A small group of advertising industry insiders have developed a novel campaign for this years’ ad awards season — nominating Russia’s misinformation and manipulation efforts for an award.
According to a report in The New Yorker, these ad insiders have already put the case study they made for Russia’s election interference — “ProjectMeddle.com” — up for a Webby Award.
The Webbys is an award ceremony that purports to provide accolades and acknowledgement to “the best of the internet”.
The submission video itself is something to see.
Working with a team of volunteers, the advertising professionals make a compelling case for Russia’s work as a masterpiece of marketing and immoral suasion.
The industry insiders use the language of marketing to call attention to the blatant manipulation of the system to disseminate Russian propaganda and misinformation.
The campaign also notes that the Russian-backed campaigns tried to exploit popular apps like Pokemon Go and social media blogging platforms to create “news” to advance their agenda.
It’s impossible to argue that these messages didn’t have at least some impact on the election results given the scope and reach the campaigns enjoyed.
The decision to submit the campaign to awards organizations was made to confront the industry with its own hypocrisy. And ideally encourage executives to take action.
“My hope is that, of all the powerful people sitting in that room, at least a few of them go, ‘What am I doing to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again?’ ”, one of the participants told The New Yorker.
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At least one Facebook employee has been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into potential Russian interference with the 2016 election, reports Wired. But don’t put on your conspiracy hats just yet.
Wired’s source indicated that the Facebook staffer was associated with the Trump campaign, which could mean just about anything. For a major spender on social media, which that campaign certainly was, it is common for Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other properties selling ads to have a liaison with the client.
Since Facebook is also up to its eyes on Russia-related inquiries, it makes perfect sense that someone acting as go-between or advisor for the company and the campaign would be interviewed as a matter of course. Certainly no wrongdoing is implied.
The Facebook staffer would be the primary source for any information relating to Trump campaign spending, including whether or not there was any knowledge of or involvement in the Russian side of things — again, not to imply anything, just to say if there’s anything to know, that person would know it.
As Facebook was more strongly targeted by Russian bots and trolls during the election than its rivals, it makes sense that it would be pulled in like this, but don’t be surprised if others have a chance to chat with the special counsel’s team as well. I’ve asked Facebook for comment.
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Two leading Democrats in Congress are calling for new disclosures from Facebook and Twitter about Russian disinformation campaigns on their platforms.
In a letter, Rep. Adam Schiff and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, minority leads on the House Intel and Senate Judiciary committees respectively, called for the two tech companies to release any information that have about Russian ties to the recent social media campaign around a controversial memo written by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes. The pair argues that there is evidence that Russian bots promoted Nunes’ political agenda and the public deserves to know about it, citing last week’s Business Insider story “Russia-linked Twitter accounts are working overtime to help Devin Nunes and WikiLeaks.”
The new Russian bot debate surrounds a hashtag known as #releasethememo. #Releasethememo sprung up to call on Congress to declassify the Nunes memo, which is either a damning account of corruption in the investigation into Russia’s efforts to undermine the 2016 election or a craven gesture to create political cover for a doomed president, depending on who you ask.
As Feinstein and Schiff’s letter argues, #releasethememo is tainted by Russian influence:
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.
Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Richard Blumenthal also published a similar letter on Tuesday calling on Twitter specifically to answer questions about Russian disinformation campaigns and related political hashtags.
The letter goes on to request that Twitter and Facebook examine these links to “Russian influence operations,” including “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.” With a request for this information by January 26, the members of Congress give the two companies a deadline they’re unlikely to meet, assuming they choose to cooperate. If the companies do conduct an investigation and issue reports on #releasethememo, Feinstein and Schiff’s play could easily backfire. We should know by now that 1) these companies aren’t particularly good at conducting comprehensive internal analyses on foreign disinformation campaigns and 2) tons of fake news and political propaganda is generated domestically too. Still, the more info on this kind of stuff that Congress can wring out of Facebook and Twitter, the better.
Nunes, who serves as the chairman of the House Intel Committee, is a controversial figure. That committee, along with considerably less chaotic Senate counterpart, is investigating Russian interference in the U.S. election. Last year, Nunes created a lot of attention for himself by amplifying misleading claims that the Obama administration had “wiretapped” President Trump (for clarification on this bit, read a little about how a FISA warrant is obtained. Hint: It doesn’t involve the White House). His memo purports to provide evidence, or at least talking points, around the claim that the FBI somehow abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in its effort to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Given his proven track record of partisanship and pandering to the White House, it’s difficult to take something authored by Nunes that seriously, regardless of what it claims to prove. Still, a broader Republican effort to release the memo suggests that a chunk of Congress thinks (or hopes) it might cause a stir. Oddly enough, many of those same Republican members of Congress just voted overwhelmingly to support Section 702, a portion of FISA that would appear to contradict the position of outrage over recent “wiretapping” claims.
Whatever ends up coming of the potentially Russia-influenced effort to #releasethememo, it’s clear that after dragging Facebook and Twitter over the coals on Russia, some members of Congress are happy to casually knock on tech’s door for evidence that might undermine their political opposition. Whether that’s good (transparency!) or bad (partisanship!), it’s definitely strange, and we can expect tech’s relationship with Congress to get even stranger in 2018.
The full letter is embedded below.
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