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Republicans unleash a flood of fake news on social media


Research from the University of Oxford exposes how the far right is swamping our in-boxes with fake publications, in the approach to the 2020 elections.

“Troops, Trolls and Troublemakers: A Global Inventory of Organized Social Media Manipulation” reveals how the far right uses “cybertroops” to manipulate public opinion on social media “by gaining control of the narrative in the information age.” Running “fake accounts to mask their identity and interests,” they attempt “to appear as grassroots activism” by “mimicking human users.” Their methodology is to “create substantive content to spread political messages.” Often, though, the political content is hidden: cybertroops “weave propaganda seamlessly into what appears to be the non‐political musings of an everyday person.” For example, the Oxford study cites “a fortune‐telling blog that provided insight into relationships, weight loss [and] Feng Shui” but that was, instead, a front for subtle, insidious far-right messaging.

With these facts in mind, meet “Mark Fike.” He purports to be the editor of an online publication, Great American Wildlife, that on its surface looks like a guide to fishing, camping and hunting. Sounds innocent enough, but take a closer look. “Mark Fike” mass emails Great American Wildlife to people (including me) from purchased mailing lists. There is substantial evidence that “Mark Fike” is not a real human being, but is a “bot,” and that “Great American Wildlife” is little more than a rightwing attempt to manipulate public opinion to be more favorable to Trump. Fike’s latest email (I get one a day) begins with an advertisement called “Here are Trump’s two plans for re-opening the economy.” The one before that has an ad called “Nancy Pelosi’s Plan to Crush the Stock Market (Democrats Didn’t See THIS Coming”). “Fike” also pushes a favorite theme of the white supremacist/militia/gun nut crowd: “living off the land and firearms. I get a lot of questions thrown to me by acquaintances” concerning these topics, he says, without citing specifics. This brings to mind Trump’s method of introducing controversial topics by alleging, “A lot of people are saying” when, in fact, nobody is saying, except for a handful of Fox “News” commentators and deranged talk show hosts like Alex Jones.

Great American Wildlife’s mailing address, by the way, is Rising Media News Network, 754 Warrenton Road, Fredricksburg VA. That’s also the address on another email I get everyday, from something called Black Eye Politics, whose “editor” is one “Jim Sanders.” Black Eye is far more overtly rightwing that Great American Wildlife: recent articles include “America Could Face a Great Depression: What Limbaugh Revealed Will Make You Red With Rage “ and “Tucker Carlson Raised a Red Flag About Joe Biden That Left Democrats in Tears.” Black Eye is particularly obsessed with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.

A third online “periodical” is Deep State Journal, (editor: “John Garrett”), which similarly shares the same Virginia address on Warrenton Road as Great American Wildlife and Black Eye Politics. “Deep State” strikes a middle tone between the fake innocence of Great American Wildlife and the blatant rightwing paranoia of Black Eye. A recent article compared Democrats to Roger “Verbal” Kint (Keyser Soze), Kevin Spacey’s insane character in The Usual Suspects: “the devil [as] master of misdirection” practicing “sorcery.” Deep State targets Barack Obama consistently, playing to rightwing fears that Obama was actually an agent of a foreign power.

There are dozens of these phony online newsletters; they’re sent every day to hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Americans, many of whom will read them and think—as the Oxford study says—that they’re “grassroots activism” created by “human users” when in reality they’re bots. Trying to contact these organizations is pointless, since they don’t actually exist. It’s impossible to unsubscribe to them: you just have to let your in-box be swamped with them.

The U.S. Government claims to be aware of the potential for mischief created by these cybertroops; a recent article in The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists cites an effort by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (a think tank within the Department of Defense), to create “an AI [artificial intelligence] early warning system to monitor [such] manipulated content…”. The article’s authors warn that “Our ability to connect online has far outpaced our capacity to distinguish between reliable and unreliable information.” The problem, they explain, is that “Intelligence agencies, political parties, and rogue actors are all taking advantage of this complex and exploitable web of interconnections and using social media to disseminate altered content, fake news, and propaganda to interfere in elections and even to incite direct violence.” Keep in mind, elements among the neo-nazi, white supremacist far right would love for civil unrest to strike America, since they feel that they would be the beneficiaries of such unrest.

DARPA claims it wants to “warn human observers such as journalists or election monitors about potential threats in real time” posed by cybertroops and their fake online publications. It may well be that some scientists at lower levels within DARPA have such concerns, but they are working for an administration that has shown no inclination to muzzle, much less expose, fake content, and one moreover that punishes whistleblowers whom Trump calls the “deep state enemies” of America.

Mark Fike…Jim Sanders…John Garrett…if you believe these are real human beings, then I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. The Republican-Trump re-election campaign, possibly in collusion with Russian intelligence, is off to a swift start, spreading disinformation and smearing Democrats. Keep a close eye your own in-box.

  1. Bob Rossi says:

    “What Limbaugh Revealed Will Make You Red With Rage” Rush Limbaugh makes me red with rage.
    Interestingly, there was a “Liberate” protest at the State House yesterday in Augusta Maine. It was originally called for by 2 Republican state legislators, but it appears that the real call for action on Facebook was by a couple of groups I had never heard of, probably similar to the groups you mention.

  2. Yes, these secret underground groups need to be investigated. Very likely there are ties to black money (like the Kochs and DeVos), and possibly to foreign intelligence services. And we need to more thoroughly understand the role of the Trump family. What is Donald Jr. doing to coordinate activities between Russian and American business interests? Why does Jared Kushner try so hard to hide his connections to Saudis? There’s enough stuff here to keep investigative journalists busy for years.

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