As the upstart voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica prepared to wade into the 2014 American midterm elections, it had a problem. The firm had secured a $15 million investment from Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, and wooed his political adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. But it did not have the data to make its new products work. So the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history. The breach allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016.
Russian trolls used Twitter to challenge the validity of the U.S. presidential election months before it took place, according to new NBC News analysis. In apparent expectation of a Trump loss, the trolls began sowing seeds of doubt to make voters question a win by Hillary Clinton. But when Donald Trump’s victory began rolling in, they changed their tune and began tweeting about the Trump success. Kremlin propaganda tweets using the “VoterFraud” hashtag first appeared in August 2016 and slowly ramped up to an Election Day blitz, according to the NBC News analysis of some 36,000 archived tweets from a single anonymous source with knowledge of social media data.
National: Russia-backed Facebook posts ‘reached 126 million Americans’ during US election | The Guardian
Russia-backed content reached as many as 126 million Americans on Facebook during and after the 2016 presidential election, according to the company’s prepared testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee ahead of hearings this week. Facebook believes 120 fake Russian-backed pages created 80,000 posts that were received by 29 million Americans directly, but reached a much bigger audience by users sharing, liking and following the posts. The social network plans to disclose these numbers to the Senate judiciary committee on Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the testimony. The tech giant’s testimony will follow dramatic developments in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian inference in the 2016 election, with three indictments, including two top Trump campaign aides.
Facebook has been happy to keep congressional investigators focused on the Russian-bought online ads that helped sway voters in last year’s election — despite the many other ways that fake messages and bogus accounts spread on the dark side of social media. But that may be about to end: Facebook, Twitter and Google are preparing for hearings this week where lawmakers are expected to grill the companies about the broad reach that foreign actors achieved through fake accounts and deliberate misinformation, a topic that encompasses far more than the 3,000 paid political ads that Facebook disclosed last month. Some lawmakers are already pressing for more details about so-called organic content, including unpaid posts from thousands of fake, automated and hijacked user accounts. Those questions could require Facebook to divulge more details about the priceless proprietary algorithms it uses to decide what messages its users see.
National: Russian troll factory paid US activists to help fund protests during election | The Guardian
Russian trolls posing as Americans made payments to genuine activists in the US to help fund protest movements on socially divisive issues, according to a new investigation by a respected Russian media outlet. On Tuesday, the newspaper RBC published a major investigation into the work of a so-called Russian “troll factory” since 2015, including during the period of the US election campaign, disclosures that are likely to put further spotlight on alleged Russian meddling in the election. The existence of the troll factory, which has a history of spamming Russian and English blogs and comment forums, has been reported on by many outlets including the Guardian, but the RBC investigation is the first in-detail look at the organisation’s activity during the election period.