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Thread: Defeat Disinfo

  1. #1
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    Defeat Disinfo

    This is a WaPo piece (Isaac Stanley-Becker), in Stars & Stripes:
    Initiative seeks to challenge Trump's online megaphone
    A new Democratic-aligned political action committee advised by retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, is planning to deploy technology originally developed to counter Islamic State propaganda in service of a domestic political goal – to combat online efforts to promote President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

    The group, Defeat Disinfo, will use artificial intelligence and network analysis to map discussion of the president's claims on social media. It will seek to intervene by identifying the most popular counter-narratives and boosting them through a network of more than 3.4 million influencers across the country – in some cases paying users with large followings to take sides against the president.

    The initiative reflects fears within the Democratic Party that Trump's unwavering digital army may help sustain him through the pandemic, as it has through past controversies, even as the economy craters, tens of thousands have died, and Trump suffers in the polls.
    The initiative is run by Curtis Hougland, whose received initial funding for the technology from DARPA, the Pentagon's research arm, as part of an effort to combat extremism overseas. He insists Democrats are ill-prepared for the looming battle over information and attention, which is bound to play an outsize role in November.

    Hougland cites as an example Trump's suggestion last week that injecting bleach or other household disinfectants could be a treatment for the novel coronavirus – a moment that appeared unequivocally damaging to the president but was less clear-cut as it unfolded on social media. Although the episode was associated with a spike in Twitter engagement about Trump, especially in swing states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, according to Hougland's analysis, four of the top six tweets about Trump and disinfectant came from accounts partial to the president, boosting the notion that he had not really suggested the bogus cure.

    Among them was a tweet from Ryan Fournier, national co-chair of Students for Trump, who wrote, "No, President Trump did not tell people to inject themselves with Clorox or Lysol. If you believe that, you're a moron."
    Though he is advising the overtly political effort, McChrystal stopped short of endorsing Trump's opponent, former vice president Joe Biden, whom the former general once criticized as part of a dust-up that led to his resignation.

    McChrystal said his interest in the PAC is about ensuring the accuracy of information leading up to the election, even if it involves chasing viral attention with emotional appeals and other tactics rewarded by online clicks.

    "Everyone wishes the Pandora's box was closed and none of this existed, but it does," McChrystal said in an interview.

    His ambivalence is shared by large parts of the Democratic Party, which recoiled at an effort, brought to light at the end of 2018, to use Russian-inspired tactics, including the creation of fake accounts, to sway the 2017 Senate election in Alabama.

    Hougland's PAC shuns these methods. Yet it differs from more traditional Democratic-aligned PACs, such as Priorities USA and American Bridge 21st Century, in embracing the practice of paying influencers to convey their messaging. The approach raised eyebrows and prompted tech companies to clarify their rules when it was put into practice by Mike Bloomberg's presidential campaign earlier this year.

    "I have no trepidation about paying content creators in seeking out and amplifying the best narratives," Hougland said.
    The presumptive Democratic nominee, whose primary bid counted on the gulf between Twitter and real life, has sought to expand his digital prowess as campaigning has gone fully virtual. He anchors a new podcast, and his campaign is plugging virtual rallies with mantras like "#SoulSaturday" designed to compete with Trump's digital reach.

    At the same time, Biden's aides are betting that the president's bully pulpit is just as likely to turn voters off as it is to win them over. Matt Hill, a campaign spokesman, pointed to recent moves by the president's team to "pull back his daily disinformation shows as his credibility continues to sink."

    But Joe Trippi, a Democratic operative who helped manage the 2017 Senate campaign in Alabama, said the president is partially insulated from the fallout over his own remarks by a "media echo chamber that is very disciplined about just picking up whatever the misdirection of the day is and amplifying it." That protective armor makes it all the more critical for Democrats to turn up the volume on anti-Trump messaging, he said.

    But Trippi wondered about the long-term consequences of adopting some of the online tactics favored by the right.

    "Once someone does something that works, it's usually picked up by the other side," Trippi said. "You've got to fight it, but the question is, like negative ads, if it works, do you just get better and better at it? I don't think that'd be very helpful for our democracy."

    Restraint could be a more effective approach, said Cindy Otis, a former CIA officer and disinformation researcher. She stressed the need to illustrate the real-world consequences of the president's words, for instance demonstrating that his comments about bleach were followed by a spike in calls to emergency hotlines.

    Otherwise, she said, "it's most effective to counter false narratives with straight-up facts."
    Some anti-Trump trolls are simply low-level Democrats volunteering their talent as best they can. I know two, neither on this forum, both at one point president of their local county Democratic Party chapter.

    It's nice to know that someone is being honest about paying these trolls. True transparency, which the DNC favors, of course, would disclose when someone is a paid lobbyist for their Party.
    • “Weakness is refusing to take responsibility for your own actions, weakness is pointing your finger at someone else in a time of crisis." — Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, blaming Trump.
    • "We hold these truths to be self evident. All men and women created by the, you know, you know, the thing." —Joe Biden, explaining the Creator.
    • "The way I see it, there's always, c'mon, there's always money. It's there." —Elizabeth Warren, explaining socialism.
    • “The interesting thing about the Green New Deal is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all.... We really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.” —Saikat Chakrabarti, then AOC's Chief of Staff.
    • "We have to stop demonizing people and realize the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right, and we have to start doing something about them." —CNN's Don Lemon, showing how to stop demonizing people.

  2. #2
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    One of the challenges today is that there are a multitude of different information sources all claiming to be authoritative. Certainly fewer and fewer people are believing that any of them really are authoritative in the best sense at the same time more people are becoming aware that social media sites have their own agendas and methods of choking off or promoting specific views.

    I'm not sure this is going to work out quite as planned.
    "Alexa, slaughter the fatted calf."

  3. #3
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    I hope you're right, but the thought of "re-purposing" taxpayer funded tech to target political speech is disturbing in a major way. I think it's potentially lethal to our First Amendment freedoms, and swiftly imposes a military-style autocracy on social discourse.

    I see it's featured at Fox News this morning:

    Dems deploying DARPA-funded AI-driven information warfare tool to target pro-Trump accounts
    Gregg Re.
    An anti-Trump Democratic-aligned political action committee advised by retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal is planning to deploy an information warfare tool that received initial funding from DARPA, the Pentagon’s secretive research arm -- transforming technology originally envisioned as a way to fight ISIS propaganda into a campaign platform to benefit Joe Biden.

    The Washington Post first reported that the initiative, called Defeat Disinfo, will utilize "artificial intelligence and network analysis to map discussion of the president’s claims on social media," and then attempt to "intervene" by "identifying the most popular counter-narratives and boosting them through a network of more than 3.4 million influencers across the country — in some cases paying users with large followings to take sides against the president."

    Social media guru Curtis Hougland is heading up Defeat Disinfo, and he received the funding from DARPA when his program was "part of an effort to combat extremism overseas." He explained in an interview with the Post that he was unhappy that top social media accounts often supported Trump, and had effectively defended the president in recent days from claims that he had suggested Americans inject themselves with disinfectant.

    The effort raised the question of whether taxpayer funds were being repurposed for political means, and whether social media platforms have rules in place that could stymie Hougland's efforts -- if he plays along.
    McChrystal, who led U.S. forces in Afghanistan before he was fired by then-President Obama in 2010 for deriding his civilian bosses in a Rolling Stone interview, told the Post that the operation was necessary, even if it might appear unseemly.

    “Everyone wishes the Pandora’s box was closed and none of this existed, but it does," McChrystal said.

    McChrystal has not explicitly endorsed Biden, even though the new information warfare project is intended to help his candidacy. The former general has previously gone on the record with a less-than-glowing assessment of Biden's competence.
    Perhaps we should have picked up more of a clue when McChrystal "derided his civilian bosses" a decade ago.
    • “Weakness is refusing to take responsibility for your own actions, weakness is pointing your finger at someone else in a time of crisis." — Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, blaming Trump.
    • "We hold these truths to be self evident. All men and women created by the, you know, you know, the thing." —Joe Biden, explaining the Creator.
    • "The way I see it, there's always, c'mon, there's always money. It's there." —Elizabeth Warren, explaining socialism.
    • “The interesting thing about the Green New Deal is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all.... We really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.” —Saikat Chakrabarti, then AOC's Chief of Staff.
    • "We have to stop demonizing people and realize the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right, and we have to start doing something about them." —CNN's Don Lemon, showing how to stop demonizing people.

  4. #4
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    We all use technology originally developed with government funding every day. If government-owned technology were being used for private political purposes, that would be a clear violation of many sorts of laws and boundaries, and, most importantly, the government would have the power to prohibit it.

    That a former military person with the knowledge to use former military technology to the advantage of one political party or another chooses to do so is no different from any other former government employee using his or her government experience in the public marketplace, be it a pilot, a former MP, an IT person, or a boiler technician. If the product and the knowledge is out in the marketplace, it's no crime to use it for partisan purposes.
    No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. This offer VALID in 35 34 33 32 31 26 20 17 15 14 13 ALL 50 states.

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