A snapshot of troll and bot activity the night of the Ford / Kavanuagh Senate hearing
|Sep 29 2018||Public post|
Hello there. This is the first post of what will become the Rogue Metrics weekly newsletter, the Dark Matter Dispatch. (I know, and the name might not stick, but I can’t help it when it comes to giving things snappy names.) You can get this publication by email or by coming to this site.
So What’s Up?
We have not published an update to the Dark Matter project since Helsinki, and we are in the middle of putting together the next volume of work in that series. In the meantime, I wanted to share (with some urgency) something I observed following the Senate Judiciary committee hearing featuring testimony from Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. I gathered these screenshots at about 11:30 CST on September 27.
These three services are free, open to the public, and they explain their methodology to a sufficiently transparent degree so as to be useful for grabbing some fast insight as to what several Russian bot and troll networks are pushing at any given time. In this instance, the dominance of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing is not necessarily surprising, as it is a major news event in America.
An Active Measure, to Command the Trend
What is striking, though, is how the activity revealed by these tools differs from major public events (like mass shootings or natural disasters) and is entirely similar to political events in which an active attempt is being made to shape public opinion. With events like the Austin bombing or the Las Vegas shooting, the main goal of troll and bot activity is to spread chaos. Certainly, you will find several sets of bots pushing pro-2nd Amendment messaging or anti-Democratic Party messaging, but what we’ve observed is that these efforts tend to be more driven by or originated by the American alt-right / InfoWars crowd, and later amplified along with multiple other elements of a disinformation campaign. The ultimate desired outcome is not clear, other than a hope to create chaos and spread fear.
The activity shown here much more closely reveals the concentrated efforts which spring up around special elections (or flowed to targeted states in the 2016 election), and the active polity simulation measures which abound around political events like the Nunes memo or family separation. The absolute stated and obvious goal of this bot and troll activity from a hostile foreign entity is a single domestic political outcome: for Kavanaugh to be confirmed. Everything else is a means to an end.
As a fun added bonus, this clarity of purpose leaves space for projection, identity mapping, and perceived alignment from third party, cause-based true believers. This is where you see the overlap between a propagandist push for policy outcomes and conspiracy theories from the Q Anon / Pizzagate truthers, among others.
The takeaway here should be that the forces at work in deploying these troll farms and bot networks have decided that there’s a way they’d like the Supreme Court confirmations to turn out, and this is how they hope to help make that happen.
Finally: Welcome to SubStack
Besides presenting you with this snapshot of bot and troll activity which appears to be simulating a polity around yet another event which may have an enormous impact on American history and the future of our republic, this post serves three additional purposes.
To introduce you to a new publication platform for Rogue Metrics, which is here at SubStack, and
To let you know that, whereas I have published new work once every one or two months in the past, I am now planning to publish more frequently across the board. That will include short blog posts (at the website research blog or at Medium, a regular weekly digest (which is this), and the usual long form analysis pieces, and
To ask if you’d like to sign up for this newsletter, which will be a central distribution hub for all of this work.
My internet habits have changed over the 20 years I’ve worked in digital media, and I no longer have a list of blogs I read every day. Instead I let Twitter or Facebook point me to content from outlets I follow. Email newsletters have worked their way back into my heart, and I have found them very useful in keeping up with publications and subject matter which might otherwise be harder to track down. I hope, for you, this does the same.
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