Saturday, September 30, 2017

Congress Relying On Debunked 'Guilt By Association' Online Tool To Track 'Russian Influence'

By Tyler Durden - September 30, 2017 at 09:28AM

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As we previously warned, the latest McCarthyite scam called "Hamilton 68" is increasingly serving as a go-to source for major media outlets and more disturbingly, now even members of Congress. This week Republican Senator James Lankford (Oklahoma) added another layer to the seemingly endless 'Russiagate' conspiracies - he claimed Wednesday during a hearing on threats faced by the US that Russia is using the NFL anthem kneeling controversy to drive a wedge through the American populace.

Lankford, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, made the bizarre claim that, "We watched, even this weekend, the Russians and their troll farms, their internet folks, start hashtagging out #TakeAKnee and also hashtagging out #BoycottNFL,” during a hearing on threats faced by the United States. Lankford, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, explained further that, "They were taking both sides of the argument this weekend... to try to raise the noise level of America and make a big issue seem like an even bigger issue as they are trying to push divisiveness in this country."

Representative Adam Schiff of California, a Democrat, has also been a leading congressional voice demanding investigations into supposed Russian social media manipulation and election meddling. Stories in Reuters and the New York Times this week which uncritically amplified the claims, referenced the Hamilton 68 online platform as a key source of information for congressional investigators. Reuters described the online tool as:
A website built by researchers working with the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan, transatlantic project to counter Russian disinformation, showed tweets promoting both sides of the football debate from 600 accounts that analysts identified as users who spread Russian propaganda on Twitter. A Senate aide said the website was viewed as credible among congressional investigators.
But a cursory glance at Hamilton68 - which is mostly funded by the US and NATO states (Bill Kristol is on the project's board, need we say more?) - reveals that both its list of "600 accounts" and methodology for determining these accounts as purveyors of "Russian disinformation" are largely hidden from public view. As we concluded when we initially profiled the platform and the organization behind it, the online tool is lacking in any semblance of scientific data-driven analysis, and its conclusions are thus meaningless. It exists to give gullible audiences the illusion that a data analysis driven tech tool produced via a "bipartisan" think tank has meticulously and objectively proven the "there's a Russia connection lurking behind every corner" conspiracy theory.

But the senselessness of Senator Lankford's shrill and bizarro assertions hardly needs much comment: he's essentially claiming that nefarious Russian-backed social media accounts promoted two contrary positions at a moment when much of the American populace itself was doing the exact same thing through millions of tweets, Facebook posts, and online message boards. As Mark Zuckerburg pointed out this week in what was surely a disappointing moment of truth for promoters of Russiagate conspiracies in general, "campaigns spent hundreds of millions advertising online" which was "1000x more than any problematic ads we've found."

It's important to remember that Hamilton 68 dashboard's "monitoring" of content primarily features what it calls "second tier Russian propaganda." As we previously reported this involves the following:
It tracks and stores information about others who have no connection to Russia but who 'on their own initiative reliably repeat and amplify Russian themes.' This is what the German Marshall Fund calls a 'network' of second tier disinformation distributors.
If an article, tweet, or headline is trending among "Russian influence" accounts - which in this case means Alliance for Securing Democracy's secret list of 600 twitter accounts - the trending URL appears on the dashboard's front page. Essentially this is simple guilt by association, as we described:
What does this 'network' of people with no connection to Russia but who amplify Russian 'themes' do?

It 'reflects Russian messaging priorities, but that does not mean every name or link you see on the dashboard is pro-Russian. The network sometimes amplifies stories that Russia likes, or people with like-minded views but no formal connection to Russia.'

So, according to the self-proclaimed alliance for securing democracy you might not even know it when you are pushing Russian state propaganda!
So if even if stories from mainstream or establishment news organizations like The Washington Post, Bloomberg, or Reuters happen to be tweeted frequently by "Russian influence accounts" these mainstream sites appear on Hamilton 68's dashboard. Again, given that originating account identities are not revealed, the information is meaningless - it's but a mere reflection of what happens to be trending all over social media at any given moment.

Indeed here is an example of sites the tool was tracking within the first week Hamilton 68 was launched at the beginning of August. The below dashboard pane is accompanied with the descriptor: "Top websites tweeted by a monitored set of accounts related to Russian influence campaigns." Both Bloomberg and The Washington Times and other mainstream and long established outlets appear somewhat regularly on this dashboard which claims to identify Russian meddling.

But the dashboard more often targets hugely popular independent news sites like Robert Parry's Consortium News, The Federalist, Breitbart, and WikiLeaks. As The New York Times mentions, "Of 80 news stories promoted last week by those accounts, more than 25 percent 'had a primary theme of anti-Americanism.'" It is impossible to know what, according to the site's designers, "anti-Americanism" means, but it no doubt involves articles which are critical of US foreign policy. This means that if a Washington Post or Reuters article, for example,highlights "staggering" Iraqi civilian deaths under US coalition bombings, that article would likely register as "anti-American" by the platform and its creators. By such methods, the Washington Post, Reuters, and numerous independent sites are brought under suspicion alongside RT News and Sputnik. But "anti-American" could also simply mean any article produced by a site that Hamilton 68's creators don't like. Again, the data is meaningless. 

Indeed, on Thursday both The Intercept and Antiwar.com were top trending sites on the Hamilton's 68 dashboard. Ironically, The Intercept has take various editorial positions concerning Russian hacking allegations, and last June published a rather sensational headline, Top-Secret NSA Report Details Russian Hacking Effort Days Before 2016 Election, which ended up making only a small splash, but landed NSA leaker Reality Winner in jail.

Thursday's (9/28) list of Top Trending Domains advanced by what Hamilton 68 identifies as Russian backed social media accounts. Antiwar News and The Intercept were trending.

Antiwar.com was founded as far back as 1995 for the purpose of opposing American militarism and interventionism. It was one of the early and consistent few news and activist sites which opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Starting in 2011 it came under FBI investigation after what the FBI admitted was a "mistake". The site's founders, who were also personally under FBI monitoring for their "anti-war views", estimate that they had lost at least $75,000 per year after donors pulled their support while citing fears that the FBI might monitor them too. Antiwar was forced to sue in federal court just to clear its name and reputation, and yet the damage is long lasting and not fully quantifiable.

Similarly, as Hamilton 68's methodology is based entirely on guilt by association, it could potentially do some real damage to the independent sites it targets. This is an increased possibility given that highly visible outlets like the New York Times, Reuters, and NPR are now citing it. And this is precisely what it aims to do: silence dissenting voices and independent thought. But like the first round of McCarthyite hysteria, this too shall hopefully pass, and history will not look kindly on those engaged in this shrill and absurd witch hunt which doesn't appear to be relenting anytime soon.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

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