Op-Ed

I’m Not a Patsy for Russian Propaganda, YOU Are! :P

25 Mar , 2018  

Listening to people argue that there is no way they were manipulated by some foreign power’s social media propaganda machine is both amusing and disheartening. I can understand deep denial and the impulse to say, “Hey, even though I shared 79 posts from a known Russian bot, no way was my vote influenced by it!” I’m not sure I understand the “Yeah? So what? It’s okay, ’cause my guy won and you lost and I’m a damned PATRIOT so go suck a LEMON!” attitude. And there’s a lot of that. I used to wish the grown-ups would come back and run the country. Now, I’m ready for the 16-30 year olds to hit 35 so they can run for President. Watching them at yesterday’s #MarchForOutLives, I have hope for our future.

I’ll admit to feeling relieved to having only glancingly interacted with three known Russian disinformation bots on Tumblr – so far. I received the following email, this morning:

As part of our commitment to transparency, we want you to know that we uncovered and terminated 84 accounts linked to Internet Research Agency or IRA (a group closely tied to the the Russian government) posing as members of the Tumblr community.

The IRA engages in electronic disinformation and propaganda campaigns around the world using phony social media accounts. When we uncovered these accounts, we notified law enforcement, terminated the accounts, and deleted their original posts.

While investigating their activity on Tumblr, we discovered that you either followed one of these accounts linked to the IRA, or liked or reblogged one of their posts:

  • bellaxiao previously known as: blogmadworldlove
  • bellygangstaboo
  • mooseblogtimes

You aren’t in trouble, and don’t need to take any action if you don’t want to. We deleted the accounts but decided to leave up any reblog chains so that you can curate your own Tumblr to reflect your own personal views and perspectives.

Democracy requires transparency and an informed electorate and we take our disclosure responsibility very seriously. We’ll be aggressively watching for disinformation campaigns in the future, take the appropriate action, and make sure you know about it.

— Tumblr

I’m guessing I randomly clicked the little hearts on a post or two; I hardly ever visit Tumblr and can’t recall the last time I reblogged a post. I still haven’t figured out how to comment, so it’s hard to see Tumblr as a social media platform. It lacks warmth. But if you’re over there and you got an email like this one, recently, here’s how to find anything you may have reblogged.

Me? I want to know these things. I’m not so arrogant as to think that in my bleary-eyed, undercaffeinated, early-morning forays into social media, there’s no way I clicked on or shared some bit of propaganda that reinforced my own cherished beliefs. I like to think that, on the whole, I really am better than that – that I at least validate the information from sources more reputable than an ascerbic meme – but I have my moments. The best I can really hope for is that I don’t fall for obvious, intellectually lazy propaganda. That I make them work for it. I rely on my friends to fact-check me. I expect them to be polite about it, of course, but what are friends for if not to keep you from making an ass of yourself in public?

But, whoa, Nelly! There are people likening this bit of transparency from Tumblr to “Big Brother” – not the TV show, but Orwell’s novel, 1984. They’re taking this as some invasion of their personal privacy and First Amendment rights. Look, I think I have a right to know if I’m engaging with shadowy underworld figures and nefarious bits of code designed to undermine our country. If the government had me thrown in prison for it, attached car battery jumpers to my nipples, and screamed at me that I did it on purpose, that would be going too far! But note the carefully bolded line up there: You aren’t in trouble, and don’t need to take any action if you don’t want to. I’m just irked that Tumblr doesn’t make it easier to find these things and take action if I do want to.

I also lost only three Twitter followers during the recent bot-purge; some lost over three hundred. And they were angry about it. Folks, Twitter can identify bots. Bots aren’t human trolls; bots are bits of code programmed to do things like post propaganda on a schedule and respond with canned messages to keywords in conversations. That’s it. Bots don’t have feelings, so it’s ludicrous to jump to their defense when they’re locked out of Twitter.

I made a Twitter bot, once. It was easy. What’s hard is remembering what I called the account, so I can go shut it off. I’m hoping Twitter deleted it. Not that it matters, much. I programmed it to go around liking tweets about public libraries. Librarians of the world, you’re welcome.

Holly Jahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; and A New Leaf for Lyle. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young at heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.

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4 Responses

  1. rummuser says:

    I flatter myself that I am not a patsy for any propaganda! I however suppose that time will tell.

    • I think we all like to “flatter ourselves” on that score. I’ve a theory, though, that those most adamantly CONVINCED they’re not, almost certainly ARE. IF we believe the possibility exists, we’re maybe more likely to fact check ourselves.

  2. Mike says:

    I’ve found that Ramana (Rummuser) is pretty level headed, both on Facebook and his blog. 😉

    People often share material that validates their beliefs. People also share material that is completely wrong. Often, what people share also refines how their “friends” perceive them.

    I’m more likely to fact check posts or shares and share what I’ve found if it invalidates the post I’m checking. I seldom share what others have shared. I prefer to go to the source and share that, if valid and has some kind of value. Often I will use a media bias checker ( https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/ ) before sharing something. If the source is way too far to the left or right, I don’t share. I almost never comment on politically slanted posts or shares except, on occasion, to cynically tweak on one of my friends on the left or on the right, and sometimes both.

    • One problem with Facebook is how quickly, thanks to its stupid “show me more of what I WANT to see” algorithms, it becomes your own personal echo chamber. That is NOT the real world.

      Thanks for the link, Mike. I also like factcheck and politifact.. But who determines whether a site is biased? Who gets to declare it so? Are both sides of any argument always equally correct and worthy of equal air time?

      Naturally, people share what bolsters their assertions. What would be great is if they’d first share why THEY, personally, believe in what they’re saying. Links to credible research and critical thought on a topic are great, but the sources themselves have begun to determine just how much effort I’ll put into considering opposing views. Cite Brietbart 51% of the time, and I’ll start to tune them out. Bias is one thing, but that is a propaganda machine for hate and hatefulness.

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