Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia

Russian Twitter Bots And Trolls Being Used To Influence US Politics

There are a few conclusions in this story which need to be brought out because they are not that obvious in the following article.

  1. Russia is still attempting to influence US politics, and they’re doing a really bad job hiding it.
  2. Russia is using bots, automated twitter accounts, to amplify their message
  3. Russia is actively and overtly using every available tool to wage an information war against the US.  In this case attempting to get LTG McMaster fired as the National Security Advisor

Just as technology is being used against the US, technology is being used to detect Russian bots being used against the US.

A word of caution about the bot and troll accounts that Hamilton 68 is using to gauge Russian information warfare efforts.  The accounts themselves are going to have to change.  They must be refreshed and augmented, and perhaps supplemented with a larger sample size to get both better resolution of current observations, as well as perhaps detect more diverse and subtle efforts.

The Heisenberg Effect speaks to monitoring twitter bot and troll accounts.  A computer scientist Ph.D. suggested I look at the Heisenberg Effect.

The Heisenberg Effect. German physicist Werner Heisenberg, founder of quantum mechanics and winner of the 1932 Nobel Prize, maintained that it is impossible for a scientist to observe any living organism without necessarily changing it; observation alone changes the behavior of the observed. “The Heisenberg Effect” means that no one does, or can, enact the same performance before an audience, compared to unobserved rehearsals. Further, people need only imagine they are under observation, and the perception of being observed will inevitably alter behavior.

A second principle of Heisenberg’s, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is certainly at play, as well.

Uncertainty principle, also called the Heisenberg uncertainty principle or indeterminacy principle, statement, articulated (1927) by the German physicist Werner Heisenberg, that the position and the velocity of an object cannot both be measured exactly, at the same time, even in theory.

Another Ph.D. also suggested I look into the Hawthorne Effect.

Hawthorne Effect is an observation bias in which those under observation improve their initial performance because they are being observed. In general, an observation bias is the unintentional cognitive effects a observer/researcher has on the outcomes of the research.

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Former FBI Agent Says Russian Twitter Bots Were Behind Push for McMaster Firing

David Z. Morris

2:30 PM ET


Clint Watts, a former FBI Special Agent, says that Russian-controlled Twitter bots helped amplify widespread calls for President Trump to fire National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster. The hashtag #firemcmaster spread virally earlier this month.

Earlier reports quickly identified the role of pro-Russian partisans in amplifying the hashtag, but Watts’ claims are based on different data, generated by a monitoring project called Hamilton 68. Named after founding father Alexander Hamilton’s warning about the danger of foreign influence, Hamilton 68 monitors 600 Twitter accounts “linked to Russian influence operations.” That includes both automated bot accounts and what Hamilton 68 describes as “trolls.”

To trace Russian influence, Hamilton 68 begins with official Russian outlets or explicitly pro-Russian mouthpieces, then identifies other accounts pushing the same topics or narratives. Watts described the findings and methods in an interview with NPR’s Weekend Edition this morning.

Much of what is tweeted by the Russian Twitter network, Watts says, may not look like Russian propaganda.

“The first thing you have to do is infiltrate the audience,” he told NPR. “If you look at the top hashtags, oftentimes they’re very common hashtags you’d see [in] a very pro-Trump audience.” For instance, amidst fallout from last week’s white supremacist terror attack in Charlottesville, Hamilton 68 shows Russian influence networks dominated by the hashtag “antifa” – a term often used to criticize the counterprotestors who were targeted in the attack.

According to Watts, Russian targeting of McMaster is in line with the country’s hostility to international alliances including the EU and NATO, which McMaster has expressed support for despite President Trump’s sometimes unclear stance.

“The long view of the Russian active measures program is chaos and disunity among the American government,” Watts said. “Anytime there’s a rift… they want to amplify those rifts.”



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