Sohn: Are you helping Russia when you post on Facebook?

Sohn: Are you helping Russia when you post on Facebook?

October 8th, 2017 by Pam Sohn in Opinion Times

Gallery: Sohn: Are you helping Russia when you post on Facebook?

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The ads are clever.

One shows a movie closeup of Jack Nicholson on the witness stand playing the character of hot-headed Col. Nathan R. Jessup in "A Few Good Men." You know the scene — the one where Nicholson bellows, "You can't handle the truth!"

But in the Facebook ad, the caption has been adapted: "If wanting thieves, gang thugs, drug dealers, rapists, child molesters, murderers off the streets is racist THEN I'M A RACIST."

Right beside Nicholson's ear is a little square logo with an outline of the United States surrounding the words "Secured Borders."

Another ad shows a likeness of Hillary Clinton in convict strips, behind jail bars. Yellow lettering that matches the Secured Borders logo, reads, "HOW TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. LIKE IF YOU AGREE."

If you liked it or shared either of these ads or others like them on your own Facebook page or Twitter account, you unwittingly helped the Russians in their goal to spread dissension and hate. You helped their mission to split our country apart. And you may have helped them tilt our election.

The Secured Borders logo is made to look like a grassroots American group, but congressional investigators say the whole thing is a Russian fabrication. Some 3,000 of these ad memes — shared tens of millions of times — were part of the Facebook ad buys that the Kremlin used to influence voters during and after our 2016 presidential election.

Last week, Facebook turned over those ads and memes to congressional investigators. The social network says it has received at least $100,000 in ad spending from a shadowy Russian company that turned out to be a "troll farm" with a history of pushing pro-Kremlin propaganda.

Some of the ads were aimed directly at the election — and largely in Donald Trump's favor. Most were aimed at turning Americans against each other using wedge issues like race, immigration, religion, gay rights or gun rights.

Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos wrote in a company blog that the ads were connected to about 470 inauthentic accounts and pages. Some have equally fake Twitter accounts.

Of course, Facebook and Twitter are just the tip of the iceberg. There has been similar activity on Google and other social media, not to mention Russia's hacking and leaking of Democratic emails, and the regular attacks on Hillary Clinton and our nation's body politic by the RT television channel and the online news site Sputnik.

But the social media attacks — and they should be called attacks — are more insidious because they undermine America's trust in ourselves, our friends, our neighbors and quite literally all of what we read. And unlike television, print and radio — the social media networks are not currently bound by law to disclose who purchases their ads.

The ads multiply insidiously, too.

If you liked it or hated it or just thought it was funny, and clicked on the "like" button or shared it, you triggered algorithms that not only generated money for social media companies, but also helped spread — even further honed — demographic and geographic targets for this false news or hate.

A group like Secured Borders may test hundreds of Facebook posts to see what content resonates with people. If a post happens to take off, the group can pay to promote the post, effectively placing it in front of millions of people.

But Russia doesn't seem to need much targeting help from Facebook users. They have somehow obtained quite specific help already. Just Wednesday we learned that a number of the ads turned over to Congress and Special Counsel Robert Mueller were highly sophisticated in their targeting of key demographic groups in areas of Michigan and Wisconsin — two states crucial to Trump's victory last November. Trump won Michigan with fewer than 11,000 votes, and Wisconsin with fewer than 23,000 votes.

But again, it wasn't just our election that the Russians were after — it's our unity and our souls.

CNN confirmed that one of the troll farm Facebook buys was a Black Lives Matter ad that specifically targeted people in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., cities that had gained widespread attention for the large and violent protests over police shootings of black men.

Steve Hall, a former CIA officer and CNN national security analyst, said, "It shows the level of sophistication of their targeting. They are able to sow discord in a very granular nature, target certain communities and link them up with certain issues."

The Daily Beast reports that Russians impersonated a Muslim group in the U.S. to smear Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Hillary Clinton on Twitter and Instagram.

And it continues even now. Some users woke last Monday to see a story on a "trending topic" page of Facebook about the Las Vegas mass shooting. That particular story, published by Sputnik, a news agency controlled by the Russian government, incorrectly claimed that the FBI had linked the shooter with the "Daesh [ISIS] terror group."

President Trump has continued to dismiss reports about the suspect Facebook ads as a "Russia hoax." He has lumped Facebook with the "totally biased and dishonest media coverage of Crooked Hillary."

Yet it is what Trump isn't saying that speaks loudest.

He isn't denouncing Russia. He isn't worrying about those clear attacks on our country.

He isn't dispatching hoards of FBI or intelligence cyber experts to get to the bottom of how a hostile foreign power with a track record of pushing fake news and corruption can continue to sow chaos in our country. There is absolutely no pushback from Trump or his State Department or his Justice Department or his Department of Homeland Security.

We're under attack, and the Trump administration says it simply isn't happening.

Apparently he can't handle the truth.

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