Tag Archives: Russia

The Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Perry, about 35 miles from Cleveland. Photo: Dustin Franz for The Wall Street Journal

Faking the Voter Strategies

New Orleans      Democracy is under assault everywhere it seems, and, no, I’m not just taking about the White House.

Russia is busy interfering with elections in, are you ready for this, Madagascar.  How did this out of the way island become a focus of geopolitics?

India, the self-styled, “world’s largest democracy,” is using Israeli surveillance techniques, which the company had sworn it would stop doing, to spy on its own citizens.

Trolls from the right and the white were stirring up stuff in Kentucky alleging voter fraud and ballot box thefts even before the election ended with the incumbent Republican on the losing side by 5000 votes, and they were doing it solely to create division.

Ok, maybe this does sound like the go to White House repertoire, but that’s not my point.  My point is that all of what we once called “dirty tricks” are now simply standard operating procedure for election conduct.

In Columbus, Ohio, I heard excruciating details of the mischief that met the anti-nuke teams who were trying to put a referendum on the ballot to decrease nuclear energy in that state and force alternatives.  A lot of what they talked about was intimidation of their petitioners by so-called “blockers” who would try to stand in their way and confuse potential signers  Actually, that’s pretty standard in a lot of well-financed campaigns.  Certainly on ACORN initiative campaigns we saw it frequently.  On the other hand, my ears perked up when I heard them talking about the opposition having created a fake petition in order to get people to sign, thinking they were signing the real deal.  Their petition was printed horizontally, rather than vertically, which was about the only “tell.”  The utility funded opposition paid $8 per signature on the fake petition and claimed 800,000 in the press in favor of nukes.  Crazy stuff!  It reminds me of course of the Entergy play in New Orleans where they paid actors to sit in the city council hearings, wave signs, and testify in support of a plant they wanted to build.

Talking to a progressive organizer in Columbus whose candidates were frozen out of the sample Democratic Party ballot, I heard about how they were forced to make their sample ballot look almost identical to the Democratic one in order to get people to take a look on election day.  What choice did they have?

The harvest of all of this fakery is that voters, wherever they may be, between social media, trolls, whack websites, and just plain tricks no longer can sift out the facts or the truth, so they dig into the positions they held against the assault of any differing information.  Ok, I guess we are talking about Trump tactics again.

But, you get the point.  This is democracy under fire!

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Russians Are Teaching the Perils of Social Media “Organizing”

New Orleans     Ok, now they’ve gone too far!

Sure, like everyone I’ve tried to follow the noise and news about Russian interference in 2016 US elections. Not because I think their mischief and dirty tricks determined the results of the election, though I’m uncomfortably agreeing with President Trump on that score, but because, like all foul play, it impacted the election and that’s just plain dangerous, and also where I disagree with President Trump. It’s been wrong when the United States has interfered in elections in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa, and it’s equally wrong when the Russians or the North Koreans or the Chinese or anyone else messes with a country’s elections as well.

It turns out that the Russian interference on social media was not just a matter of buying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads on Facebook. Not that that was insignificant either. The newspapers were full of revelations from Congressional hearings with the social media companies that their reach had long hands with posts on Facebook by Russian agents intended to sow discord during the election reached 126 million users on Facebook, more than 100000 posts published on Twitter and uploaded over 1000 videos on Google’s YouTube.

That’s a lot of noise for sure, but what takes me over the edge is the analysis by the Wall Street Journal of some of the accounts that indicates that they weren’t just throwing some words in the wind, but were actually using social media confusion in issuing the call to organize rallies on both sides of issues solely to create division. I’ve always argued that social media is an excellent communications tool, but a flawed organizing tool. Here is a case where they were able to use Facebook especially and its “messenger” application to not only issue the call for direct actions and rallies about various hot button issues, but actually dupe some folks into taking money for supplies, transportation, and other details involved in putting together these wolves-in-sheeps-clothing events. All of which makes them not fake, but real. The Journal was able to determine that at least 22 of the 60 events took place. In some cases the events even provoked counter rallies. In Dallas they turned out 300 people to a “Blue Lives Matter” rally after the shooting of police there. How will those good folks – and many others – feel when they realize they suited up and hit the streets to the call of Russian secret agents?!?

This kind of popular manipulation could make it even harder for real organizations and real organizers to recruit and organize around real grievances in the public space. A country that prides participation and protects protest can’t allow a public to be created that suddenly feels that they are unable to take action for fear of being deceived or to ignore legitimate protests fearing that they could be fake.

On the other hand it should also be a wake-up call about why real organizations are important in social change. Bonafides can easily be confirmed – even using the darned internet – with a check there on the history of the group, a wikipedia search, a look at their website postings. In real organizations people can actually join, volunteer, lead and not just follow, question and not just mimic and repeat the posting, lose and sometimes win.

Not to be too simplistic, but not everyone on Facebook is a friend, and not every call to action should be heeded. These are great tools, but they are even greater in the hands of organizers and organizations, rather than random strangers who may be working for the common good, or as we are now seeing, may be up to the worst evils.

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