This is a vitally important topic (Russian trolling) of vast immediate importance. What would have been a better way to research and investigate?
Two weeks later, SEOTweet reported back to Jigsaw that it had posted 730 Russian-language tweets attacking the anti-Stalin site from 25 different Twitter accounts, as well as 100 posts to forums and blog comment sections of seemingly random sites, from regional news sites to automotive and arts-and-crafts forums. Jigsaw says a significant number of the tweets and comments appeared to be original post written by humans, rather than simple copy-paste bots. "These aren't large numbers, and that’s intentional," says Jigsaw's Gully. "We weren’t trying to create a worldwide disinformation campaign about this. We just wanted to see if threat actors could provide a proof of concept."
Even as Jigsaw exposes the potential for cheap, easily accessible trolling campaigns, its experiment has also garnered criticism of Jigsaw itself. The company, after all, didn't just pay a shady service for a series of posts that further polluted political discourse online. It did so with messages in support of one of the worst genocidal dictators of the 20th century, not to mention the unsolicited posts in support of Vladimir Putin.
"Buying and engaging in a disinformation operation in Russia, even if it’s very small, that in the first place is an extremely controversial and risky thing to do," says Johns Hopkins University political scientist Thomas Rid, the author of a forthcoming book on disinformation titled Active Measures.
Even worse may be the potential for how Russians and the Russia media could perceive—or spin—the experiment, Rid says. The subject is especially fraught given Jigsaw's ties to Alphabet and Google. "The biggest risk is that this experiment could be spun as 'Google meddles in Russian culture and politics.' It fits anti-American clichés perfectly," Rid says. "Didn't they see they were tapping right into that narrative?"
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