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Testimony of Facebook, Google, and Twitter to US Senate (senate.gov)
71 points by aaronbrethorst on Oct 31, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 87 comments



Facebook Counsel says:

Our authenticity policy is the cornerstone of how we prevent abuse on our platform, and was the basis of our internal investigation and what we found. From the beginning, we have always believed that Facebook is a place for authentic dialogue, and that the best way to ensure authenticity is to require people to use the names they are known by. Fake accounts undermine this objective, and are closely related to the creation and spread of inauthentic communication such as spam—as well as used to carry out disinformation campaigns like the one associated with the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian company located in St. Petersburg.

Authenticity Policy went partially out the window when non-.edu addresses were able to register, and eventually completely out the window when new account registration was opened to everyone. Not really sure how big F can claim they have any sort of Authenticity Standards for user accounts. It seems to me that they encourage people to make multiple accounts, throwaways, business only accounts, pages for celebrities, pretty much everything but using your real name is encouraged at this point.

They [Facebook AND Twitter] also count "impressions" as the number of times something appeared on screen, which is laughably inaccurate for how "impressed" some piece of news or media became on someone's psyche.

Still no mention of a veracity metric or any sort of Bullshit-o-meter by neither Facebook, Twitter, nor Google.

Then, Finally, I got to Clinn Watts' testimony, and this human is a saint:

I propose "nutrition labels" for information outlets, a rating icon for news producing outlets displayed next to their news links in social media feeds and search engines. The icon would provide users an assessment of the news outlet's ratio of fact versus fiction and reporting versus opinion. The opt-out rating system would not infringe freedom of speech or freedom of press, but would inform users as to the veracity of content and its disposition.

Clinn Watts, friend of veracity, thank you for this timely and appropriate suggestion. I pray the big players take heed to your idea.


Nutrition labels treat the symptom, not the cause.

IMO the root cause is a neglected and underfunded education system, that does not adequately prepare people for the levels of psychological manipulation the will experience in the form of marketing.

Sure, a nutrition label might help, but it's kind of passing the buck - "We don't need to fix our education system, people just need to be able to count to five so they know how many truth stars this article has, then they can make up their own mind!"


Education might be the root cause and it might be neglected but in the US it certainly isn't underfunded.

Source: http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2015/apr/21/jeb...


It's not at an article level, it's at an institution level. If an institution is known to publish misleading article with half-truths or non-truths, a rating which indicates that (and links to a list with examples) would be beneficial. Institutions that want to be seen as credible will strive to be accurate and fix any mistakes.

There are definitely problems with this, but the idea that we just need to fix our education system seems like just as much of a cop-out to me. The problem is hard, it plays into human cultural and cognitive pitfalls, and affects smart, well educated people too. It's not just a matter of education.


I disagree that education is a cop-out. Telling people what is credible and what is not is part if the mess that we're in now. If I can stand up a fancy looking "news" site, write my opinion as fact, and have people believe me, that is a problem of our education system.

That principle of freedom of information is what the internet is built on. A large number of retweets does not make something factual.


It's not about telling people what's credible and what's not, it's about telling them who has been caught being factually incorrect more than others, linking to additional info, and letting people use that to help them make their own choices. A centralized authority is less likely to be partisan, and whatever shortcomings it has will be widely publicized. Think of it like a credit bureau or a sock/bond ratings company, but without some of the perverse incentives that apply there, and kept from getting too partisan by government oversight.

We investigate and prosecute people that commit fraud. I don't see why we can't at least note where news agencies are failing in a way that's harmful to the populace. It's not perfect, and it may fail, but it might also give us another useful tool to signal the quality of an information source.


Think of grandma, man. Make life easy for grandma.


I get what you are saying, but remember that the big, evil, powerful people in the world who are manipulating this system are mostly grandparents or old enough to be grandparents. I'm pretty sure it's not specific to age, but cognitive education.


Sometimes I wonder if not preparing students for psychological manipulation is actually a feature and not a bug of the educational system.


A major target of a lot of these efforts are white men over 40. If your prescription is a better education system, it will take years before it starts making a difference.


Yes.. even if you figure out a perpetually unbiased system to do the fact-checking and labeling, uneducated people will still be manipulated into distrusting the labels. Fact checking organizations already exist and people still think Fox is a beacon of truth.


`nutrition labels` are already kind of subjective as we keep finding out just what information is actually most important to our health and revising the labels.

Having a "truth vs fiction" rating next to news sites isn't as easy as you think. Sure, some things are easy to qualify - but when it comes to wars, motivations, scandals - many common stories will always be left with two equally disputed sides of the story.

This means the site that supports the governments verdict will when the vote.


I haven’t watched the testimony, but I don’t think the suggestion is for the government to make the judgements for the labels - at least, that sounds like an epically terrible idea, especially (but not only) given the current president’s predilection for calling any news he doesn’t like “fake”. Rather, I think social media platforms would be expected to do that themselves, maybe by contracting with external fact checking sites, like Facebook is already doing in order to label specific articles (as opposed to entire sites) “disputed”.

But yes, creating any centralized pseudo-authority on what counts as truth - even a private one committed to neutrality and limited to a specific social media platform - carries significant risks. I think some existing sites, such as Politifact, currently do a pretty good job of distinguishing “this is false” from “this is political spin I disagree with”. But they’re not perfect - they clearly have a bias, like everyone else - and other fact checkers tend to be somewhat worse, from what I’ve seen, ranging from Snopes to fact-checking articles in WaPo, NYT, etc.


> creating any centralized pseudo-authority on what counts as truth - even a private one committed to neutrality and limited to a specific social media platform - carries significant risks. I think some existing sites, such as Politifact, currently do a pretty good job of distinguishing “this is false” from “this is political spin I disagree with”. But they’re not perfect - they clearly have a bias, like everyone else - and other fact checkers tend to be somewhat worse, from what I’ve seen, ranging from Snopes to fact-checking articles in WaPo, NYT, etc.

This is why I think the concept is so hopelessly naive. News sources are already supposed to be factual, but there's immense difficulty in finding a single, high quality source, and strong incentives pushing them towards developing sources that serve the beliefs that people want to hold.

Why in earth would an extra layer of misdirection help at all? All you'd end up with is a replica of the news ecosystem we have now.


Yes but there IS a legal definition for reporting vs opinion and it is easy enough to put an article in Column Op-Ed instead of Column New Info


Many of the most important issues (e.g. current crisis in Rohingya) are in environments where there is no such thing as absolute truth.

To pick one example, in a conflict, it's very rare that any two independent sources can even agree on the number of casualties (much less on whose side they were, what the cause of death was, etc), and what the western world tends to treat as some of the most reputable sources explicitly ignore any reports not written in English. Which is obviously not useful when many of these conflicts occur in regions where English is not a primary language.

We can define the boundary between fact and opinion all we want, but in the real world it's very rarely so black and white. Sure, pieces that are merely commentary/opinion should be labelled as such, but in all reputable news outlets already do this. I've yet to see a single useful solution to this issue that stands up when there's simply no practical way of accurately establishing what the truth really is.


> Yes but there IS a legal definition for reporting vs opinion

Please cite the applicable law. (There's clearly a legal difference—relevant for, e.g., defamation claims—between fact and opinion claims, but that operates at a much smaller unit than an entire article, which can contain both kinds of claims.)


Well, I don't think it matters which "column" an entire article goes in. Op-eds usually contain a variety of factual statements which are used to support the subjective parts, and those statements still need to be true. Indeed, most 'less professional' websites make no distinction between "straight reporting" and opinion - in effect, all their articles are op-eds - but it's precisely those sites that are most likely to spread false information and thus most need to be fact-checked.

It's true that courts need to distinguish fact from non-actionable opinion in defamation/libel cases (at the level of individual statements, not entire articles) - not to mention that almost all court decisions rely on the judge evaluating competing factual claims, to some extent, even though that's theoretically the job of the jury. The judicial branch does do at least a somewhat better job at staying neutral, serious, fact-based, compared to other branches - but far, far from ideal. I suppose the idea of a government fact-checking agency sounds slightly less terrible if you make it part of that branch (though that would be an odd arrangement, since it would seem to fall under the broad umbrella of 'regulatory agency' that you usually see in the executive branch). But still terrible IMO.

After all, US defamation law grants authors an enormous amount of leeway when it comes to issues of public concern, and that's by design, to prevent it from being used to censor valuable speech even given biased judges. I'll concede that true "fake news" is often a straightforward matter of totally made-up claims, to the point that the people named probably could sue the publisher for defamation and win, under the existing system - albeit at the cost of money, effort, and potentially triggering the Streisand effect. If that's all this hypothetical agency cared about, it could operate relatively safely. But that wouldn't be good enough. There's a broad spectrum of claims that aren't clear-cut enough to be actionable - and are protected by the First Amendment - yet are still misleading enough to merit poor ratings from fact checkers. The agency could try to apply a stricter truth standard in its advisory labels than that used in defamation law, arguing that the First Amendment is less of a concern when speech isn't actually being censored. It'd still face constitutional challenges, but it might survive them.

But "stricter truth standard" is just another way of saying the agency needs to be able to make subjective decisions. Not too subjective - nowhere near the caricature "disagree = false" that I've seen from some critics of fact checkers on HN (never mind the president) - but not 100% objective either. I think it's important for fact checkers to be able to exercise such discretion, because politicians are very, very skilled at muddying the waters. But I also think I'd prefer to keep that power out of the hands of the government, no matter which part of it or in what form.


> we keep finding out just what information is actually most important to our health and revising the labels.

As long as we can, and do, revise the labels, that's exactly what we want. Not only would trying to determine the absolute best things to put on the label be time consuming and take forever to accomplish, we would still find more stuff to change later. Perfect is definitely the enemy of good in this case.


Some of the fact checking websites are just blatant partisan punditry disguised as 'fact-checking'. (Verrit is worst offender: labeling something as 'True' if someone said something verbatim, even if it is not a factual assertion).

Even the ones with decent records often display bias, ex. when someone they like says something where the thesis is correct but a supporting fact is incorrect, they'll mark it as "mostly true". But when someone they don't like does the same, they'll mark it as "mostly false".


Verrit verifies quotations, not content. They don't say whether you should trust the source; that's up to you.


That's the same as the lion telling the tamer how safe it is in the cage. Needs to be independent firm or NGO or company internal team. Ideas and solutions please!


Nutrion labels - would you consider them harmful? I see them as a net positive.


This is not an easy task, but it seems like one the Tech Giants would be able to tackle with their brainpower, resource, intelligence, outreach, and general sense of impending doom (read as "morality"). Or would it be best to focus more on emoji.


I assure you that outside, people are still mostly normal.

I have visited this land, and spoken to its inhabitants, most everyone is pretty chill and friendly.


And who determines what's fact and fiction?

Is it the news agency? So they just have to say "We 100% believe aliens live on the dark side of the moon" and it gets counted as fact?

Or is it the government? And anything the government doesn't like is fake news.. and everything they do like is fact?

I think this is much more difficult than you're assuming. Impossible really.


This is an old problem. What is new is how fast things spread.

Delaying when the upvotes/retweet/view counts become visible, will reduce the speed with which info spreads, and there will be less chaos.

Speed is highly overrated and it's value falsely tied to "engagement". Easy to run this experiment on HN - only show users their karma a week after their post gets published post quality will increase and engagement will drop. Which is an ideal outcome in a world where fiction trumps fact by a huge and exponentially increasing margin.


I like your style. I am really surprised no one has thought of this. Nominating you for Minister of the Internet Discussion Boards, next time there's an open election :D


Traditional media has had a long tradition of informal, ethical standards that goes into "reporting"[1]. It wasn't perfect, but it was something. Now that we've flipped that apple cart with technology it's not easy to replace centuries of culture with an algorithm. What I fear is that the problem is fractal. Solving the easy parts of the problem scales well and is thus economical. The hairy parts of the problem don't scale and are left by the wayside. For an example of this look at YouTube content ID. It works well enough to placate content owners. Making it any better (e.g. fair use) requires human intervention so it's not gonna happen.

[1] A parallel in the political sphere is Trump himself. He's violated a bunch of informal understandings about what a president is/does. Now there's no going back.


just get a bunch of scientists who have no connection to any of the relevant fields to redirect their attentions to finding out if a thing is fact or fiction and i assure you that you will have an answer that is more honest and more accurate than otherwise

PS they'll need funding, and more time than you have to give


Independent fact checking firms exist, I don't think it is a stretch to distill their info into an easily comprehended badge icon. Google, according to their Counsel, is already giving anti terror groups flagging software.


So you propose Tampa Bay Times Politifact, and The Annenberg Public Policy Center's FactCheck.org become arbiters of truth?

Have you actually read many of their articles? A lot of it depends on judgement calls of the person doing the fact checking. Leeway is given or taken by the fact checker.. and that amount varies by who is doing the checking. (And you can’t eliminate this because human language is so flexible that it will always require a judgement call to be made in all but the most blatant lies.)

There are plenty of examples.. here's one:

Politifact rates this as mostly true: Bernie Sanders says 'real unemployment' rate for African American youth is 51 percent http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/jul/...

Politifact rates this as mostly false: Trump misleadingly puts black youth unemployment rate at 59 percent http://www.politifact.com/virginia/statements/2016/jun/20/do...

The rate is nowhere near that high according to the BLS: https://www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cpsee_e16.htm

If politifact can't call out Bernie's 51%, like they did for Trump.. why would they get this trusted position you seem to think they are qualified for? Politifact is run by human beings. Their judgement shouldn't be substituted for the judgement of others. You can't outsource critical thinking.


Did you actual read the differences, which are bigger than than simply a number. In one case, the number is backed up by evidence which is provided by the campaign. Politifact can then verify that the number isn't just made up or based on nothing. It's mostly true if you understand the context.

As for Trump, they didn't provide anything to back up the statements. They had to dig to find where he got the information, and nothing they found backs up what he said.

Now, you can argue the sources and the meaning, and that's the problem with statistics. But there is a difference between the two, more than just 8 percentage points.


+100

One was "accurate but need clarification"; the other "exaggerating and misleading".

> Sanders said that for African-Americans between the ages of 17 and 20, "the real unemployment rate … is 51 percent." His terminology was off, but the numbers he used check out, and his general point was correct -- that in an apples-to-apples comparison, African-American youth have significantly worse prospects in the job market than either Hispanics or whites do. The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information, so we rate it Mostly True.

> Trump says the unemployment rate for black youths is 59 percent. The unemployment rate is a widely used term with a specific definition: It refers to the percentage of jobless people in the workforce who are actively seeking employment. In May, the unemployment rate for blacks ages 16 to 24 was 18.7 percent, or less than one-third of Trump’s claim...Clearly, black youths have a harder time finding work than whites. But Trump exaggerates the issue through his misleading use of statistics. We rate his statement Mostly False.

None are free from bias.

The solution to oligarchy is democracy, not monarchy.

The solution to bad speech is more speech, not less speech.


Which independent fact-checking firms do you trust?


Currently just Snopes


>Then, Finally, I got to Clinn Watts' testimony, and this human is a saint: I propose "nutrition labels" for information outlets, a rating icon for news producing outlets displayed next to their news links in social media feeds and search engines. The icon would provide users an assessment of the news outlet's ratio of fact versus fiction and reporting versus opinion. The opt-out rating system would not infringe freedom of speech or freedom of press, but would inform users as to the veracity of content and its disposition.

Then the only challenge is to invent some cross between the biohazard and radiation hazard symbols, and just plaster it on 99% of the net.


This place is not a place of honor.

No highly esteemed deed is commemorated here.

Nothing valued is here.

This place is a message and part of a system of messages.

Pay attention to it!

Sending this message was important to us.

We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.


The WIPP?! I love it... a desolate plain of windblown sand, gathering around the base of massive, repulsive obsidian and concrete pillars.

Then again, maybe we just go with, "There be dragons."


Ideally the icon shows a realtime value or reasonably up-to-date value of Ratio of Fact:Fiction, Ratio of Reporting:Opinion. If you saw a piece of news from YCorp and their Fact-to-Fiction ratio was 9:1 you may say, "okay, that sounds likely." If their Fact-to-fiction is 1:18 However, you might just remember to laugh instead of resharing potentially hazardous messages. To me "icon" can also mean values/numbers/measure and not just "this is healthy and green, this is toxic and glowing"


> potentially hazardous messages

THOUGHTCRIME ALERT

Must protect fragile minds from dangerous messages...


> The icon would provide users an assessment of the news outlet's ratio of fact versus fiction and reporting versus opinion.

Yes, we should always trust powerful institutions to tell us what the truth is...


I agree, sans-sarcasm. It's better than the alternative, which is allowing Russian disinformation to determine facts.


> It's better than the alternative, which is allowing Russian disinformation to determine facts.

No it's not better. "Russian disinformation" is a bullshit term to describe overblown and mostly ineffective tactics used by just about all governments.

Disinformation clogs the web. From WaPo to NYT to Salon to [insert media outlet here]. The very same bozos who sold you the Iraq war.

The dumbness of American discourse is almost too much to bear. Your shining city upon a hill apparently can't handle $100,000 worth of targeted ads. It's embarrassing.


That's the line Trump loves to get people to believe, that random fake blogs are equal to newspapers in their disinformation.

And why investigate it? Everyone is just as bad /s


> And why investigate it? Everyone is just as bad /s

I find the same is true of discussions about tech companies and privacy: "Oh they're all stealing all your data anyway, so why bother choosing on that basis." The irony, of course, is that this subtly undermines the premise of capitalism and especially Libertarianism (I get this from libertarian friends a lot). If you claim that my choice of search provider is meaningless, how can the market self-correct if people start to value privacy?


> "Russian disinformation" is a bullshit term to describe overblown and mostly ineffective tactics used by just about all governments.

No, the particular aggressive global propaganda (approach and scale) by the Putin regime had become a wide concern even before any discussion of it being directly targeted on the US election. See, e.g., https://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE198.html


Absolutely. Such institutions have never abused such power in the past and surely never will.

They would never use fear to manipulate public discourse for example.


Absolutely right!

We should definitely shut down all Department of Education educational minimums as well! Those are just used to control the populace anyway.

And the FDA? That's just a way to control what we put in our bodies!

The SEC and financial regulations? When's the last time they helped anyone?

...

That was sarcasm, in case someone is experiencing a Poe moment.

In all these cases, the rules and regulations help some more than others, and may even be abused to help those with connections. That doesn't mean the institutions do not impart a net benefit to the country, and in many cases many orders of magnitude more than the problems they cause (in my opinion, at least).

A n agency with clear and transparent rules as to how to score institutions and what is considered true and what is considered false could do some real good. It could also be abused, but I don't think the idea should be immediately discounted before we explore how it might work a bit more in depth.


"an assessment of the news outlet's ratio of fact versus fiction and reporting versus opinion"

Assessed by who? the Ministry of Information? No thanks.


War is peace. Freedom is slavery.


> Also count "impressions" as the number of times something appeared on screen.

I was under the impression that this was the standard, widely used definition of an impression which you are correct differs from the normal definition of impression.


FB: $100K in ads barely made an impression on the election. Nothing to really worry about

Also FB: Come buy our ads!

Zuck man, either you have the power or you don't. I get trying to save face, but I didn't get that feeling from them. It felt to me that they really are that dissonant.


Skip past the FB/Google/Twitter Lawyers at the hearings and listen to what the Security experts are saying.

The tech companies are only reacting to whats happening on THEIR platforms, but the big picture emerges only when looking across multiple platforms and the dark web. This makes sense to me, as modern day marketing/targeting happens across as many channels as your budget allows. The target is not just spending his entire day on one site.

I am no fan of Zuck or FB and what chaos they have enabled, but things have escalated way beyond what one tech company can counter. We are going to be borrowing lessons from China soon to get a handle on this mess.


Unfortunately, I agree...

Sorry Cory Doctorow, but the 'open' web is going the way of the open ranges of cattle drives. There's too many banditos robbing stagecoaches now, we need the Cavalry. As you say, this will end in a 'Chinese' manner. Nationalism and borders have proved to be stronger than the net.


> 56% of total ad impressions were after the election.

> Most of the ads appear to focus on divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum, touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.

> Many of the ads and posts we’ve seen so far are deeply disturbing—seemingly intended to amplify societal divisions and pit groups of people against each other.

"Deeply disturbing". The contrived pearl-clutching really is something else. Disturbing for whom, exactly? One ad apparently talked about saying Merry Christmas again. This is the 'meddling' they speak of.

And this is what the media does 24/7. Every day they shove divisive social and political messages down our throats.

What is the crime here?


What's the difference between censoring 'fake news' and making it illegal?

The disinformation issue is deep, and people want to just call some things disinformation and other things truth. It's intellectual laziness. You're not going to get to truth by blindly believing trusted sources. You need to do your own research. And what, you're going to let the CIA decide what is a trusted source? The route this is going is incredibly scary. At the very least people's attitudes should be 'I'll make up my own damn mind, thank you very much!'


People are now blindly believing any source if it backs up their opinion. You're not going to be able to get primary sources on everything so at some point you will HAVE to trust some source.


Well, I call it remaining agnostic. If you can't get a primary source on something political in nature (especially political), then you can't draw conclusions or argue about it.


Even if your false equivalence were true, maybe both are bad?

It's funny because this whataboutism is exactly the kind of thinking that Russian bots are accused of spreading.


> It's funny because this whataboutism is exactly the kind of thinking that Russian bots are accused of spreading.

"exactly the kind of thinking" - critical thinking, it's called. It's in low supply lately.

'whataboutism' is a valid argument given the assertions that this is unique event, a bridge too far.

When, in fact, the US have been doing it for years: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/10/13...


I think the point is if we as a society shoot our selves in the foot, that’s one thing, but it’s another if we let someone else do it. And the argument that we do it to others is irrelevant. If country X hacks our companies to steal trade secrets, does that mean we shouldn’t try to stop it just because we might be doing the same to others? That’s just laying down on the tracks.


That was then. Try and find a post-Cold-War instance of the US deciding to usurp free and fair elections for our own economic or security purposes. We weren't doing it for the fun of it, and in a unipolar world order, we don't do it at all.


..... wow you're adorable.

Try the past two decades of Venezuelan politics just for an appetizer.


I don't think anyone is implying that the ads themselves constitute a crime. The issue is that a foreign power attempted to manipulate the public in a certain direction.

Your assertion that "the media" intentionally tries and turns groups against one another is pretty sweeping. Certainly certain advocacy groups attempt to paint their opponents in a bad or even dishonest light, but this is far different than a foreign government trying to manipulate Americans.


> divisive social and political messages

If the actor is a foreign government and the intent is to destabilize a country thats ok with you?


And yet, when these very same messages are repeated by our own media, celebrities, and universities (white people are bad, don’t stand for the National Anthem, etc.), it’s somehow... a good thing?


You don't see the Russians attempting to influence the US elections via social engineering as a problem?


Not any more than I saw Obama's threat to put Brits to the back of the queue in trade if they voted for Brexit.

Paying to promote ads is a pretty common thing. It's as problematic as any other ads that are designed to influence you - so pretty much all of them.


> Paying to promote ads is a pretty common thing. It's as problematic as any other ads that are designed to influence you - so pretty much all of them.

Right. The real problem is we've allowed ad companies to mediate not only commercial spaces but now also personal interactions. So propaganda shows up not only in public spaces but also in seemingly private ones like a Facebook wall where it's hard to track and near impossible to counter.


That is a naive thinking. If US has a defense system against nuclear weapons but you can attack it via social media the error is on the US side. US is not an exception and had also attacked a lot of countries before via different strategies.


Uh okay, but that doesn't mean the US shouldn't examine this and respond as necessary.


Sure, I am just saying that it is "funny" that a superpower is attacked via social media in a naive way. This attack could be organized by any other entity with enough cash. It sounds like an easy hack.


No more than entrenched political parties (Republicans and Democrats) doing so.

The American electorate is gullible, and that’s a hard pill to swallow for most; easier to yell “Russia!” “Collusion!”


Hey Russians! If you guys have worked out how to get the herd to stampede, then why for the love of cabbage, do you need to use this skill to just cause randomness???

I mean can't you guys get the herd to buy Russian iPhones or line up for Russian super hero movies or something?

I really can't understand what the Russians have gained here. If Mueller's final report says the Russians had a major influence on the election, then what happens? I can't imagine it being good for anyone.


Are you serious? Donald is SIGNIFICANTLY more pro-russia than Hilary would have been. Ex-post facto that justified it. Actions of Donald: 1. Intense skepticism of NATO (Russia hates this). 2. attempted to remove sanctions 3. Return spy compounds 4. America turning inwards and rejecting its international role as the hegemonic power and guarantor of western institutions. 5. The russians have preferred the republicans for a few years now since they were viewed as being more real-politik.

But mostly Donald wasn't hilary. Putin HATED Hilary for complex reasons linked to 1. bill clinton's expansion of NATO 2. What putin perceived as american support for violent regime change i.e. which he viewed as an existential threat. This included Hilary speaking in public in support of Russian dissidents and her exulting in the overthrow and execution of gaddafi (while she was secretary of state) 3. Hilary was basically an anti-russia hawk in general.

It seems the active measures campaign was never expected to result in Donald winning. I think the reasonable expectation was that hilary would be discredited and ineffective after winning with no clear mandate and intense resistance by the right. It was by no means random. It is intensely idiotic to think a nation state ruled by a canny, KBG trained, dictator would invest substantial resources and risk American retaliation to cause 'randomness'. His actions had chaotic results to be sure...but he had clear goals.

"If Mueller's final report says the Russians had a major influence on the election then what happens? I can't imagine it being good for anyone."

and the alternative being we close our eyes and pretend not to see? hopefully it would result in a return to paper ballots and hardened cyber security all across the Western world.

At this point though, we all know what the Mueller report will say in its generality. YES the russians had major influence on the election. Denying that at this point is delusional! Mueller is more about what role auspices of the trump campaign violated the law in their acceptance of russian aid...that is still somewhat of an open question as to degree and the level of criminality but it is quite clear that the Trump campaign had some amount of communication and coordination with agents of the Russian government.


To prove successful influence on elections, one would have to prove that the content of the ad influenced a voter's choice of candidate. This is hard, if not impossible to prove, by anyone, and Mueller certainly isn't the authority on why someone in Ohio or Pennsylvania or Florida voted the way they did. These 3 states sealed the deal for the election.

What is proved so far is attempted Russian influence on elections. This has been the status quo since the cold war. Had the question been asked in 2012 or 2008, the answer would have been yes as well. In 2017, the nature of spreading information to consumers has transformed dramatically thanks to the increased reach of social media, and the decision of the Russian government to use social media as an attack vector. This is par for the course in world geopolitics, as the United States government has engaged in principally the same thing for years across the world.

Also slightly off topic but - when a candidate says "Read my lips, no new taxes", or "If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor", and somebody votes for them, but instead they act against the interests of the voter, isn't the net result that the voter has been duped, regardless of by whom?

Regardless, I am curious about this particular anti-Russia wave though because it seems to be treated more seriously than other cases. For example when a sitting President says "Tell Vladimir this is my last election, after the election I'll have more flexibility", and also blasts the opposing candidate on the debate stage by joking that "the cold war ended 30 years ago" when he suggested Russia was a threat to American interests - is this not a good enough case for collusion with the Russian government to ensure that potentially objectionable geopolitical decisions are postponed till after a Presidential election so that a debate regarding their propriety can be absent from the political discourse during the campaign?

There is also the issue of large sums of money flowing to Washington lobbyists to influence members of both parties in the legislative branch, which is now being uncovered as part of the Mueller investigation - again this is not particularly new, as Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Tony Podesta etc. made a lot of money doing exactly this for countries all over the world for decades.

The strongest case against the President would be if there was proof that Julian Assange's source for the DNC and Podesta emails was either the Russian government or someone working for the interests of the Russian government. These emails were very damaging to the Clinton campaign, but contained true information, nonetheless. Given that Podesta chose a trivial email password, it's also likely that some other entity had access to his emails. The challenge then would be to prove that the Trump campaign was a co-conspirator in this exercise, by perhaps coordinating the timing of certain releases with the appropriate campaign rhetoric, etc. What's also equally likely is that the campaign was clueless about the entire thing, and unwittingly profited from it. In that case, there would need to be evidence that if there are pro Russia decisions being taken by the executive branch or the military, and that these decisions are being made as a result of suggestions coming from the Kremlin. This, of course, would far exceed "influence on the elections", but "influence on the executive branch". Given that there is already Russian money flowing into Congress, this puts two thirds of the government in the pockets of Russia - i.e. unprecedented levels of corruption and probably some degree of treason as well.

For some unsolicited perspective - speaking as someone living in India - the geopolitical impact of an America that was supposedly free of Russian influence has not been a net positive for the world in my view. There have been a number of bad decisions and messes created in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and others. I'm somewhat confident that President Putin is not all that interested in whether Gorsuch or Garland takes Scalia's place, but is rather more interested in furthering his personal game of Risk that he plays on the world map. If the US government is now effectively a Russian puppet on the world stage, this is selfishly somewhat comforting since the Russians have been political allies with India for several decades. Putin violates the sovereignty of Russia's neighbours, as does China with India and others, as does the USA with countless interventions around the world, often seating a sympathetic figure as the head of state in other countries to facilitate this kind of thing in exchange for good deals. I find it difficult to accept that Hillary Clinton would have been a better outcome for the rest of the world given her decision making for the past 30 years of public life, and her track record as US Secretary of State. I don't know if we would be better off with two Putins as opposed to one Putin and one puppet Putin, if that turns out to be true in all of this. Major world powers like the USA, Russia and China are in a constant battle for territory and resources, which is something we could frankly all do without.


To be honest I find a lot of what you wrote here irrelevant. The goal of mueller is not to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that russian support was effective. We can't prove what caused millions of trump voters to be persuaded. (However, I think it is clear it had a significant effect). He is investigating crimes not causality. Frankly whether it worked or not doesn't really matter-the crimes committed by american citizens in the process and how to avoid similar actions by foreign governments again are what matters.

As for your statements about 2008 or 2012 I would need a lot of citations for claims about russian interference in those elections.

Your statement about this current anti-russian wave is wildly off base.

Comparing an innocuous diplomatic statement and a line during a debate with a prolonged and consistent pattern of contact between campaign officials to obtain intelligence provided by the Russian government through hacking....

Moving on-yes- lobbying is bad.

The next paragraph where you talk about Podesta is baffling to me. The strongest case against the president (note these might not actually be crimes-often the cover-up is more damaging and criminal) is that his campaign officials met with agents of the russian government (who represented themselves thusly) and intelligence services to proffer damaging material on a domestic political opponent. Your contention that it is possible that "the campaign was equally clueless about the entire thing" is belied by the fact that three of the key principals (Manafort, Kushner, Don Jr) in the trump campaign met with agents of the russian government...(among many any other incidents).

Hell there was a new york times article this very day about how the trump campaign was aware of the DNC hacks months before it became public knowledge. Donald trump cheered the hackers on in debates. Claiming the campaign was entirely unaware is dead wrong.

You then mention how there needs to be a demonstrated pattern of pro-russian behavior. I mentioned a fair few above-adding in that trump still has not implemented a recent round of sanctions.

To the geopolitical point-the actions of America are very far from perfect. I have many frustrations with the actions of my government. But I do not know if the world would be much more stable if America did not exist and neither do you.

I assure you- the united states is not a russian puppet and will never be so.


> However, I think it is clear it had a significant effect

How is it clear though? This is my analysis of the RCP average - there are clear events that are showing an impact on the polls, but I am unable to see any swing that is significant enough trending downwards for candidate Clinton that would give merit to the theory of a significant effect.

(https://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/g...)

We see candidate Trump overtake candidate Clinton around July 26, which coincides with the release of the DNC emails by Wikileaks, wherein a systematic bias against candidate Sanders is revealed to the public. Apart from this, candidate Trump trails in the polls by mostly 3-6 points.

The decline in numbers for candidate Clinton seems to trend again between August 25 and September 8. August 25 is when the Clinton campaign declared that pepe the frog is a symbol of the alt-right, and denounced the supporters of candidate Trump's campaign as racists. Given that pepe the frog's history as a beloved meme is widespread, including on platforms like Twitch.tv and in several online subcultures, many of which I am a part of, and are completely apolitical, I'm quite convinced that the reaction to this kind of failure to connect with younger voters would have hit her in the polls.

Note also that on August 26, she went on the Jimmy Kimmel show and performed a gag where she opened a pickle jar, to steer clear rumors of her ill health.

On September 9, she made the famous "Basket of deplorables" comment, which shows yet another negative spike - it seems like every time she goes on the offensive against the candidate's support base, she starts to lose favour.

On September 11, she fainted at the 9/11 memorial service. During this entire period there is a significant downtrend in her poll numbers. The polls are most certainly reflecting major popular stories from the campaign.

The week of October 7-14 is again significant here. The Access Hollywood recording was released to the public on October 7, and the John Podesta emails were released the same day. During this period, the polls appeared to have a very sharp negative impact on candidate Trump, whereas candidate Clinton trended upward.

On October 16, the stories from John Podesta's emails finally break in the mainstream media, with CNN's Jake Tapper suggesting that it is illegal for the public to read them. This is where candidate Trump begins to make a comeback in the polls.

On October 28, Director Comey announces that the investigation into candidate Clinton's use of a private server has been re-opened, because emails were found on a the laptop of Anthony Weiner, during an unrelated underage sexting scandal involving Weiner - this causes a very clear nosedive in poll numbers for Clinton, which recovers sharply on November 6, when Director Comey once again clears her of all charges.

For me to accept that "Russian influence" via ads or some other propaganda machinery had a significant impact on the minds of the voters, I think it ought to be visible somehow in the polls - since this is true of nearly every other major development in the campaign. The only theory to validate that would be that the Russians somehow played a part in the Wikileaks drama. Julian Assange has offered to be a witness for the Mueller investigation but has been ignored.

The other controversial figure who had information about what was going on with Wikileaks was the infamous Kim Dotcom, who, in 2015 said that Assange would be targeting candidate Clinton's campaign, as early as 2015, referenced here:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-05-14/kim-dotco...

Dotcom has also offered to testify, but has not been taken seriously, yet is the only person is known to have had knowledge of the Wikileaks operation an entire year before it happened.

The idea that there was a significant impact seems to be an unfounded hypothesis in the face of actual data.

> As for your statements about 2008 or 2012 I would need a lot of citations for claims about russian interference in those elections.

Page 5 and 6 https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf

> Comparing an innocuous diplomatic statement and a line during a debate with a prolonged and consistent pattern of contact between campaign officials to obtain intelligence provided by the Russian government through hacking....

I don't agree that calling it innocuous makes it innocuous. It's clear that the President wanted to take action once it was politically expedient to do so, and promised flexibility on issues once a second term was secured. It is rooted more in politics and less in diplomacy.

The consistent pattern of contact to obtain opposition research obtained through hacking is identical to the effort to obtain opposition research through spying, which is alleged in the Steele dossier. The only difference between these dirty tactics is that the Clinton campaign maneuvered around the law to get the opposition research, likely owing to their decades of political experience. Both are essentially the same crime in principle. It's also important to note that it is clearly known that coordination in the latter case existed and it yielded a result as well - i.e. the dossier. In the former case, there is an investigation to uncover the evidence, and until now no evidence has surfaced that there were meetings or other discussions showing collusion, nor that there was any sort of yield of damaging information that surfaced as a result of the meetings. I think the distinction between the two campaigns is important in the context of the outrage against collusion with the Russian government or agents of the Russian government, because both campaigns were happy to engage in it, but went about it very differently.

In the case of the famous Donald Trump Jr. email and meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, she was not known to be working for the Russian government at the time, and was retained by Fusion GPS - who was ironically working on opposition research against President Trump. She was able to get a meeting under the pretext of providing opposition research, there was no indication that she was an agent of the erstwhile Russian government, so to prove that a crime is committed because they took a meeting won't really hold up in court, nor should it to a reasonable and fair minded person. What it does is certainly give the appearance of impropriety and a willingness to accept opposition research, which is certainly not unprecedented.

> The strongest case against the president (note these might not actually be crimes-often the cover-up is more damaging and criminal) is that his campaign officials met with agents of the russian government

In my comment I said that the strongest case would be that the President not only worked to get elected but continues to do so. That would be fairly treasonous.

> Hell there was a new york times article this very day about how the trump campaign was aware of the DNC hacks months before it became public knowledge. Donald trump cheered the hackers on in debates. Claiming the campaign was entirely unaware is dead wrong.

Many of us around the world cheered the hackers on - Secretary Clinton is a very unpopular person to millions :)

Not sure why but these news sources are conflating Secretary Clinton's emails from her private server with the DNC emails. They are not the same thing. There are 3 classes of emails - Clinton, DNC and Podesta. The latter two became public during the campaign. The first never came out - this is the dirt that they allegedly had, and the public has not seen the 33,000 emails to this day.

Given this distinction, the NYT and other reporting is a little misleading. There was ample reporting on the possibility that Russia specifically had compromised the Clinton private server emails prior to this. It was public speculation for a very long time, much before the George Papadopolous email to his professor friend. Former Defense Secretary Gates said the odds were quite high.

Jan 2016

http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/266674-former-defense-se... http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3412251/Former-secre...

Feb 2016

https://www.forbes.com/sites/paulroderickgregory/2016/02/12/...

March 2016

http://dailycaller.com/2016/03/16/investigation-hillary-sent...

If I were a betting man I'd wager heavily that the emails were definitely seen by foreign governments - 33,000 were never released to the public, and still have not been, so even if all of this were true, the fact that the emails never became public sort of proves that the result of the alleged collusion never materialized during the course of the campaign. The only stuff that came out was DNC and

> I assure you- the united states is not a russian puppet and will never be so.

If it comes to light that the executive branch is working to further Russian interests, and so are the members in Congress who are lobbied by folks like Manafort and Podesta, then it would be very difficult to argue otherwise. Currently, the jury is still very much out on the former, since what is being trumpeted by the press is thus far betting heavily that a smoking gun will emerge to prove that there was collusion that yielded some exchange.


> I really can't understand what the Russians have gained here.

They've weakened the United States. I doubt that they really cared if either President Trump or Mrs. Clinton won the election (and indeed I believe that they spent on both); they merely want to divide our society and weaken the country so that they have a free hand to act across the world.


It is not random, it is about money. For example see Magnitsky Act.


[RETRACTED]


Why ask pointed hypotheticals when the transcripts are right in front of you?


What would be the point of sending the CEOs themselves? The message will be the same either way.


When the senate calls you in to testify, you cover your ass.


Could we just, you know, get some examples of these stunningly effective ads that have the power to sway elections? Is that too much to ask? Or would we find out that these ads that the Dems have been hyping up are nothing more than run-of-the-mill memes?


> these ads that the Dems have been hyping up

The post under discussion is an article by Republican senator Lindsey Graham.

Here's an interesting example I saw in [1], although I don't know if it was foreign-originating. It's an official-looking ad for Democrats that tells them they can vote from home by texting "Hillary" to a 5-digit phone number.

[1] https://www.c-span.org/video/?436454-1/facebook-google-twitt...




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