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Deception

The Russian information attack on the election did not stop with the hacking and leaking of Democratic emails or the fire hose of stories, true, false and in between, that battered Mrs. Clinton on Russian outlets like RT and Sputnik. Far less splashy, and far more difficult to trace, was Russia’s experimentation on Facebook and Twitter, the American companies that essentially invented the tools of social media and, in this case, did not stop them from being turned into engines of deception and propaganda. ...
On Twitter, as on Facebook, Russian fingerprints are on hundreds or thousands of fake accounts that regularly posted anti-Clinton messages. ...
Though both companies have been slow to grapple with the problem of manipulation, they have stepped up efforts to purge fake accounts. Facebook says it takes down a million accounts a day — including some that were related to the recent French election and upcoming German voting — but struggles to keep up with the illicit activity. Still, the company says the abuse affects only a small fraction of the social network; Facebook officials estimated that of all the “civic content” posted on the site in connection with the United States election, less than one-tenth of one percent resulted from “information operations” like the Russian campaign. ...
Clinton Watts, a former F.B.I. agent who has closely tracked Russian activity online, said that Facebook and Twitter suffered from a “bot cancer eroding trust on their platforms.” But he added that while Facebook “has begun cutting out the tumors by deleting false accounts and fighting fake news,” Twitter has done little and as a result, “bots have only spread since the election.”

Asked to comment, Twitter referred to a blog post in June in which it said it was “doubling down” on efforts to prevent manipulation but could not reveal details for fear of tipping off those trying to evade the company’s measures. But it declared that Twitter’s “open and real-time nature is a powerful antidote” to falsehoods.

“This is important because we cannot distinguish whether every single Tweet from every person is truthful or not,” the statement said. “We, as a company, should not be the arbiter of truth.”
- SCOTT SHANE, The Fake Americans Russia Created to Influence the Election, NYT, SEPT. 7, 2017


To what extent should we trust that Twitter is doubling down with efforts it cannot reveal? To what extent should we trust Facebook's estimate that less than one-tenth of one percent of civic content posted in connection with the U.S. election resulted from information operations like the Russian campaign? It is hard to know, but here's an indication that Facebook is not very scrupulous about telling the truth:

Facebook faced criticism on Wednesday after an analyst pointed out that the company’s online advertising tools claim they can reach 25 million more young Americans than the United States census says exist.

The analyst, Brian Wieser at Pivotal Research, said in a note Tuesday that Facebook’s Ads Manager says it can potentially reach 41 million 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States and 60 million 25- to 34-year-olds. The catch, according to Mr. Wieser: the census counted just 31 million 18-to-24-year-olds last year and 45 million 25-to-34-year-olds.
“The buyers and marketers I talked to were unaware of this and they are using it for planning purposes,” Mr. Wieser said in an interview. “Buyers are still going to buy from them and plan for them, but this is something that doesn’t need to be an error and puts every other metric they might provide into question.”
- SAPNA MAHESHWARI, Facebook Tells Advertisers It Can Reach Many Young People. Too Many., NYT, SEPT. 6, 2017


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