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Social Media and Social Control: how Silicon Valley serves the US State Department

Facebook isn’t the only Silicon Valley firm with partisan oversight of what we see: the bipartisan billionaire class and their security state have partnered with tech firms since the dawn of the internet to control the parameters of users’ thinking.

by Morgan Artyukhina 

Part 4 - Russiagate creates the ‘troll army’ narrative

For the social media giants, a new opportunity to double down on methods of social control came from the rise of the Russiagate conspiracy, promulgated by a growing corporate media-Democratic Party-intelligence community rallying cry that Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory was the work of Russian meddling rather than the United States’ outdated Electoral College system that was created as a progressive roadblock by the country’s founders.

The opening shot of this information war was the accusation by U.S. intelligence that hacker Guccifer 2.0 had worked on behalf of Russia to hack the Democratic National Committee’s servers and steal damning emails exposing the corrupt inner workings of the DNC — particularly how it cooked the books for Hillary Clinton in the primary race — to whom the DNC had become deeply financially indebted. When the emails were published by WikiLeaks in the summer and fall of 2016, U.S. intelligence claimed the site was also controlled by the Kremlin.

Further fuel for the Russiagate fire came in the form of accusations that the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) had flooded U.S. social media with trolls, sinking hundreds of thousands of dollars into advertisements intended to sway voters toward Trump and away from Clinton, as well as more generally sow social chaos by promoting discussion of divisive topics such as racial, gender, and class inequalities.

Popular pressure on social media companies to prune users’ news feeds grew dramatically in the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In January 2017, a report supposedly based on the conclusions of 17 intelligence agencies, but in reality, drafted almost exclusively by the fiercely anti-Trump CIA, presented the narrative of a “Russian influence campaign,” setting the stage for vetting the veracity of newsfeed information based on standards set out by the security state.

A year later, the Pentagon and White House announced a shift in global strategy toward “great power competition” with Russia and China, saying that “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security.”

Facebook first outlined their response in an April 2017 white paper on combating “false news,” recognizing that bots and spam accounts could spread a particular narrative quickly across the platform. The white paper didn’t mention any countries, and Facebook initially denied that a Russian influence operation had taken place, but soon the social media giant stepped into line with the intelligence community by claiming later that year to have uncovered proof that a relative handful of ads bought with Russian rubles had tipped the scales in favor of Trump.

“Social media trolls,” and the “disinformation campaigns” they ostensibly waged, soon became the generalized tocsin for widening control over social media news feeds. The intelligence community, which has formed an anti-Trump faction of the U.S. security state, warned against future attempts to influence elections in 2018 and 2020 – attacks that have never materialized.

The irony was that some of the gamekeepers were already poaching, with cybersecurity firm New Knowledge launching a far more potent troll campaign in Alabama’s 2017 special election, which it then sought to blame on Russian actors.

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