UPDATE: Read below for a second letter dated Jan 31 2018
Washington – Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee sent a letter today to Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In the letter, Feinstein and Schiff request that Twitter and Facebook immediately conduct an in-depth forensic examination of the reported actions by Russian bots and trolls surrounding the #ReleaseTheMemo online campaign and how users were exposed to this campaign as a result of Russian efforts. According to the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy, this effort gained the instant attention and assistance of social media accounts linked to Russian influence operations.
In the letter, Feinstein and Schiff write: “If these reports are accurate, we are witnessing an ongoing attack by the Russian government through Kremlin-linked social media actors directly acting to intervene and influence our democratic process. This should be disconcerting to all Americans, but especially your companies as, once again, it appears the vast majority of their efforts are concentrated on your platforms. This latest example of Russian interference is in keeping with Moscow’s concerted, covert, and continuing campaign to manipulate American public opinion and erode trust in our law enforcement and intelligence institutions.”
We seek your companies’ urgent assistance. Public reports indicate that accounts linked to the Russian government are again exploiting Twitter and Facebook platforms in an effort to manipulate public opinion. These recent Russian efforts are intended to influence congressional action and undermine Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, which has already resulted in the indictments of two Trump campaign officials and guilty pleas from two others, who are both now cooperating with prosecutors. It is critically important that the Special Counsel’s investigation be allowed to proceed without interference from inside or outside the United States. That is why we seek your assistance in our efforts to counter Russia’s continuing efforts to manipulate public opinion and undermine American democracy and the rule of law.
Specifically, on Thursday, January 18, 2018, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) Majority voted to allow Members of the U.S. House of Representatives to review a misleading talking points “memo” authored by Republican staff that selectively references and distorts highly classified information. The rushed decision to make this document available to the full House of Representatives was followed quickly by calls from some quarters to release the document to the public.
Several Twitter hashtags, including #ReleaseTheMemo, calling for release of these talking points attacking the Mueller investigation were born in the hours after the Committee vote. According to the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy, this effort gained the immediate attention and assistance of social media accounts linked to Russian influence operations. By Friday, January 19, 2018, the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag was “the top trending hashtag among Twitter accounts believed to be operated by Kremlin-linked groups.” Its use had “increased by 286,700 percent” and was being used “100 times more than any other hashtag” by accounts linked to Russian influence campaigns. These accounts are also promoting an offer by WikiLeaks to pay up to $1 million to anyone who leaks this classified partisan memo.
If these reports are accurate, we are witnessing an ongoing attack by the Russian government through Kremlin-linked social media actors directly acting to intervene and influence our democratic process. This should be disconcerting to all Americans, but especially your companies as, once again, it appears the vast majority of their efforts are concentrated on your platforms. This latest example of Russian interference is in keeping with Moscow’s concerted, covert, and continuing campaign to manipulate American public opinion and erode trust in our law enforcement and intelligence institutions.
We understand Facebook and Twitter have developed significant expertise in identifying inauthentic and malicious accounts. Further, your forensic investigations into Russian government exploitation of your platforms during the 2016 U.S. election have helped expose to the American public the vast extent of Russia’s covert influence efforts. We therefore request that your companies conduct an in-depth forensic examination of this real-time activity on your platforms to determine:
Whether and how many accounts linked to Russian influence operations are involved in this campaign;
The frequency and volume of their postings on this topic; and
How many legitimate Twitter and Facebook account holders have been exposed to this campaign.
Given the urgency of this matter, we ask that you provide a public report to Congress and the American public by January 26, 2018. In addition, we urge your companies to immediately take necessary steps to expose and deactivate accounts involved in this influence operation that violate your respective user policies.
United States Senate
United States House of Representatives
UPDATE: Feinstein, Schiff Send Follow Up Letter to Twitter and Facebook on #ReleaseTheMemo Campaign
Washington — Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, today sent a follow up letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg after the companies provided an incomplete response to their initial questions about the online #ReleaseTheMemo campaign. Late last week, Facebook and Twitter responded to Feinstein and Schiff’s initial letter — those responses can be found here and here).
In the initial letter, Feinstein and Schiff requested that Twitter and Facebook immediately conduct an in-depth forensic examination of the reported actions by Russian bots and trolls surrounding the #ReleaseTheMemo online campaign and how users were exposed to this campaign as a result of Russian efforts. According to the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy, this effort gained the instant attention and assistance of social media accounts linked to Russian influence operations. In this follow up letter, Feinstein and Schiff asked additional questions of Facebook and Twitter, and provided additional information to follow up on for the requested analysis.
Feinstein and Schiff write in this follow up letter: “Although we are encouraged by your companies’ continued willingness to work with Congress to raise awareness about potential abuse of your platforms by agents of foreign influence, your replies have raised more questions than they have answered.
“It is unclear from your responses whether you believe any of the Russian-linked accounts involved in this influence campaign violated your respective user policies,” the leaders wrote. “We reiterate our request that you immediately take necessary steps to expose and deactivate such accounts if you determine that they violate your respective user policies. We ask that you notify users who may have seen these foreign influence postings, and provide us with a description of proactive steps your companies are taking to identify, prevent, and thwart such foreign influence campaigns on your platforms in the future.”
Full letter is below – to see a PDF version click here:
January 31, 2018
Chief Executive Officer
1355 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
1 Hacker Way
Menlo Park, CA 94025
Dear Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Zuckerberg:
We appreciate your companies’ respective responses on January 26, 2018 to our joint letter dated January 22, 2018 seeking assistance to understand the role and extent of Russian-affiliated social media accounts involved in promoting the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag. Although we are encouraged by your companies’ continued willingness to work with Congress to raise awareness about potential abuse of your platforms by agents of foreign influence, your replies have raised more questions than they have answered.
It is unclear from your responses whether you believe any of the Russian-linked accounts involved in this influence campaign violated your respective user policies. We reiterate our request that you immediately take necessary steps to expose and deactivate such accounts if you determine that they violate your respective user policies. We ask that you notify users who may have seen these foreign influence postings, and provide us with a description of proactive steps your companies are taking to identify, prevent, and thwart such foreign influence campaigns on your platforms in the future.
The response from Facebook fails to indicate whether the company has conducted any analysis of the issue we raised concerning possible Russian-affiliated attempts to amplify calls to release a misleading, classified memo written by Republican staff on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (an online effort we will refer to broadly as the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign). And as more fully described below, Twitter inexplicably confined its response to “original content” and neglected to answer the question of whether Russian sources were actively engaged in promoting the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag, as illuminated by the Hamilton 68 dashboard of the German Marshall Fund.
As that dashboard made clear in the findings we asked you to investigate: “Content is not necessarily produced or created by Russian government operatives, although that is sometimes the case. Instead, the network often opportunistically amplifies content created by third parties not directly linked to Russia.” By failing to address whether Russian-tied online accounts on Twitter or Facebook were – or still are – amplifying the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign and related messaging, we are no closer to understanding Russia’s continuing interference in our democratic affairs.
On January 19, 2018, Twitter transmitted to Congress an update to its retrospective review of Russian activity on its platform and identified an additional 1,062 accounts connected to Russia that attempted to influence an American election that took place well over a year ago. We cannot wait another year to learn how Kremlin-linked trolls and bots are currently exploiting your platforms to influence debates going on in Congress today.
It is our belief that the core questions raised in our first letter remain largely unaddressed:
whether and how many accounts linked to Russian influence operations were involved in the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign;
the frequency and volume of their postings on this topic; and
how many legitimate Twitter and Facebook account holders have been exposed to this campaign.
We remain gravely concerned about any foreign attempts to undermine or discredit the ongoing inquiries by Congressional committees and Special Counsel Mueller into Russian active measures during the 2016 U.S elections. To that end, we are submitting a series of new questions stemming from our original request about any pro-Russian or Kremlin-linked efforts to promote the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign – whether through original content generation orthrough content amplification via automated, false, or “troll” accounts.
Although some of these questions and requests may appear more relevant to one platform or the other, we ask that your companies nonetheless provide responses with any information, data, or context that is relevant to our underlying concern: that Moscow has persevered undeterred in its attempts to manipulate or exploit social media conversations on politically divisive topics. As the 2018 election season begins in earnest, we cannot allow Russia or any other outside power to manipulate U.S. public opinion or degrade Americans’ trust in the authenticity of domestic political and policy debates.
We therefore ask that you provide responses to the following:
To the extent possible, please explain the analysis undertaken to assess the role that Kremlin-affiliated or -directed Twitter or Facebook accounts played in the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign online. Please provide relevant specific data for posts on your platform that referenced the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign and related messaging, including the volume of posts of original content versus reposts, and a geographical breakdown of original posts versus reposts.
Were these analyses limited only to those users previously identified as affiliated with the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) troll farm? Did your companies look at other Russian-linked online operatives or propagandists, including trolls, automated accounts, and “botnets?”
What types of “geographic data,” did your companies rely on, if any, to analyze potential Russian involvement in the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign? For instance, in its responses to Questions for the Record dated January 15, 2018 to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Twitter wrote that “there are technological limits to what we can determine based on the information we can detect regarding a user’s origin.” In this instance, did your companies’ analyses take into account IP addresses, users’ self-identified locations, or other data points? Did a focus on a limited set of geographic indicators for identifying Russian-affiliated users involved in the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign circumscribe the universe of social media accounts you examined? For instance, were accounts with European indicators included in your analyses?
Did your companies’ analyses focus solely on those accounts responsible for producing “original content” tied to the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign? Or did those analyses fully account for any efforts by online Russian-linked operatives or propagandists to re-share, retweet, or otherwise amplify the hashtag and related content – even if those social media accounts did not create the “original content?”
Did your companies identify any #ReleaseTheMemo-related content or discussion linked to Russian-affiliated accounts “jumping” or otherwise moving across your platforms? For instance, we know during the 2016 election that similar IRA-generated socially divisive content and messaging appeared on both of your platforms. Was any comparable analysis conducted in this case?
A recent media report suggested that more than 1,000 new Twitter accounts that were created between Thursday, January 18 and Sunday, January 21 combined to tweet or retweet the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag almost 5,000 times. That report also found “about 200 of the accounts had only sent four or fewer tweets by Sunday night, with at least one featuring the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag.” Did any of these accounts suggest linkages to Russian influence operatives engaging in manufactured amplification of the hashtag?
Another recent media report spotlighted how individuals and entities can purchase fraudulent or fake social media users to artificially raise their profiles online. To what extent have your companies analyzed if and how agents connected to the Russian government’s influence operations have employed this technique to boost Moscow’s disinformation campaigns online? And are you able to verify whether such inauthentic social media accounts bought in bulk were used by Russian-linked influence networks online to promote the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign?
As noted in our previous letter, Kremlin-linked social media accounts amplified WikiLeaks’ offer of $1 million for the misleading, Republican-authored memo. Did your companies specifically analyze the accounts retweeting or sharing WikiLeaks’ request for someone to leak the memo for potential links to Russian social media operatives or online agents?
Given the continued urgency that Congress and the public at large fully understand these matters, we ask that you provide a response to our original questions, as informed by our follow-up requests for additional information, by February 7, 2018.
Award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author MILO is joining longtime Donald Trump advisor and Republican strategist Roger Stone in an anti-trust lawsuit against social media giant Twitter.
In July 2016 MILO made headlines when Twitter permanently suspended his account following a negative review he wrote of the newly released, all-female Ghostbusters movie.
Stone had his account permanently suspended in late 2017 after posting several tweets with expletives. Both contend they did not violate Twitter’s terms of service and were targeted instead for arbitrary reasons.
In a statement about MILO joining the lawsuit, Roger Stone said:
We continue to explore a broad lawsuit challenging Twitter’s censorship and the hypocrisy of their rules for online conduct which seem to be disproportionately levied against conservative voices in an obvious attempt to silence us. Verified tweeters call for my murder online every day, but Twitter doesn’t ban them.
We believe it is time to expose their manipulation of algorithms, ‘shadowbanning’ and other online techniques used to limit our reach. It’s time for Twitter to be regulated like a public utility or perish. I am heartened that my friend Milo is prepared to join our legal action along with other conservatives who have been gagged by the Twitter censors.
In a January 11 statement about the anti-trust case, MILO said:
I am Patient Zero of the Twitter war against conservatives and libertarians. The company declared war on free speech when it banned me in July 2016. At the time, I appreciated the free press. But I have come to realize that Twitter’s recklessness and bias toward conservatives and free thinkers represents a threat to free speech and democracy, such is Twitter’s monopolistic grip on journalistic discourse.
Footage released this week by investigative journalists at Project Veritas reveal a defiantly biased company whose hateful and divisive political attitudes are robbing libertarians and conservative journalists and media personalities of the right to freely express their opinions in the press.
The biggest tech debate of the next decade is whether technology companies, in particular social networks, should be regulated as public utilities. It is becoming increasingly clear, given their rampant abuses, that they should. And Twitter is the worst offender of them all.
Since this video was released, Twitter has responded by stating the person in the undercover video has no authority over this type of release of information.
(San Francisco) A Project Veritas undercover investigation has revealed a senior network security engineer at Twitter stating that his company is “more than happy” to turn over the private communications and deleted tweets of President Donald Trump to the Department of Justice. If true, it is yet unknown whether Twitter is voluntarily disclosing this sensitive information or acting under a court order. Twitter is currently in the midst of defending itself from left-leaning criticism that President Trump hasn’t been removed from the enormous media platform for violations of Twitter’s Terms of Service.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Clay Haynes has been employed by Twitter since September 2016. On January 3, 2018, he met with a Project Veritas undercover journalist (UCJ) at Stookeys Club Moderne in San Francisco. Using a hidden video camera, the Veritas UCJ captures Haynes stating that “we’re more than happy to help the DOJ with their little investigation” of President Trump.
When prompted by the UCJ, Mr. Haynes provides additional details, “Basically, giving them every single tweet that he’s posted. Even the ones he’s deleted, any direct messages, any mentions…”
“…he’s dangerous, I don’t like him and he’s a terrible human being and I want to get rid of him,” the self-described bleeding-heart liberal Haynes says in the video about President Trump. “In fact, we had internal reviews about that…”
On January 7, 2018, James O’Keefe himself went undercover with Haynes at Morton’s Steakhouse in San Francisco to confirm if Twitter was working with the Department of Justice to hand over Trump’s tweets and DMs. When pressed about looking at Donald Trump’s messages, Haynes explained “We have a subpoena process for that very reason.” The conversation continued:
James O’Keefe: “Are you working with DOJ currently on that?”
Clay Haynes: “I can’t comment, even if I knew, I wouldn’t comment.”
“The fact is, even if Haynes was just speculating about helping Justice, his admission shows a clear and dangerous political bias at the highest levels of Twitter,” says Project Veritas founder and President James O’Keefe in the video.
“The question is: by Twitter giving private information about the President to the Justice Department, are they breaking the law, betraying a trust, following an official request or satisfying a political agenda by leading a crusade against the President.”
Describing himself as the bouncer of the network, Mr. Haynes also details the level of information Twitter retains in its databases about their hundreds of millions of users.
The Project Veritas Twitter investigation is the fourth installment of its American Pravda series. In Part I, Veritas disclosed that CNN’s Russia coverage is driven by ratings and a political agenda, but in reality, using the words of CNN Political Commentator Van Jones, is just a “nothing burger.” Part II disclosed a political bias at The New York Times which forced executive responses and an immediate change of their social media policy. Part III exposed political bias at The Washington Post and brought to light that the far-reaching narratives of the paper’s editorial board are not rooted in the factual findings of their subject-matter expert reporters. Project Veritas will be releasing additional Twitter-related videos over the next several days.
Mr. O’Keefe has just completed a book about this series entitled “AMERICAN PRAVDA: My fight for Truth in the Era of Fake News.” The book will be released by St. Martin’s Press on January 16, 2018.
Twitter celebrated with #ThingsITrustMorethanFoxNews:
Fixed it for you: “We at @CNN wholeheartedly apologize to @WikiLeaks for broadcasting fake news about them, will come clean about how this happened and fire those found to be responsible.” https://t.co/9jwlmUNBen
“We try and explain what makes him popular,” said Joyojeet Pal, U-M assistant professor of information. “Modi’s irony provides a form of political spectacle and resonated on social media as shown by high retweeting of his sarcastically worded messages.”
India’s ‘Twitter-in-chief’: Decoding Modi’s social media brand
ANN ARBOR—With 36 million followers on Twitter, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the world’s No. 2 most popular politician in the Twittersphere after Donald Trump.
The way Modi uses sarcasm against his opponents is the focus of a new University of Michigan School of Information study that analyzed more than 9,000 tweets by Modi over a six-year period.
“We try and explain what makes him popular,” said Joyojeet Pal, U-M assistant professor of information. “Modi’s irony provides a form of political spectacle and resonated on social media as shown by high retweeting of his sarcastically worded messages.”
Published in the International Journal of Communication, the study examined the Twitter account of Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) to show how he used political irony and sarcasm to become broadly appealing and refashion his political style.
The researchers coded the tweets into nine broad themes: cricket, Rahul Gandhi (opposition leader), entertainment, sarcasm, corruption, development, foreign affairs, Hinduism, and science and technology.
After coding, they found that sarcastic tweets were closely concentrated around election and campaigning cycles.”
In many of Modi’s tweets during national elections, he referred to the main opposition party as corrupt and Ghandi, its rising leader who also has a huge Twitter following, as “Rahul Baba” or “Shahzada (prince).”
By using humor and sarcasm, he was signaling that the party was not in touch with its roots and letting his own followers get the inside joke, the researchers said.
Here is an example of a Modi tweet, which garnered 2,545 retweets: “The way Rahul Baba is making statements with a dash of comedy in them, I think the TV show of Kapil Sharma may soon have to shut shop.”
According to the U-M researchers, Modi’s use of sarcasm builds on a longer tradition of slogan humor during political rallies.
“There are plenty of attacks, rhetoric, cleverly worded jibes and jokes,” Pal said.
Although social media did not reach many of the traditional rural and peri-urban upper caste Hindu voters of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, they extended the prime minister’s appeal to a new young urban constituency.
“After the election, the sarcasm and mention of Gandhi disappears,” Pal said. “Instead, the celebrity mentions and tweets about foreign policy increase dramatically.”
According to the researchers, the sarcasm helped separate Hindutva-oriented content, which is traditionally more divisive than the pan-Indian patriotic rhetoric of “India First,” through which Modi has gained a more secular standing.
“The power of Modi’s message is in the juxtaposition of his past as a train station tea-seller alongside his present as a selfie-clicking leader of a strong aspirational but fundamentally nationalist state,” Pal said. “Sarcasm is as much a message from Modi as it is a message about him.”
Donald Trump’s tweet about Kim Jong-Un calling him “old” really only scratched the surface of the insults North Korea has hurled. In state run media, which has made the use of the word “dotard” a household term, he is also referred to regularly as a lunatic, hard-of-hearing maniac, hysterical warmonger, rogue gangster and mentally deranged barking dog.
In 2014, during the release of the satirical comedy “The Interview,” North Korea unleashed a string of insults against President Obama (translations vary):
“Obama always goes reckless in words and deeds, like a monkey in a tropical forest.”
“You can also tell this by his appearance and behavior, and while it may be because he is a crossbreed, one cannot help thinking the more one sees him that he has escaped from a monkey’s body.”
“(He) still has the figure of monkey while the human race has evolved through millions of years.”
“does not even have the basic appearances of a human being”