Computational Propaganda & its Adherents
August 6, 2017 4:57 PM   Subscribe

This is a short promotional interview for a book about computational propaganda, and an introduction to the Oxford Computational Propaganda Project. This stuff has been talked about a lot since November 2016, it's not going away any time soon, and the risks are substantial.

Computational propaganda, or the use of algorithms and automated social media accounts to influence politics and the flow of information, is an emerging challenge to democracy in the digital age. Using automated social media accounts called bots (or, when networked, botnets), a wide array of actors including authoritarian governments and terrorist organizations are able to manipulate public opinion by amplifying or repressing different forms of political content, disinformation, and hate speech.
posted by sneebler (30 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is a ton of content, I've been down this rabbit hole for over an hour, and I just breaking surface to say, I'm officially kinda terrified at the direction the internet has tamen
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 5:59 PM on August 6 [6 favorites]


Prove you are not a robot. "I'm sorry, ma'am, I cannot do that at this time."

I am a bot, and Hillary Clinton has killed over 45 people, I swear by my resist coated wires.

Jesus wants me for a sunbeam, I don't want to serve as a toaster, perhaps a hair dryer.

The internet has set off all my alarms for a good, long time now. I witnessed the advent of the web information officer, in the early 2000's when suddenly talking points were the same, all over the place. People stepped into groups, and took roles shading, and quieting opposition. But my algorithm detector spotted they were speaking from a script. The web wasn't finished hating on Bill Clinton at least in Utah, before they started in on Hillary. It was blatant. I was living in Utah as this started up, where there is a sizeable military presence, and now the NSA and other big information contractors too many to name, including the dominant religion and the offshoots.

I think I knew where the internet would go to, instinctively and I watched it unfold exactly as I thought it would. I was in grad school for education warning my professors that Pearson, and grading systems, and comment systems inside grading systems, would collect information on our students they had no business having, and certainly no business passing on. They all have a dossier now. Then you do a test on Facebook, that rates your beauty, woops, you have just given out your iris prints.

With the feds demanding voter information, will you get a job in our new society if you were a Democrat in high school, or if your test scores indicate a tendency toward, socialist ideals? We already know if you show evidence of never having made much money, in spite of your new, shiny diploma, will your new employer pay you based on your previous income? If your school behavioral scores indicate problems in fifth grade, or junior high, then will you not be able to oil a robot, when it comes time to work? If your essays do not mention finding Jesus, will you be able to pass a security clearance?

I am fascinated by what you can find on the web, but that is only going to go on for so long, before you can't tie together any loose ends, even with regards to history. The potential for the web to control opinion, information, mood, personal history, pffft; it is not potential that is already history.

I advocate personal secrecy, spend some cash each month, leave your phone at home, randomly, buy gas with cash, when traveling. Avoid rewards cards that report your expenditures. Look up random stuff, in a random, organic pattern. Browse anonymously as much as possible. If we do not elect responsible leaders, we will be forced to live in a surveillance, and resulting action, feudal society. Instead of being sharecroppers, we will be running from herding robots whose goal is to keep us behind fences, and away from food crops. Worse the only thing we will have to discuss is Game of Thrones.
posted by Oyéah at 7:14 PM on August 6 [3 favorites]


This is some useful material, and I thank OP warm-heartedly, but, with that said, I would be remiss if I did not point out that the National Endowment for Democracy is something of an unreliable propaganda arm of the U.S. covert ops community.

Long story short, the Reagan administration had the cunning idea to transfer all of the CIA's foreign election-subverting personnel—whose exposed deeds had so scandalized the American public and the world, back in the 1970s—into a newly minted government-funded "NGO" (i.e. just a "GO," but now with the occasional infusion of tax-deductable monies furnished by some rich guy with a stake in the electoral politics of Romania, or Kenya, or wherever). This is sorta an open secret, but the press routinely forgets it when, say, Putin kicked the NED out of Russia two years ago.

I count myself as someone who thinks that the Russians did all of the 2016 election meddling that they're accused of; I believe the pee tape exists; I believe the collusion story is even bigger than it looks already; I think Putin is reasonably dangerous (although I think some factions below him in the queue might actually be more dangerous, to be honest). Etc., etc., etc. Anyway: I am just making sure people here who wind up reading anything from the NED have a clear second opinion on what they're looking at: "hearts and minds" CIA stuff that's been successfully repackaged these last 30 years as bleeding heart nonprofit work abroad.

(I will go back to reading tweets about the last episode of Twin Peaks now. I am sorry. I am more of a mefi lurker at heart.)

Thank you for your patience.
posted by ProfLinusPauling at 7:20 PM on August 6 [29 favorites]


Great post.

I've just skimmed a few of these articles and bookmarked many for reading later, when awake, but it's nice to see it's not all Bad Russians! and Noble Americans! here. There's content discussing how damn near every first-world nation is hard at work using weaponized fake news, targeting foreign states as well as their own people.

Which is, like, what we paranoiacs have been assuming for a decade, but it's damn nice to see it discussed semi-openly now.

Maybe opening up this discussion will be a small positive takeaway from the clusterfuck of 2016.
posted by rokusan at 7:41 PM on August 6 [6 favorites]


The other constrasting threat to democracy is, of course, the tendency for some folks to declare any movement with politics they don't like to just be 'bots'.
posted by Jimbob at 9:49 PM on August 6


Wow, this is incredibly soul crushing. Even worse if one of the sources is itself a covert ops outfit. There's just no avoiding being manipulated for someone else's gain.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 10:46 PM on August 6


Interesting post thanks sneebler. A trove to mine at leisure as I suspect too much in one go will be a little overwhelming perhaps.

I do find the recent faux outrage from elements of the popular US media concerning 'RUSSIA TRYING TO MANIPULATE US ELECTION' a little rich given the egregious manipulation of Foreign Governments through both soft and hard power is effectively the US Governments 'thing'. Like two people turning up at a party in the same clothes.
posted by numberstation at 1:51 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


...given the egregious manipulation of Foreign Governments through both soft and hard power is effectively the US Governments 'thing'.
The not-officially-political comic Candorville made the same point about a month ago...
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:14 AM on August 7


Then you do a test on Facebook, that rates your beauty, woops, you have just given out your iris prints.

What kind of Facebook quiz requires prints of your irises? That works be super fucking painful, and there's no way it'd go unnoticed.
posted by Dysk at 3:00 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


I am fascinated by what you can find on the web, but that is only going to go on for so long, before you can't tie together any loose ends, even with regards to history.

Note the continuing slide of Google searches toward uselessness. To me, it appears that any inclination they had to provide a useful service has been completely abandoned in favor of data-gathering for profit.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:25 AM on August 7 [6 favorites]


Invest in surveillance capitalism. Get surveillance plutocracy.
posted by runcifex at 5:32 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


In citizen journalism:

Automating Hate: Documenting the anatomy of an automated propaganda machine

From Idavox, the news and events site for the One People's Project (previously), an analysis published a few months ago of an operation called AgendaOfEvil.com which promotes and cross-propagates anti-Islam propaganda and fake news through a network of social media accounts.
posted by XMLicious at 5:40 AM on August 7


I do find the recent faux outrage

It's not "faux" outrage, it's actual outrage. The Russian meddling in the US election is a bad thing. American meddling in foreign elections was and is a bad thing.

Yes, we get it. The US has done terrible thins and it's ironic when it happens to the US. That doesn't excuse or justify it, and yet every thread there's always people falling over themselves to remind everyone about the *hypocrisy* of it all.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:01 AM on August 7 [14 favorites]


Mom and Dad say not to use drugs! But they smoked pot in college! Hypocrisy! I'll try this fentanyl then.
posted by thelonius at 6:12 AM on August 7 [5 favorites]


They are looking for a post-doc researcher for "bot detection efforts" - if it takes one to know one, would they be happy with a post-doc bot?
posted by Laotic at 6:38 AM on August 7


I could throw that together.

An ad hoc post doc bot.
posted by Leon at 7:31 AM on August 7 [8 favorites]


Mom and Dad say not to use drugs! But they smoked pot in college! Hypocrisy! I'll try this fentanyl then.

Except in this case it's more like "mum and dad are out partying on molly every weekend, but they're aghast that I had a ciggie".
posted by Dysk at 7:37 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


The other constrasting threat to democracy is, of course, the tendency for some folks to declare any movement with politics they don't like to just be 'bots'.

It's not a contrasting threat, it's one of the damage modes of the same threat. Because more than just manipulating the discourse, the techniques are frequently also intended to make it a social fact that the discourse is being manipulated - which as you allude to is intensely corrosive to any concept of disagreement in good faith.
posted by PMdixon at 8:13 AM on August 7 [6 favorites]


Or as Garry Kasparov put it, "the point of modern propaganda isn't only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth."

Not necessarily a feature of computational propaganda, but this point is ever more relevant in the presence of fine-grained behaviour control by algorithms.
posted by runcifex at 8:23 AM on August 7 [14 favorites]




> I could throw that together.

An ad hoc post doc bot.


Better yet, just make a website where people can build their own: ad hoc post doc bot dot com.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 9:27 AM on August 7 [4 favorites]


If you're going to open it up to the public like that, I hope you'll test it thoroughly.

Yes, it should be a fully mocked ad hoc post doc bot dot com.
posted by Leon at 9:51 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


This is why I installed Ad Hoc Post Doc Bot Dot Com Block.
posted by Foosnark at 9:59 AM on August 7 [3 favorites]


Yes, we get it. The US has done terrible thins and it's ironic when it happens to the US.

I don't think people actually do get it, I don't see many Democrats suddenly disavowing foreign intervention. I mean, look at the sudden love for the CIA and faith that the 'deep state' will make everything okay we suddenly saw.
posted by Jimbob at 12:31 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


I mean, look at the sudden love for the CIA and faith that the 'deep state' will make everything okay we suddenly saw.

Who suddenly saw? I don't recall seeing any burst of Democrat love for the CIA or the "deep state". Can you provide some links?

Because I have no idea what you're talking about. The only people I see talking about the "deep state" are alt-right Trump fans who are trying to spin any information about the Russian collusion.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:13 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


I mean, look at the sudden love for the CIA and faith that the 'deep state' will make everything okay we suddenly saw

The fact that Stalin mostly defeated Hitler doesn't make the former person in any sense good, but it's a better outcome than the alternative.

I don't think anyone thinks the CIA or the IC in general or the military can save us in the sense of a return to the status quo of 11/07/16 - but there are people who think that a pre-Erdogan Turkish style system might be the least bad achievable outcome. This doesn't mean they think that outcome is good in any absolute sense, just that we have lost (if we ever really had) the luxury of dealing in absolutes.
posted by PMdixon at 4:05 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


ProfLinusPauling: I would be remiss if I did not point out that the National Endowment for Democracy is something of an unreliable propaganda arm of the U.S. covert ops community.

I wondered about that too but didn't get past the Wikipedia article. Thanks for filling in those blanks.

----

Should have waited one more day:

First Evidence That Social Bots Play a Major Role in Spreading Fake News

posted by sneebler at 7:33 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


It's only a matter of time until someone in Russia builds a Deep Web Ad Hoc Post Doc Bot Dot Com Block Stopper.
posted by Laotic at 12:02 AM on August 8


(Sneebler: This MIT piece is dope; I am gonna try and get my hands on the Indiana University study it mentions, because I like need to know more about that creepy looking diffusion network data visualization.)
posted by ProfLinusPauling at 9:28 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


"We the…Bots and Trolls", an episode of PBS's The Open Mind broadcast last week, an interview with Oxford Internet Institute researcher Nick Monaco.

Unfortunately despite the title he was unprepared (or maybe unwilling?) to discuss specifics of the role of bots and trolls in the 2016 election. But, it was an interesting and informative interview nonetheless.
posted by XMLicious at 8:00 PM on August 8


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