal out of fear of putting an innocent person in jail?

          That's stupid. I can see refusing to prosecute for fear of getting it wrong, but refusing to even call them out?

          That's true cowardice.

          Call them out, take reasonable steps to make sure you get it right, and the net affect will be positive.

    • Re:Nothing? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by superwiz ( 655733 ) on Saturday September 09, 2017 @01:50PM (#55165563) Journal
      This doesn't quite work. Creating thousands or even millions of fake accounts to create a perception of groupthink narrative cannot be countered with 1 authoritative source. The groupthink news can easily smear a few authoritative sources by painting them as propaganda. I was surprised when roughly 5-10 years ago people started mocking the idea of "freedom" on the internet as foolish. It's not so surprising when you realize that foreign propaganda outlets manage to convince their own populations that this is a foolish notion and they use the same methods on domestic US consumption. Identifying location of each post is the only way to counter this smurfing of information bombardment. Imagine if the (now infamous) story about "Macedonian content farmers" was real. If all the posts they made on social media were real, they would have little to no impact. Who would trust a massive flood of posts from Macedonia?
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        They don't create many fake accounts. Look at the ones found so far, they rely on hundreds of thousands of useful idiots following them.

        • As far as you know. Newt Gingrich paid for millions for twitter followers when he ran for President (in 2012). And most of his followers were identified as having fake names. So that campaign definitely did have large numbers of fake accounts. Just because some other campaign didn't, doesn't mean that principle does not hold. Groupthink trumps authoritative sources. The only way to counter fake news is to identify the location of the sources or to show that they are posting through the same VPNs.
  • by Sqreater ( 895148 ) on Saturday September 09, 2017 @12:57PM (#55165213)
    ..filtering such content. That means the FBI would get to pass on whether your comments constituted propaganda or not. Just a larger Southern Poverty Law Center list of unacceptable words, comments, sites, and blogs. Since everything expands despite good intentions, this would become oppressive of free speech rapidly. The goal is laudable, the actual result would be China.
  • "Until it does, we'll be silently allowing our freedoms to be manipulated.... by others when it should be just by us."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 09, 2017 @01:02PM (#55165241)

    I see fake news on TV all the time. The worst of the stories get retracted -- eventually. The worst fakers get fired or reassigned (Dan Rather, Brian Williams, etc.) But there is a steady stream of anonymously sourced stories, presented as "news", only to magically disappear when it becomes obvious that somebody made it up.

    http://www.washingtonexaminer.... [washingtonexaminer.com]
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
    https://www.washingtonpost.com... [washingtonpost.com]
    http://dailycaller.com/2017/06... [dailycaller.com]
    http://elections.huffingtonpos... [huffingtonpost.com]

    • Sigh. One more time: those are not examples of fake news, they are examples of reporters trying to report the truth and failing.

      Fake news is when you tell a deliberate lie. Fake news is not when you make an honest mistake; it is not selective news; it is not spin; it is when you tell a falsehood, a porky pie, a fib, an invention, a deliberate misstatement, disinformation. Donald Trump seems to be easily confused about this term, and many of his followers as well, but it is really not so difficult. Not true

      • "they are examples of reporters trying to report the truth and failing." Bullllllshit. You are either paid, or one of the most delusional people I've ever seen regarding the media
      • by Zemran ( 3101 )
        When Bush said that Saddam had WMDs and could use them to attack in 45 minutes he was fully aware that that was a lie. In various accounts defenders of countries that are attacked by the US are called terrorists when they are merely defending their country. This and loads more is fake news by the US government. The US creates the most fake news and does it to effect elections in other countries for example Ukraine. Most people in the US actually believe that Russia invaded Crimea when this was very clea
    • by Uberbah ( 647458 )

      The worst fakers get fired or reassigned (Dan Rather, Brian Williams, etc.)

      Fakiest fakest fake false equivalence. Rather reported on a story made by a producer, who (as a fraction of the case that Bush went AWOL on his Air Guard commitments) included memos from a source. Memos that, even if forged, were accurate representations of the base commander's thoughts on Bush.

      Contrast that to all the media reporters and pundits who breathlessly repeated Bush's claims on Saddam's WMD's, which were built on more bu

  • No (Score:2, Insightful)

    by chispito ( 1870390 )
    Thanks Betteridge.
  • Legit question: have we been doing the exact same thing to other nations? If so, this is really a problem of your own making. Either way, sanctions are an option but if you are doing the exact same thing, they are going to be uninclined to comply.

  • by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Saturday September 09, 2017 @01:13PM (#55165317)

    Gee, maybe the powers that be will actually have to encourage the training of critical thought in the population at large, so people can approach the marketplace of ideas with some discernment.

    Naaah. They'd much rather have sheeple they can trivially manipulate themselves. If they get derailed by some foreign power's propaganda, they can be put right again by doubling down on their own propaganda. I'm sure it'll be fine [msecnd.net].

  • The bureau is now faced with huge private companies, like Facebook and Twitter, which are ostensibly neutral and have no professional or ethical obligation to vet the material they distribute.

    So... just like all our other media then?

  • Nothing new (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Saturday September 09, 2017 @01:19PM (#55165363) Homepage Journal

    This is nothing new. The only difference is modern technology and connectivity makes the reach and impact greater. There have always been propaganda in the form of shortwave radio broadcasts, printed text (leaflets, magazines, books), one on one contact and even television. It's just that in the past a person had to more actively seek out these communications to be exposed to them. Now it is coming through in our more normal day-to-day lives.

    The problem is that the bulk of the Western public is naive and takes too many things at face value. There's an innocence, if you will. A big part of that is not having been (too terribly) deceived by government to the point it led to things like mass imprisonment or death.

    Misinformation and gullibility is rampant on social media and it needs to be addressed more fundamentally, but unfortunately social media represents one of the truest forms of democracy, and the results shed light on the fact that the "average" person is simply not very intelligent when it comes to certain matters.

    For example, the people constantly sharing Facebook posts that say crap like "We ordered too many luxury RVs and they are last year's model so we have to give them away", and all the various permutations thereof ( http://www.snopes.com/luxury-r... [snopes.com] ). It really takes a special kind of naivety to share something like that.

    The one that is particularly annoying to me at this moment are people sharing pictures of this traffic jam from Rita (Texas, 2005) claiming it is from the Irma hurricane hitting Florida right now (and then it typically includes other stuff like "this is why so many people have to shelter in place and not evacuate"): http://www.hurricanescience.or... [hurricanescience.org] That is a much more subtle type of misinformation, but it is still "fake news".

    So no, in answer to the question, we don't need government / corporations / etc trying to protect the American people from foreign propaganda. We need to educate the populace in a more general way to identify and filter out manipulative "fake news" and other garbage of the sort.

    • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

      So no, in answer to the question, we don't need government / corporations / etc trying to protect the American people from foreign propaganda. We need to educate the populace in a more general way to identify and filter out manipulative "fake news" and other garbage of the sort.

      Heh. Good luck with that. We've been trying for over twenty years, and Fox News and MSNBC are still on the air.

  • First Amendment (Score:4, Insightful)

    by doctorvo ( 5019381 ) on Saturday September 09, 2017 @01:22PM (#55165395)

    Just a reminder:

    Congress shall make no law [...] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;

    That isn't qualified by saying "except for foreign political views the US government doesn't approve of".

    The First Amendment is as much a guarantee to be able to receive information freely as it is to speak freely.

  • The problem is ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Saturday September 09, 2017 @01:25PM (#55165415)

    ... some people want to learn the truth and some want to validate their own beliefs. The former will continue research the things, the latter will be happy with what they find. "Fake News" is a problem for the former to weed through, but is the answer for others. Intervention and/or identification may help some, but won't make any difference to others - or may make them hold on to their beliefs more tightly. Some people have their identities built around what they believe, regardless of the truth. You can't fix that with a warning label.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Twitter bans popular, but "offensive" accounts.

    YouTube is creating a system to isolate "bad" videos (commenting disallowed, won't find in search, possibly can't be embedded/linked). Jordan Peterson lost his YouTube *and* GMail account because someone thought he made offensive videos (complaints eventually got it back, but what about people without clout?).

    These companies have made open platforms for the public at large to use them. It would be simple enough to say that anyone who makes offers such a servi

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 09, 2017 @01:39PM (#55165497)

    Quick clamp down on the internet! Free speech must only be allowed when its to OUR tune. God forbid we actually educate our citizens on what is really going on so they won't be so easily persuaded by the enemy. This here is when the internet goes to shit folks, when it challenges those in authority. It was a good run while it lasted.

  • by Kormoran ( 859823 ) on Saturday September 09, 2017 @02:13PM (#55165675)

    Before 2008 nobody in the US gov cared about foreign propaganda. Now they worry about people saying things they don't like. That's the same thing USSR was worried about all the time since post-WW2 at least... people must not speak freely, or they will tell things the Nomenklatura cannot allow to pass over as truth.

    IMHO, this means that US propaganda (yes, there is) is not working anymore. American people, or at least a significant part of it, has stopped thinking what the deep state (and the media, and the elites) wants they to think. The writing is on the wall. Now the million dollar question is: what american people is going to think? What will they held as truth, what will they value most, what will they ask to their government?

    • by Max_W ( 812974 )
      What is interesting it that people, who in the USSR were the most severe hard-liners, who uncompromisingly protected the official communist ideas, became again the official line supporters. Even if it meant changing political orientation by 180 degrees.

      It is so called Status Quo Bias, a social and psychological phenomenon: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
  • by c0y ( 169660 ) on Saturday September 09, 2017 @03:05PM (#55165873) Homepage

    The network we built to survive nuclear war has been weaponized against us and DARPA is giving out grants now to study how its child turned into a killer.

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news... [bloomberg.com]

    Russia is trying to incite civil war and very few people see how. Their end game is not a glorious Trump presidency but a demoralized and ineffectual United States that no longer intrudes in their sphere of influence.

    We're a nation of useful idiots now. Our partisan hatred makes us more willing believers in the alleged atrocities of our enemies. Credulity is vulnerability. Patriotism now requires skepticism of atrocities by political opponents and criticism of real misbehavior by our allies that feeds weaponized narratives.

    • Russia is trying to internally destabilize the EU and US, I doubt they are aiming for civil war in countries with nukes though.

      On the other hand globalists tried to push the EU into incorporating an economic basket case for geopolitical reasons and against EU citizen's economic interests, like most EU expansions in recent history, helping kick all this shit off.

      • by c0y ( 169660 )

        I found this fake antifa manual circulating among US civil war / confederate history buffs in the days before Charlottesville. They are livid and eating up the red meat of each new outrage.

        http://imgur.com/gallery/BcZOg [imgur.com]?

        Someone went to a lot of work making that, and they fully understand right-wing paranoid fantasies. This is too much effort for so many pages of such poor satire. It's not designed to convert/convince but to incite latent fear and hate. If that isn't the Kremlin thumbing its nose at us, then

        • There a lot of kids and people who never grew up on the right with a lot of time on their hands, blaming Putin for this bit of larping is a stretch.

          If you want it to look authentic instead of clear satire you wouldn't put that bit of not distributing to cis white males for a start, they are the majority of Antifa after all.

    • by Uberbah ( 647458 )

      Russia is trying to incite civil war and very few people see how.

      Maybe because it's the most deranged conspiracy theory since the idea Obama's parents knew in the 60's that he'd be president, and planted a fake birth announcement in a Hawaiian newspaper to back up the Kenyan's fake birth certificate?

      The story goes that Putin was crafty enough to dug up dirt (which all happens to be true) on Hillary (who was already campaigning on shooting down Russian jets in Syria) and gave it to Wikileaks to torpedo her

  • Congress can't even keep their own in house processes corruption free.

    Get back to me about dictating what everyone else is doing when they get their own shit together.

  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Saturday September 09, 2017 @03:54PM (#55166041)

    there's literally nothing the FBI can do to stop a propaganda operation

    And since it is not illegal, why should they want the power to try?

    There are no laws apart from fraud, libel and slander that dictate that everything everyone says has to be true. And if there was, then no politician would last 5 minutes before having their ass hauled off to jail.

    The FBI seem to have created their own "issue" here, defined it as bad and then decided that someone else should have the duty and the obligation to fix it for them. Well, that isn't how democracies work. If something is illegal, have the law enforcement deal with it. If it isn't illegal then either make it so, or let is go.

    But trying to prevent people saying stuff, just because you don't like it, is not the way to go.

  • Where's the fun in that? I mean, it's the perfect opportunity to create an over-priced federal agency to do that, or justify the budget of an existing one. And set up government servers at social media sites to collect information about all the users and what they're posting. Think there's not a precedent for that? Ever hear of those secret NSA comms closets with all the major telcos? Google it. Anywhoo, so you set up your new federal office, are now listening to all traffic on all the social media networks
  • Without any direct way to investigate and identify the source of the private accounts that generate this "fake news," there's literally nothing the FBI can do to stop a propaganda operation that can occur on such a massive scale.

    It must be worrying when your own propaganda machine is being neutralised. The horror.

  • ... because your and my taxes are paying for it. Paying, to be lied to.
  • There are two separate issues here.

    First, do foreign propaganda trolls have free speech rights in relation to the federal government?

    Second, if they don't, can social media be forced to investigate said trolls?

    I'm a little iffy on the first part, but my theory is that anything that would bring a foreigner of any sort under US jurisdiction in the first place would also put them under the protection of the constitution, with the attending protections to free speech as provided in the first amendment.

    The secon

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