New York Times: A Look Inside the Tactics of Definers, Facebook’s Attack Dog. “A small firm called Definers Public Affairs brought the dark arts of Washington’s back-room politics to Silicon Valley when, while working for Facebook, it began disparaging other tech companies to reporters. But a few days before Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, testified to Congress in September, Definers set its sights on a different target: the senators about to question Ms. Sandberg.”
Mother Jones: How Bots Are Hijacking the Political Conversation Just Before the Election. “When President Donald Trump tweeted about a caravan of immigrants heading to the US border in late October, it set off a wildfire of misinformation on social media. Posts on Facebook and Twitter spread conspiracy theories that Democratic donor George Soros was funding the migrants and the false allegation that the group included terrorists and gang members. It turns out it wasn’t just Republicans latching on the story—it was also Twitter bots.”
CNET: Facebook removes Iranian influence campaign as midterms near. “Facebook took down 82 pages, accounts and groups it said are part of an influence campaign originating in Iran, the company announced in a blog post Friday. The accounts were posing as residents of the US and the UK and posting content about race relations, immigration and opposition to President Donald Trump.”
Nieman Lab: How I cheated the Apple Podcast charts for $5. “As the discourse around click farms and Apple chart manipulation continued to swell last week, a producer named John Perotti was contacted over LinkedIn by someone claiming to be a ‘podcast promoter’ on Fiverr, the online freelance services marketplace. Perotti, who manages podcast production at WBUR for his day job, decided to run an experiment: He would follow up with the scammy offering, apply it to his now-defunct personal podcast feed, and tweet out his journey down the rabbit hole. (Shouts to Perotti for still actively checking his LinkedIn profile.)”
Washington Post: Iranians masqueraded as foreign journalists to push political messages online, new Twitter data shows. “Twitter accounts originating in Iran masqueraded as foreign journalists and concerned U.S. citizens in their attempt to push political messages on the social media site until they were suspended earlier this year, according to research published Wednesday.”
Boing Boing: US governmental requests for comment are routinely flooded by pro-corporate bots. “Last year, the FCC was only able to ram through a repeal of Net Neutrality by refusing to reject the millions of comments sent by bots that used the stolen identities of regular internet users, dead people, and even sitting US Members of Congress. It turns out the FCC isn’t the only agency being flooded by bots during requests for comment — and it’s also not the only agency that doesn’t seem to give a shit about being astroturfed by bots using stolen identities to influence government policy in favor of corporate agencies.”
ARC Digital: Pro-Trump & Russian-Linked Twitter Accounts Are Posing As Ex-Democrats In New Astroturfed Movement. “The primary functional goal of an astroturfed campaign like this one is to manipulate public opinion by gaming online algorithms to amplify certain content and push it onto people’s social media feeds and to the top of search engine results. The high volume of tweets associated with this campaign is also indicative of an effort to drown out real, reasoned debate between humans and replace it with content that pushes fringe or extreme viewpoints into the mainstream, ultimately hijacking and derailing public discourse.” I know I’ve been including stories that might seem at odds with my desire to stay apolitical in this newsletter. The reason they are here is not because of my distaste for a particular political ideology but because I despise astroturfing and propaganda.