Pro-Trump Bot Campaign Tries to Hijack Daily Beast Article About Pro-Trump Bot Campaign

— An online media campaign to obscure unflattering news articles about Donald Trump has targeted a Daily Beast article I co-authored about the campaign

Earlier today, Twitter purged tens of millions of fake and suspicious accounts in a seeming attempt to restore trust in the embattled social media platform, which had been exploited by Russian operatives allegedly in order to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election.

But while celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Oprah Winfrey lost millions of followers during the purge, fake accounts involved in an online media campaign to bury unflattering news articles about Donald Trump remain live and tweeting. In fact, they’ve found a shiny new target: an investigative piece I recently co-authored with The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay about the campaign itself.

In that article, we examined attempts by Indian and Indonesian reputation management companies to influence Google’s search results—including paid content published on fake websites, Facebook, and Twitter accounts—relating to Trump’s relationship with Russia-linked former Trump Organization business partners Tevfik Arif and Felix Sater.

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Ironically, when readers of The Daily Beast began tweeting about the campaign, they were deluged with messages from some of the same fake Twitter accounts mentioned in our article. The accounts appear to have been programmed to reply to iterations of Arif’s name. For example, here’s a quote from our article that was posted by Twitter user YourVoteYourVoice…

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…and here are replies that user received from some of the fake accounts, which linked to now-defunct dummy websites about Arif and Sater:

Although Twitter has not deleted the fake accounts, their posts are currently hidden by a content warning, indicating that Twitter is aware of them:

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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WikiLeaks Goes “Full Trump”

WikiLeaks claims it invented popular whistle-blower program SecureDrop and that Julian Assange co-founded the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) – claims denied by FPF co-founder Micah Lee in heated exchange with the WikiLeaks Task Force

Last week, WikiLeaks tweeted that the Associated Press and other press organisations had adopted “WikiLeaks technology” in adopting SecureDrop, a whistle-blower submission program developed by U.S. “hacktivist” and transparency advocate, the late Aaron Swartz.

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In response, Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) co-founder Micah Lee tweeted that Wikileaks’ claim re: SecureDrop was “a lie” and that it had “never contributed” to the program’s development.

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This was followed by a heated exchange between Lee and the WikiLeaks Task Force, an official WikiLeaks account set up in October 2016 to “correct misinformation” about its namesake organisation.

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In its response, the Task Force claimed Swartz and FPF developed SecureDrop using technology “invented at WL,” and that WikiLeaks’ founder, exiled Australian journalist Julian Assange, co-founded FPF…

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…claims denied by Lee in another tweet:

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The Task Force then doubled down, claiming Lee was not a founder of FPF…

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…in another tweet even claiming Lee was “an anti-freedom of speech campaigner”:

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However, the FPF website clearly lists Lee as one of its co-founders:

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As covered on this blog, the WikiLeaks Task Force recently began threatening legal action against Twitter users, including journalists, who criticise WikiLeaks and Assange.

In this case, at least, Lee had the final word:

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Hoax-ception

Busted: Purported Guardian hoax by prankster Godfrey Elfwick was itself a hoax [Updated: Guardian editor has denied my request for more info about the paper’s vetting procedures for anonymous contributors – more after the jump]

Last month, the Guardian published an anonymous article about how its author was nearly turned into a racist after being exposed to right-wing views online.

Shortly after the article was published, online social justice parodist Godfrey Elfwick, who last year duped the BBC World Service into allowing him to denounce Star Wars as “racist and homophobic” during a live radio broadcast, claimed authorship of the article.

In support of his claim, Elfwick shared an image of a Microsoft Word document on his computer with a similar title, but dated weeks before the Guardian article.

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He also shared a print out of the article with his name on the byline.

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Perhaps owing to his success at hoodwinking the BBC, many on Twitter – including award-winning American writer and leading New Atheist Sam Harris, whose views on Islam are cited in the article as having helped lead the author to nearly becoming a racist – seemed to accept Elfwick’s claim of authorship at face value.

The episode proved to be a lesson in confirmation bias.

For Glenn Greenwald, an American journalist whose work on Edward Snowden won a Pulitzer Prize in 2014, the article confirmed his long-standing belief that the New Atheism movement is little more than “a cover for Islamophobia,” and on Twitter accused Harris of engaging in “hatermongering against Muslims.”

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Meanwhile, Harris used Elfwick’s unverified claim to question Greenwald’s credibility.

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A couple of weeks ago, I asked the Guardian to comment on whether Elfwick authored the article, as claimed.

On Tuesday, I received the following response from Readers’ Editor Paul Chadwick, stating he is “confident about the authorship of the article” and that the version shared by Elfwick on Twitter is “markedly different in several ways” to the draft originally submitted to the Guardian for publication.

From: Readers’ editor (Guardian) <guardian.readers@theguardian.com>
To: **** <****@aol.com>
Subject: Re: Question about Anonymous Guardian article re: possible hoax
Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2016 15:45

Dear Dean Jones,

Thank you for your email.

The Guardian has stated in response to specific media enquiries that it is confident about the authorship of the article.

I have separately looked into the matter and can assure you that the claim of authorship made on Twitter is not supported by the evidence offered on Twitter by the person claiming authorship.

In its original format the material submitted to the Guardian for the article is markedly different in several ways from what was claimed on Twitter to be a print out of the article as submitted by its author.

I can understand why the Guardian has taken the approach that it has taken to this matter. You would agree, I’m sure, that there is no point encouraging trolls by paying them attention.

Thanks again for making contact.

Paul Chadwick
Readers’ editor

Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
Guardian News & Media

While he didn’t quite manage to pull the wool over our eyes, Elfwick’s claim raises an interesting question: without being able to verify the identity of the author, how do we know the article isn’t a hoax?¹ Maybe that was the point all along.

Updated, 12/01/17: Last month, I asked Guardian Readers’ Editor Paul Chadwick about his paper’s vetting procedures for anonymous contributors, stating my concern that “without being able to provide demonstrable evidence that an article is genuine, you open the doors to false claims of authorship.”

Here is his January 3, 2017 response:

From: Readers’ editor (Guardian) <guardian.readers@theguardian.com>
To: **** <****@aol.com>
Subject: Re: Question about Anonymous Guardian article re: possible hoax
Date: Tue, 3 Jan 2017 19:20

Dear Dean Jones,

Yes, there are processes for vetting contributors, but I am sure you will understand that if they are to maintain their effectiveness it is counterproductive to detail them.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Chadwick

Readers’ editor

Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
Guardian News & Media

¹Prior to Elfwick throwing his hat into the ring, Twitter users were already questioning the article’s authenticity.

Erdoğan: Turkey’s Trump?

Highly regarded Harvard Law Prof. Laurence Tribe weighs in on my blog post re: WordPress geo-block of Turkish political blog following complaint by Turkish Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Last week, I blogged about a Turkish political blog which was geo-blocked by WordPress following a complaint from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The complaint, in the form of a court order, requested that WordPress restrict access to the offending blog, claiming that satirical cartoons depicting the Turkish leader as a tyrannical dictator constitute “an attack on personality rights” and do not “reflect reality.”

Yesterday, I tweeted my item at First Amendment lawyer Popehat aka Ken White, whose blog I recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about the intricacies of freedom of speech, after which it was re-tweeted by Laurence Tribe, a highly regarded Harvard Law Prof. whose former students include President Barack Obama and Senator Ted Cruz.

Via Twitter:

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See also: “Erdoğan Strikes Again,” my November 27, 2016 item re: WordPress geo-block of Turkish political blog following court order by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The #ThinkBeforeYouTweet Police

“[W]e would have done well to follow the THINK advice ourselves before tweeting” – Police Scotland responds to my query about Orwellian social media warning

Last week, on April 1, the Greater Glasgow Police force issued a rather cryptic warning to social media users via Twitter to, quote, “think before you post or you may receive a visit from us this weekend.”

Greater Glasgow Police

Unsure whether or not this latest tribute to George Orwell was intended as an April Fool’s joke, I emailed Police Scotland asking what precautions social media users should take to avoid receiving a visit from Glasgow coppers.

Yesterday, I received a thoughtful, informative and – dare I say it – good-humored response from Inspector Kenny Quigley of Police Scotland’s Safer Communities Department, Greater Glasgow Division.

Dear Mr Jones

Thank you for taking the trouble to contact us regarding the recent ‘tweet’ from our Greater Glasgow Police Twitter account.  Firstly, may I apologise for the concerns this has caused you personally as it undoubtedly has for others judging from the reaction on social media, both positive and negative, over the past few days.

This message and acronym ‘THINK’ came from a third party account and was originally ‘re-tweeted’ by a community police team in Lanarkshire and then subsequently re-tweeted by other police teams. Likewise, our Safer Communities team in Glasgow saw these re-tweets (we all follow each other’s accounts for key messages to promote) and thought it was a simple enough message to encourage people to avoid hateful comment on social media which is often reported to the police as bullying, trolling etc..  This message seemed to us particularly pertinent following the dreadful events in Shawlands which had led to some people ‘trolling’ messages of support for the Shah family and wider community.  Occasionally, such trolling crosses the boundaries from being merely distasteful into criminality under various hate crime legislation or indeed domestic abuse or threats. 

To answer specifically your question, there is no test applied by my officers as to what passes the THINK criteria.  Clearly, that is not the Police Service’s role and we are concerned with investigating reports of behaviour on social media that is suspected to be illegal.  We are certainly not the ‘good taste’ police nor are we in any way seeking to stifle free speech – indeed, we regularly police public events where opposing groups do not agree with alternate political standpoints but we ensure that Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights are protected. 

As such, the colloquial phrase, “receive a visit from the police” which appears in this controversial tweet is misspoken and misleading.  Such police action may only be applied when a crime or offence is reported to us by another member of the public – we do not routinely monitor social media as frankly, we are far too busy answering calls from the public for assistance, investigating reported and detected crimes and undertaking a myriad of other duties than to find time to police the internet as some pressure groups would rather have us doing.  Of course we do investigate cybercrime but that is a new and rapidly developing area of law enforcement not concerned with name-calling or offensive remarks on social media.   I am sorry this phrase “receive a visit” was used in the tweet and rest assured, the officer who tweeted this message is sorry too – it was certainly not their intention to cause a furore or any confusion in this regard. 

Thank you again for taking the time to write to Police Scotland.  It is through practical criticism and challenge that we learn how better to police our communities with the public’s consent and support.  Social media is undoubtedly a great opportunity for the Police to quickly and effectively communicate with the public but it also carries the risk of getting our messages wrong on occasion.  I hope I have reassured you that we do not apply a THINK test when assessing complaints about social media and that on this occasion, we would have done well to follow the THINK advice ourselves before tweeting that message. 

Yours sincerely. 

Kenny Quigley

Inspector Kenny Quigley G2436
Greater Glasgow Division
Safer Communities Department
Glasgow City Centre Police Office

With reservations as to whether the police or any other authority should have any jurisdiction over social media, Inspector Quigley’s answer helps ease the dystopian impulse. I don’t recall Orwell being so reassuring.