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
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.
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.