Inside the Russian Troll Factory

— Leaked documents reveal details of anti-U.S. operations by Russian trolls

The Internet Research Agency (IRA), a pro-Putin “troll factory” based in St. Petersburg, recently found fame after it was indicted for allegedly trying to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election.

Leaked documents reveal details about the IRA’s operations, including online posts criticising U.S. domestic and foreign policy, plus a lexicon of common Internet slang terms that staff at the factory were instructed to use when arguing with commenters online.

55 Savushkina Street (source)

Russian newspaper My Area (MR7.ru) first published the documents in 2015 while the IRA was allegedly engaged in efforts to interfere in the U.S. election.

The documents set out a list of “general requirements” for publishing Russian propaganda on Live Journal, including “obligatory use of keywords in the text” and “use of graphic images or videos, found on Youtube, on the topic of the post.”

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The leaked documents include a 119-page set of guidelines titled “Assignments to the Kremlin for Savushkin, 55,” containing directives requiring staff at the factory to write about certain subjects, or “themes.”

One directive instructed staff to write negative posts about U.S. domestic policy regarding “regular cases of mass shooting of people.”

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Via Google Translate:

Theme number 4. USA

The main idea: We form a negative attitude to US domestic policy. There are regular cases of mass shooting of people

News: In the United States for two days there were two cases of shooting, which resulted in the deaths of several people

It went on to blame U.S. gun crime on “Democratic” support for gun rights:

Mass shooting in the US occurs with a terrifying frequency. According to information experts, in the United States, mass executions of citizens occur every month. In almost all cases, people die from personal weapons that are not closely monitored. In this regard, often the victims are children who kill with weapons taken from parents. These tragedies are due to the vague and ‘Democratic’ position of the authorities, which simplified the rules for obtaining weapons, pushing, therefore, irresponsible people to lynch.

Another directive instructed staff to write about the “lawlessness of the American police.”

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Via Google Translate:

Theme number 2. USA.

The main idea: The lawlessness of the American police, coupled with a biased judicial system create instability and problems in society.

News: Two policemen injured during shooting in New York.

It went on to comment on the social instability created by institutional racism:

Enormous powers, impunity and deeply entrenched racism…in the ranks of the police [coupled with] incidents involving the murder of both ordinary citizens of the United States, and policemen, show how fragile social stability is in the States.

A third directive instructed staff to write negatively about then-president Barack Obama because he’d expressed support for The Interview, Seth Rogen’s 2014 satire of the North Korean dictatorship, after the film was cancelled by distributor Sony (the company later reversed its decision).

The directive quotes a lesser-known 2016 presidential candidate, Matthew Pinnavaia from San Diego, who—according to the IRA—once criticised Obama for his “immoral policy towards the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

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Via Google Translate:

Theme number 1. USA

The main idea: Negative attitude to the foreign policy of the state, conducted by Obama; US politicians have to apologise for the actions of the president of the country

News: Member of the presidential race in the US apologised to the DPRK

It went on to claim that Obama’s comments were negatively viewed as being reflective of U.S. foreign policy:

The policy of US President Barack Obama raises doubts among many American politicians. That actions of the state on the international scene shows that the US only take their point of view and does not want to listen to public opinion. In connection with this, American politicians have apologised for the actions of the president and the foreign policy of the country.

Lastly, the leaked documents include a lexicon of common Internet slang terms, such as “butthurt” (“literally ‘asshole pain’”) and “oldfag,” to be used in arguments with commenters online.

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Via Google Translate, here’s the IRA’s preamble to the lexicon:

A successful dispute with an opposition commentator [requires] literate speech that fits into the traditional slang of a site on which the employee works. Moreover, posts written using the necessary words (by situation) will not cause readers unnecessary questions, as bloggers of this kind are trusted more than ordinary political reviewers.

And here are some notable entries from the lexicon itself, including a definition for “trolling” that explicitly excludes “writing articles to order”:

BUTTHURT – (English butt – ass, hurt-pain, literally “asshole pain” or “Попоболь”) Possessor of Butthurt is distinguished by exceptionally strong negative reaction to insult or sarcastic depreciation…Like all the words of Internet slang, it was coined at the dawn of the development of the first world Internet forums. Also, the only way to combat this term is the most popular meme-weapon.

GTFO – (abbr. From English Get the fuck out (off) please leave the conversation / conversation…As a rule, it is applied to speakers exclusively on Internet slang users, in order to respond by counterattacking their insults / statements. Example: “Proof or GTFO from here”. (referring to an opposition commentator or blogger).

NEWFAG – (English new faggot: new – “new”, faggot – “faggot”)…the term defining the Internet user “newcomer” (that is, a recently registered user). Was invented on the well-known Internet-resources, but it is also used extensively in the blogosphere. Akin to the meaning of the term “Oldfag”, and is practically synonymous with the words “noob” (English noob, newbie – “Beginner”, “kettle”), “lamer” and “kettle”. Example: “You are here recently, yes, Newfag? News you do not read, you do not follow the events, but just screaming, how bad are you?”

OLDFAG – (English old faggot: old – old, faggot – “faggot”)…definition of “the old Internet inhabitant” namely, a user who has long used the Internet and with an extensive list of known memes, news or events…Akin to meaning with the term “newfag”. Example: “Of course, I’m not exactly oldfag, but I do not remember anything like that! And you, by chance, do you think up?” (when communicating with opposition bloggers).

PROOF – (English Proof, proof) content (whether it’s a picture, a link, a video), confirming what has been said. As a rule, proof is a requirement for an interlocutor to provide proof of his words. Example: “Proof of your words, in my opinion you’re lying, sir!”.

CANCER – [The] highest degree of idiocy on the Internet…Cancer is not an insult. This is rather a definition. So it is possible to name everyone a commentator, who is viciously insulting any of his interlocutors. Cancer does not possess sufficient intelligence to simply leave empty quarrels in the comments, so the only way to deal with “fasting cancer” is to remove from the discussion. An example of a comment from such a commentator: “You are all idiots, lol! All! And you’re an idiot, you think that you’re right? You’re an idiot!”

TROLL – [The] goal of the troll is the production of a quarrel, the topic of which is knowingly offensive to his interlocutor (actually, the main food of the troll is the butthurt). It is worth remembering that trolling is not writing articles to order, it’s not flood and off-topic in posts and comments, and certainly not household quarrel between Internet users. Trolling is a deliberate provocation interlocutor for the purpose of simply ridiculing the opponent in dialogue. There is an unspoken classification of “cattle-trolling” (outright nonsense, which is very simple), “thick trolling” (an unsuccessful attempt of the troll to provoke the interlocutor, which is also quite easy to figure out, but this attempt is complicated in meaning) and “thin trolling” (a clever provocation, which is easy to tell, and which is really hard to figure out). As a rule, the troll, who was discovered, is removed from the dialog. An example of an extremely unsuccessful trolling: “And I’m for Ukraine! And there is no war, the Russian the army is at war! And Moscow is guilty, she organised EuroMaidan to destroy Ukraine.” And the correct answer to it: “Too thick, green, go to the oven, you are not wanted here.”

Update, February 28, 2018: An Arizona Republic survey published yesterday has determined that Russian Twitter trolls sought to smear John McCain by peddling a doctored photo of the AZ Senator posing with ISIS extremists, who follow a strict, orthodox form of Sunni Islam. McCain is identified for criticism in the leaked documents as a supporter of Sunnism:

[Saddam Hussein’s] “Ba’ath” was predominantly a Sunni party [and so] the Sunni part of the country (more than a third population) had protection…

A group of American senators believes that the demands of the Sunnis are quite fair. And among these people there is even John McCain.

However, as many newspapers and websites have pointed out, McCain isn’t the most reliable speaker on the Middle East, and has frequently confused Sunnis and Shiites.

Russian Troll Factory Whistleblower Blasts Media

— Whistleblower Lyudmila Savchuk criticises media misrepresentations of her by Fox News, The Daily Mail, The Los Angeles Times, and others

Last week, I published archived job ads for the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a pro-Putin “troll factory” based in St. Petersburg that was recently indicted for allegedly meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

Via “Here Are Some Job Ads For The Russian Troll Factory” by Jane Lytvynenko, BuzzFeed News, February 22, 2018:

Job ads from the IRA posted before the election give a sense of the kind of person the agency was looking for and how it helped weed out candidates. The ads were posted on Russian employment websites in 2014 and 2015 and the address listed in them matches the known location of the IRA’s headquarters. The blog Shooting the Messenger first posted some of the job ads.

I also published an archived job review by a former IRA employee, who claimed that applicants were expected to work for free, and were dismissed when they tried to negotiate full-time job contracts.

Those claims are supported by another former troll factory employee, Russian freelance journalist and whistleblower Lyudmila Savchuk, who in 2015 sued IRA for non-payment of wages and for failing to provide employees with proper contracts.

Lyudmila Savchuk (source)

Savchuk was recently identified as a “former troll” in articles by Fox News, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Mail, and others.

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In a Facebook post published Tuesday, Savchuk criticised the media for misrepresenting her.

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Via Google Translate:

Colleagues, this text is very unpleasant to me, but I publish it. This is an appeal to the media.

Let’s get acquainted once again. If you take a comment or an interview from me, then you should make sure that I was correctly represented in the output.

I am a journalist, public activist and researcher of the problem of propaganda. At the troll factory, I conducted a personal investigation to find out how this works, and – most importantly! – How can you fight this problem. Any other use of my image is unacceptable; Do not deceive your readers and me.

If you call me to talk about “a former troll not listed in the FBI list,” then just do not call me. I understand that you do not have enough real trolls and you need to give blood from the nose to the actual material. But you do not need to communicate with me as an expert, which I am, and then use it to create an entertaining, but fake picture. Now I continue my studies, I lecture, I work on projects related to the media, I’m writing a book. I can tell you interesting, important things, and do not necessarily humiliate me to make interesting material.

If you want to talk about Russian propaganda, do not use her methods in your articles and stories. Remain professional.

The problem of propaganda and disinformation is too serious, and I am seriously concerned about it, and I do what I can. Activists in St. Petersburg are beaten and pressed in the police, we live in eternal tension and fear. And I ask you, dear media, to take our actions seriously. I ask you to remember about the journalistic responsibility to the readers and people about whom you write.

BuzzFeed Unearths Recruitment Ads for Russian Troll Factory

— The notorious troll factory posted ads on Russian job websites in mid-2014 and 2015 while allegedly engaged in operations to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election

Yesterday, I blogged that the recently indicted Russian troll factory, Internet Research Agency (IRA), recruited its U.S. election-meddling troll army of “kremlebots” via conspicuous online job ads, then allegedly expected successful applicants to work for free.

Today, BuzzFeed picked-up the story.

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Via “Here Are Some Job Ads For The Russian Troll Factory” by Jane Lytvynenko, BuzzFeed News, February 22, 2018:

The Internet Research Agency, now commonly known as the Russian troll factory, has gained international fame for its work during the 2016 US election, and the resulting indictments of 13 people announced by the Department of Justice last week.

Job ads from the IRA posted before the election give a sense of the kind of person the agency was looking for and how it helped weed out candidates. The ads were posted on Russian employment websites in 2014 and 2015 and the address listed in them matches the known location of the IRA’s headquarters. The blog Shooting the Messenger first posted some of the job ads.

One ad posting was for a social media specialist, offering a monthly salary of 40,000 rubles, or about $700.

The responsibilities included preparing “thematic posts,” publishing content, growing social audiences, and monitoring social media, blogs, and groups.

When it came to skills, the IRA wanted candidates he knew how to write “informational texts” and create an online community. It also asked for applicants with a sense of responsibility, initiative, and an “active life position.”

[…]

One uniting factor for all of these ads is a desire for energetic applicants. The ads also sought out people with “active life position,” “vigor,” “perseverance,” “ambition,” and the “ability to clearly and structurally express their thoughts.”

But with job postings come job reviews, and one reviewed by BuzzFeed News was not positive about work at the troll factory.

The review, from 2014, complained about being asked to do unpaid work for two days before being hired.

“The company invites you for the content manager for a vacancy, they give you a test task, when you do it, they invite you to an internship, 2 days for 8 hours. When you try to hint that it’s already full-time work and it would be nice to negotiate the terms of the employment contract, you hear ‘I’m sorry, you’re not a good fit’ in return,” the reviewer wrote said.

They wrote that that the other candidates doing the “internship” were largely between 18 and 20 years.

Read the full article by clicking here.

Update, via “Job ads reveal work of Russian troll farm employees” by Max Greenwood, The Hill, February 22, 2018:

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Job postings for the Russian troll factory that allegedly meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election sought prospective employees with coding and social media skills and promised work on “interesting projects.”

The job listings for the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency were placed on Russian employment websites in 2014 and 2015, BuzzFeed News reported Thursday. Some of the listings first surfaced on a blog Wednesday.

One listing for a social media specialist position advertised a monthly salary of 40,000 rubles – about $700 – and said the job would require composing “thematic posts,” monitoring social media and growing social followings, according to BuzzFeed.

Another listing for a web programmer job offered prospective employees 60,000 rubles per month, or about $1,060, and advertised that the successful candidate would be part of a “friendly team” and work on “interesting projects.”

Read the full article by clicking here.

Russian Election Trolls Were Recruited via Online Job Posts

— Russian troll factory recruited “kremlebots” via conspicuous online job ads, allegedly expected applicants to work for free

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice released the latest round of indictments in the federal investigation into alleged election meddling.

The indictments name 13 Russian nationals who allegedly “engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes” on behalf of the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a notorious pro-Putin “troll farm” based in Saint Petersburg.

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According to the indictments, IRA trolls purchased “political advertisements on social media in the names of U.S. persons and entities,” organised “political rallies inside the United States…while posing as U.S. grassroots entities and U.S. persons,” and “without revealing their Russian association,” even “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”

It would appear that members of IRA’s so-called troll army were carefully selected-and-vetted masters of political subterfuge.

However, archived job posts show the company recruited staff by placing conspicuous-sounding ads on Russian job websites, then allegedly expected successful applicants to work for free.

The ads for “Social Networking Specialist,” “Media Monitoring Specialist,” and “Content Manager,” among otherswere placed mid-2014, around the same time it’s alleged that IRA began operations to interfere in the 2016 election.

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Via Google Translate:

LLC Internet Research

St. Petersburg

Required work experience: 1-3 years

Full time, full day

SMM Manager / Social Networking Specialist / SMM Specialist

Duties:

Conducting projects in social networks
Preparation of thematic posts
Content placement
Work with reviews
Development and implementation of mechanisms to attract the audience of social networks
Conducting groups in social networks: filling with information content, links, surveys
Monitoring company mentions on the network
Monitoring of target groups
Monitoring social networks and the blogosphere

Requirements:

Knowledge of the basics of SMM / SMO
Competent Russian language
Experience of successful work with social networks (content and attracting the audience)
Creativity of thinking
The ability to write information texts
Confident PC user Responsibility, dedication, active life position, initiative, diligence, ability to work in a team
The experience of creating a community (launching and maintaining discussions)
Own active blog or group in social networks

Conditions:

Opportunity for professional growth and career development
Work in a young and friendly team
Working hours: 5/2
Wages up to 40,000 rubles
Staraya Derevnya, m. Chernaya Rechka
Full time in the employer’s territory

According to a post by a former IRA intern on another Russian job website that allows employees to review their employers, a revolving door of “very young adolescent 18-20-year-old” applicants were expected to work for free at the behest of the “ubiquitous aunt Tatyana”—presumably referring to Tatyana Kazakbayeva, who according to Business Insider used to work at the company.

In 2015, IRA was sued by a former employee, St. Petersburg resident Lyudmila Savchuk, for non-payment of wages and for failing to give employees proper working contracts.

Savchuck received symbolic damages of one rouble after reaching an agreement with her former employer.

Techdirt Hoists Would-Be Speech Censors

— Techdirt douses German government’s “Raging Dumpster Fire Of Censorial Stupidity”

Last week, I highlighted abuse of Germany’s newly implemented speech law, NetzDG, intended to regulate the spread of disinformation and hateful rhetoric online.

Yesterday, Techdirt hoisted the would-be censors who are abusing the new law.

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Via “Germany’s Speech Laws Continue To Be A Raging Dumpster Fire Of Censorial Stupidity” by Tim Cushing, Techdirt, February 21, 2018:

Germany’s new law, targeting hate speech and other unpleasantness online, is off to a roaring start. Instead of cleaning up the internet for German consumption, the law has been instrumental in targeting innocuous posts by politicians and taking down satirical content. The law is a bludgeon with hefty fines attached. This has forced American tech companies to be proactive, targeting innocuous content and satire before the German government comes around with its hand out.

It took only 72 hours for the new law (Netzwerkdurchsezungsgesetz, or NetzDG) to start censoring content that didn’t violate the law. Some German officials have expressed concern, but the government as a whole seems content to let more censorship of lawful content occur before the law is given a second look. The things critics of the law said would happen have happened. And yet the law remains in full effect.

The spirit is willing but the body is weak, Sterling Jones says in the opening of his excellent post detailing more blundering attempts by the German government to enforce its terrible law.

While intended to stop the spread of disinformation and hateful rhetoric online, recently published “local law” complaints show that would-be censors are using NetzDG to target all variety of content, including mainstream news stories, sexual words and images, an anti-Nazi online forum, and criticism of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and of the NetzDG law itself.

So, that’s how the law is working out. Sterling’s post is filled with takedown notices forwarded to the Lumen Database — all of them targeting speech that doesn’t appear to be unlawful even under Germany’s screwed up laws.

Read the full article by clicking here.

Erdoğan Censorship Demand Links Him to ISIS

— Turkey’s authoritarian president demands U.S. social media giants censor critical posts, tweets, and satirical cartoons linking him to Islamic terrorism

In 2016 and 2017, I blogged about takedown demands sent by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, targeting satirical cartoons and “humiliating” news reports comparing him to Hitler.

Turkey’s censorious circus continues with yet another round of online takedown requests, this time targeting “insulting” posts about its authoritarian leader, who in recent years has jailed hundreds of journalists and critics as part of a sweeping media crackdown.

The illicit content concerns Erdoğan’s alleged ties to Islamic terrorism, including claims by a former Turkish government official that the Turkish president helped fund ISIS and other militant groups in Syria through a non-governmental charitable organisation.

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The claims were published by British investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed, whose in-depth report about Turkey’s terrorist ties is just one of several critical posts included in a lengthy ten-page court order that earlier this month was sent to U.S. tech and social media companies on behalf of the Turkish president himself.

According to the February 2 court order, “hurtful, exaggerated words…constitute a criminal offence against the President of the country” because “a significant segment of society identifies themselves with political leaders” and because “the insults that have been made and reflected to the public have caused reactions to increase polarisation in society…with many killings and injuries.”

In the interests of full disclosure, here are a few notable examples of the “hurtful, exaggerated words” and images cited in the order:

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Mumbai Cyber Police Shut Down Gay Modi Photoshop

— BuzzFeed deletes homoerotic photoshop of Indian prime minister following legal threats from Mumbai police, highlighting gay rights issues, censorship in India

The doctored image, which depicts Indian PM Narendra Modi embracing his right-hand man Rajnath Singh on an idyllic beach, is one of 18 related images included in a January 4, 2016 BuzzFeed listicle by Imaan Sheikh, “18 Modi Photoshops That Should’ve Never Fucking Happened.”

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On Wednesday, that number mysteriously dropped to 17.

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In a comment, a spokesperson for BuzzFeed said:

BuzzFeed India removed the image in question after receiving a notice from the Mumbai Police alleging defamation.

It’s not the first time police in Mumbai have tried to censor the homoerotic photoshop.

In November, Mumbai’s cyber crime department ordered Google to block the allegedly “defamatory morphed/vulgar photos” as published on BuzzFeed, Facebook, Twitter, and others, on the basis that the offending images were intended to “create UNREST, BREACH of PEACE which might result in LAW & ORDER problems in Maharashtra, India.”

The department also demanded that Google hand over personal information about the creator of the photos, including mobile phone numbers, e-mail and IP addresses. 

Via the Lumen Database, which archives online takedown requests:

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As of publication, all but two of the flagged Facebook links are still searchable using Google.

There’s no evidence Google possesses or handed over any of the requested personal information.

Homosexuality is a taboo subject in India. A colonial-era law still in force today, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, forbids “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”—that includes gay sex—with offenders facing fines and up to 10 years in jail.

India’s home minister, who is depicted as Modi’s beau in the gay beach photoshop, previously said he supported Section 377 because “we [referring to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is chaired by Modi] believe that homosexuality is an unnatural act that cannot be supported.”

Recently, publishers have joined gay Indians in the legal cross hairs.

As reported by The Washington Post earlier this week, it’s becoming “increasingly difficult” for journalists and editors in India to do their jobs due to frivolous legal threats by Modi loyalists.

Loyalists to the country’s powerful Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, have bullied editors into taking down critical stories, hushed government bureaucrats and shifted from the common practice of filing defamation cases to lodging more serious criminal complaints, which can mean jail time and take years in India’s overburdened court system.

Modi, popular but thin-skinned, has effectively cut off the mainstream media, forgoing news conferences to communicate directly with his vast electorate through Twitter, where he has 40 million followers. India fell three spots on the World Press Freedom Index to 136 in 2017, according to the watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, below Afghanistan and Burma, because of growing self-censorship and the activity of Hindu nationalists trying to purge “anti-nationalist” thought, the group said.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s minister for electronics and information technology, denies that his government has attempted to impede press freedom.

Via the WashPost:

[Prasad] said any suggestion that the government was hampering press freedom was “completely wrong.”

“Obviously you can see how many newspapers and channels are critical of us, blasting my government,” he said.

Fake News Ban Targets Political Speech, Sexual Content

— Germany’s recent fake news ban is already being abused by would-be censors

The Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz (NetzDG) law, which came into force in October, requires social media websites to remove “fake news” and “hate speech” or risk fines of up to 50 million euros (40 million pounds).

While intended to stop the spread of disinformation and hateful rhetoric online, recently published “local law” complaints show that would-be censors are using NetzDG to target all variety of content, including mainstream news stories, sexual words and images, an anti-Nazi online forum, and criticism of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and of the NetzDG law itself.

That’s according to the Lumen Database, which archives online takedown requests.

Anti-NetzDG campaign: “Think ban on criticism” (source)

German author Martin Hilpert was among the first to be targeted for allegedly committing “criminal offences” under NetzDG.

On his Google Plus profile, Hilpert has published dozens of posts criticising Chancellor Merkel’s immigration policies and calling for her immediate dismissal.

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In October, Google received a request to remove “problematic” content from Hilpert’s account on the basis that his political views allegedly constitute “hate speech or political extremism” under NetzDG.

He’s not the only one in the cross hairs.

Two prominent German news publishers, centre-right newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) and tech website Heise online, have both had similar complaints lodged against them.

The complaint against FAZ states that the newspaper engaged in “harmful or dangerous acts” for a story about NATO, while the complaint against Heise states that the tech website engaged in “hate speech or political extremism” for publishing concerns by the EU Commission that NetzDG could lead to “possible abuse by governments seeking to limit freedom of expression.”

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From there, the censorious slope only gets slippier.

Last month, a Google Plus forum called NaziLeaks that exposes and ridicules neo-Nazis online was targeted for “discrimination, insults, defamation” and for being “extremely political.”

A separate takedown request for a photo of a snowman dressed like Hitler (allegedly containing “terrorist or unconstitutional content”) is probably unlikely to win over skeptics of the new bán.

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Next on the list of offending items, a perennial favourite of the would-be censor: sex.

Targets include a book of semi-nude photos of model Emily Ratajkowski (“sexual discrimination”), a forum for “friends to talk and exchange” that includes a soft focus nude photo (“pornographic”), and a public invitation for sex (“indecent”).

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While the few examples included here are all still available to view online, hundreds more aren’t.

As reported by Politico, last month Twitter deleted tweets by satirical magazine Titanic, comedian Sophie Passmann, and far-right politician Beatrix von Storch after receiving local law complaints.

It’s unclear how social media platforms determine what constitutes fake news.

The Takedown Conspiracy (Redux)

— TechDirt, Volokh Conspiracy hoist mystery defamer claimer

Earlier this week, I blogged about an anonymous defamation takedown request of articles by The Washington Post and Techdirt re: forged court orders intended to force Google to deindex links.

Yesterday, Techdirt and The Volokh Conspiracy hoisted the mystery complainant.

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Via “Techdirt, Volokh Conspiracy Targeted With Bogus Defamation Claim For Publishing A Bunch Of Facts” by Tim Cushing, Techdirt, February 9, 2018:

Last spring, Mike Masnick covered a completely fake court order that was served to Google to make some unflattering information disappear. The court order targeted some posts by a critic of a local politician.

Ken Haas, a member of the New Britain (CT) city commission got into an online argument with a few people. When things didn’t go his way, Haas played a dubious trump card:

Several months ago, he got into a public controversy with local activist Robert Berriault — allegedly, when someone got in a Facebook political spat with Haas, he responded by writing, “You do know I have access to ALL city records, including criminal and civil, right???” Berriault took that to be a threat that Haas would misuse that access for political purposes and wrote about this on the New Britain Independent site, as well as in a not-much-noticed change.org petition calling for Haas’s removal.

Following this, a delisting request was sent to Google with a supposed Connecticut federal court order attached. But the judge who signed it (John W. Darrah) didn’t exist, the word “state” was misspelled (as “Sate”), and the docket number had already been used for another, existing civil case…

Invaluable scourer of the Lumen database, Dean Jones, points out another bogus attempt to delist online content has been made — targeting posts at both Techdirt and the Volokh Conspiracy.

Now it emerges that an anonymous complainant has sent Google a defamation complaint requesting the removal of the two articles from its search results, citing a 1979 Supreme Court case concerning the public disclosure of personal information.

Yes, this one is styled as a defamation takedown request, even though both articles are factual and contain receipts. The takedown notice cites a Supreme Court decision that has nothing to do with either post, despite the claims made in the notice.

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Via “Someone Trying to Vanish My Post About Someone Trying to Vanish Another Post” by Eugene Volokh, Reason, February 9, 2018:

Who submitted the forged order to Google? Commissioner Haas seems the likeliest intended beneficiary of the forgery and the takedown request, and his name (spelled as Ken Hass) was used on the takedown request. But it is of course possible that this was done by someone else, whether someone hired by Haas (with or without knowledge of what would be done) or someone else. I called Haas back in March to ask about what happened here, but he told me he had no comment.

Then I wrote about this on the blog, hosted at the time at the Washington Post; TechDirt covered it as well. The New Britain Progressive covered it as well, and then mentioned the incident again in December, as part of its “Top 10 of 2017” retrospective.

A week later, someone submitted a deindexing request to Google asking it to vanish my original Washington Post item and the TechDirt piece.

In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized an individual interest in the “practical obscurity” of certain personal information. The case was DOJ v. Reporters Committee for a Free Press. As well, this information is harmful to me as it concerns unfounded information which never resulted in prosecution. Not only has the dissemination of this information never been legitimate, but its internet referencing is clearly harmful to my reputation as my professional and personal surroundings can access it by typing my first and last names on the Internet.

(Thanks to Dean Sterling Jones (Shooting the Messenger) for spotting the request, and, as always, to the Lumen Database for its invaluable role as an archive for these submissions.)

Now the submission doesn’t explain how the “information” in my original post is “unfounded.” It’s true that it didn’t result in prosecution, but the purported order submitted to Google in March is indubitably a forgery, whether the Connecticut prosecutor’s office wants to try to act on that or not. Nor does the submission explain how “the dissemination of this information [has] never been legitimate” — I would think that writing about forgeries of court orders, especially (but not only) those that seem to benefit local officials and community activists, would be quite “legitimate.”

DOJ v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press holds that the federal government has no statutory obligation, under the Freedom of Information Act, to reveal “criminal identification records” to people who request them. But that doesn’t affect all of our First Amendment rights to discuss crimes that we ourselves know about, and note who would have benefited from those crimes. (Tim Cushing (TechDirt) has also written about this incident.)

Fortunately, Google has not deindexed TechDirt’s or my posts in response to this request, and I’m confident that it won’t. But I thought it was worth noting that there has been indeed an attempt to vanish this story.

The full articles are available to read by clicking here and here.

The Takedown Conspiracy

— Articles by WashPost, Techdirt about fake takedown requests targeted by anonymous defamation takedown request

Last year, a Washington Post investigation by First Amendment expert Eugene Volokh (of the Volokh Conspiracy, now published at Reason.com) exposed how some people were using forged court orders to force Google to delist links.

Via “Apparent forged court order for the benefit of a New Britain (Conn.) volunteer city commissioner” by Eugene Volokh, The Washington Post, March 30, 2017:

Ken Haas is a member of a New Britain (Conn.) city commission, the Commission on Conservation, appointed by Mayor Erin Stewart. Several months ago, he got into a public controversy with local activist Robert Berriault — allegedly, when someone got in a Facebook political spat with Haas, he responded by writing, “You do know I have access to ALL city records, including criminal and civil, right???” Berriault took that to be a threat that Haas would misuse that access for political purposes and wrote about this on the New Britain Independent site, as well as in a not-much-noticed change.org petition calling for Haas’s removal. (Since then, Berriault has announced his candidacy for the New Britain city council.)

And then things got really interesting: Two weeks ago, someone asked Google to deindex the New Britain Independent article and the petition, and the request was accompanied with what looked like a court order in Haas v. Berriault. The order purported to be in a libel and false light invasion of privacy lawsuit and closed with:

Plaintiff is granted damages for all counts as to Defendant Robert Berriault. Defendant must also remove and retract statements made referencing Plaintiff Haas.

The trouble is that there is no such case. There is no such court order. There is no Connecticut Superior Court Judge named John W. Darrah.

Techdirt’s Mike Masnick subsequently detailed the apparent forgery here.

Now it emerges that an anonymous complainant has sent Google a defamation complaint requesting the removal of the two articles from its search results, citing a 1979 Supreme Court case concerning the public disclosure of personal information.

Via the Lumen Database, which archives online takedown requests:

source

If you can’t read that, it says:

In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized an individual interest in the “practical obscurity” of certain personal information. The case was DOJ v. Reporters Committee for a Free Press. As well, this information is harmful to me as it concerns unfounded information which never resulted in prosecution. Not only has the dissemination of this information never been legitimate, but its internet referencing is clearly harmful to my reputation as my professional and personal surroundings can access it by typing my first and last names on the Internet.

As of publication, the articles are still searchable using Google.