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Sunday, February 4, 2018
MRC Denies Russian Bots' Influence on #ReleaseTheMemo Campaign
Topic: Media Research Center

The Media Research Center really, really, doesn't want you to believe that the who #ReleaseTheMemo Twitter meme had no connection whatsoever to the Russian-linked Twitter bots that promoted it.

In a Jan. 20 NewsBusters post, P.J. Gladnick dismisses a Rolling Stone story about how Russian-controlled Twitter accounts heavily promoted the hashtag as nothing but a "Boris & Natasha bot fantasy," adding: "Even if there were 500 'Russia-influenced' Twitter accounts posting that hashtag, it would only be an infinitesimally small number of the total. Of course, [Rolling Stone writer Bob] Moser could do what I did and check out at random the authenticity of those posting the hashtag but it would ruin the premise of his fantasy."

Gladnick concluded: "So go ahead Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Investigate these supposed Russian bots tweeting on Twitter for evidence of collusion. Somehow I think he would be just as lucky proving Russian bot collusion as he has so far for proving Russian collusion in general."

Tom Blumer followed up in a Jan. 26 NesBusters post, attacking the Rolling Stone article as "a bogus report from the far-left media fever swamp." He highlighted a Daily Beast report citing "a knowledgeable source" about Twitter's internal analysis who claimed that "authentic American accounts, and not Russian imposters or automated bots, are driving #ReleaseTheMemo."

Blumer admitted that the Daily Beast noted "skepticism" about the finding, but he downplayed the extent that skepticism was stated. The Daily Beast pointed out that "Russian troll farms use cutout accounts to launder their message in order to appear authentically American" and that "Measuring engagement on a hashtag shows influence that may indeed be authentically American – but can simultaneously obscure the origin of that message." It also admitted that "Russian influence accounts did, in fact, send an outsize number of tweets about #ReleaseTheMemo—simply not enough for those accounts to reach the top of Twitter's internal analysis."

Further, as Politico has since reported, the second Twitter account to retweet the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag is an apparent bot of undetermined origin, and the third account to retweet it as a suspected Russian bot. It also references an earlier Politico article about "Twitter rooms" in which pro-Trump activists coordinate messages and then retweet each other, creating an online groundswell that doesn't really exist. Politico makes it clear that, in its words, "#releasethememo is carried forward by automated accounts overnight after it begins to trend. It continued to do so from its appearance until the memo was released," adding that the bots target "key influencers with these messaging campaigns—media personalities, far-right brand names, and elected officials who might pick up the info or hashtag and legitimize it by repeating it."

The Politico article concludes:

Regardless of how much of the campaign was American and how much was Russian, it’s clear there was a massive effort to game social media and put the Nunes memo squarely on the national agenda—and it worked to an astonishing degree. The bottom line is that the goals of the two overlapped, so the origin—human, machine or otherwise—doesn’t actually matter. What matters is that someone is trying to manipulate us, tech companies are proving hopelessly unable or unwilling to police the bad actors manipulating their platforms, and politicians are either clueless about what to do about computational propaganda or—in the case of #releasethememo—are using it to achieve their goals. Americans are on their own.

This is the truth Gladnick and Blumer -- and the rest of the MRC -- want to deny.


Posted by Terry K. at 7:44 PM EST

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