Russians Meddling in the Midterms? Here’s the Data

We have also identified more than 400 websites that our analysis indicates are likely to be Russian propaganda outlets aimed at American audiences. More than 100 of these websites we have confirmed as under the direction of the Russian government or we believe to be Russian with a very high degree of confidence.

In the month of October alone, we tracked 110,000 social media posts that referenced a United States midterm candidate, topic or hashtag and contained a link to one of these websites. More than 10,000 of these posts contained a link to one of the websites we have either confirmed as Russian-directed or believe to be Russian with a very high degree of confidence.

The top three websites linked to these social media posts are the site of RT, Russia’s state-financed international cable network (5,275 links); The Duran, a right-wing news and opinion site (1,328 links); and Sputnik, a news and commentary site run by the Russian government (1,148 links).

.. We have also identified 1,451 social media posts aimed specifically at midterm voters from social media accounts assessed with high confidence as belonging directly to Russian influence operations. These posts are largely focused on

  • the geopolitics of the Middle East,
  • the Saudi-assassinated journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the
  • Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh.

.. Last month, the most-shared article of known Russian origin for the month on Twitter was an article from The Duran purporting to show how groups financed by the billionaire Democratic fund-raiser George Soros “plotted with Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to eliminate conservative ‘right wing propaganda.’”

.. The Russia-linked social media accounts were active during the Kavanaugh hearings,
  • drawing attention to sexual and domestic abuse allegations against various 2018 Democratic candidates and potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. They have been
  • amplifying anti-immigrant sentiment, including conspiracy theories about the caravan of migrants in Central America, and have
  • promoted the idea that the mail-bomb campaign of the Trump supporter Cesar Sayoc Jr. was a Democratic plot.

.. we estimate that at least hundreds of thousands, and perhaps even millions, of United States citizens have engaged with the content of Russian propaganda online.

.. The consensus among academic researchers and Russia experts in the intelligence community is that Russia does not take a timeout from information battles. It considers itself to be in a constant state of information warfare. Its online influence operations are inexpensive and effective, and afford Russia an asymmetric advantage given the freedoms of expression afforded to Western democracies.

Did I Make a Mistake Selling My Social-Media Darling to Yahoo?

At its height, Del.icio.us was the toast of budding social sites known as Web 2.0, had millions of users, and served as a direct inspiration for sites like Reddit and Pinterest. Schachter talked to Intelligencer about his decision sell Del.icio.us to Yahoo in 2005 — and how it felt to watch as the company was mismanaged and sold off to a series of buyers before being permanently shut down in 2017.

In the late ’90s, I started a site called Memepool, and people would email me links. At 20,000 links, it got unwieldy. I’d copy and paste the URL into a text file on my Unix box, and then make a Unix comment mark — which is a hash — and a terse note, just a word or two. So, like, “# wifi.” A friend would ask, “Have you heard about this new Wi-Fi thing?” and I’d be like, “Yeah, I’ve been collecting stuff.” I would get the 15 links I had collected about Wi-Fi and paste them into a message.

Del.icio.us was a way to save things while wandering across the web with low cognitive overhead. You could save and tag. Tags were something I invented, they weren’t a thing before that. Instead of carefully organizing your bookmark folder, you added a word or two. And you could see what other people were working on, and share and contribute with them as well.

.. People say VC is pattern matching, and we were so far out of the pattern that no one could really evaluate us. We got one or two term sheets, but they were small.
.. Companies make you sign a “no shop” before they give you an actual offer, saying you won’t take their offer and turn around to a competitor and try to get a higher price.
.. We went with Yahoo partially because it was the first company to make a real offer, but also because it had already started a major push into Web 2.0. It had already acquired Flickr; it had acquired Upcoming — it felt like it was trying to make a big change in what it did.
.. There was also the technical consideration. The access to a search-engine indexer tech was super exciting. We were getting crushed by the traffic. We had like 30 or 40 machines in the data center, and we were adding to it every time we could. Yahoo told us, “We have a bunch of tech we could bring to bear.”
.. Negotiating with Yahoo was very awkward because it would disappear for days. It turns out it may have been negotiating with Facebook at the same time. Yahoo led with a number and a bunch of terms, and then the lawyers went back and forth on terms and payouts, but the initial sale price never changed.
.. The price of the acquisition was reported in the press at the time as $30 million … I’m fairly sure that “$30 million” is just journalist code for “We have no information; here’s our guess.” That’s the published number, and it’s a wild guess. The actual number is under NDA. It probably doesn’t matter now, since Yahoo isn’t even really a company, but it was definitely less than $30 million.
.. The money was good, but if I had joined tech and risen through the ranks the normal way, it probably could have been about the same.
.. I’ve since become an angel investor, and I’ve done just shy of 200 investments. And when founders sell, they wanna go out and celebrate. As often as not, they’re weird and awkward anyway, so it’s not like … I think a lot of time that selling is not the victory it seems. It takes away all of your forward momentum. Do you take building a product and being vibrant and known and trade that for cash? It may be the intellectually correct thing to do, to ensure your financial stability going onward, but it’s not emotionally rewarding in the same way.
.. Once we were acquired, Yahoo helped us on the tech side, but not as much as it said it would. I think this is common for acquisitions. Before you’re acquired, you’re an important visionary. Afterward, you’re a crazy person who just wants to burn money.
Any decision was an endless discussion. I remember once, we had to present to a senior vice-president. We had a 105-slide deck prepared, and we didn’t get past the second slide because they ratholed about one fucking slide. It was a miserable environment.
.. It took a year for reality to set in. If you wanted to get hardware, you went to the “hardware request committee” with your proposal. They assumed that engineers liked spending money for no reason, so you’d have to go back and present again in two weeks. So there’s a month gone.
.. On top of that, leadership had no vision or mission, so they couldn’t evaluate any decision. Upper management wasn’t taking risks, and everyone else was just optimizing to not get yelled at or stay at work late. My contract was that I had to stay for two-and-a-half years. At the end of my time at Yahoo, I woke up screaming a few times. It was a grind and super demoralizing.
I don’t regret selling to Yahoo. But I do wanna know where it could have gone if I hadn’t sold at that point. Could it have been Pinterest or Facebook? Probably not Facebook. But clearly, the urge to collect is a broader thing than I satisfied with my product. What we had built was pretty narrow; it could have been broader and bigger. And I am frustrated about what happened with Del.icio.us at Yahoo. Yahoo Answers ended up being this huge thing, and the engineering team was doing both, and they ended up de-staffing Del.icio.us in favor of Yahoo Answers. Del.icio.us had, like, one engineer.

There’s a saying: “You can be rich or be king.” You can sell your company for as much as possible, or you can be in charge. Though maybe neither is entirely possible. When I founded my second company, we had seven people, and we still argued over what to do and how to do it. I was CEO and I still didn’t get my way.

Generation Shapiro

Ben Shapiro and the future of American conservatism

.. the person who appeared to be doing the most to shape the thinking of the new generation of Republican leaders was not the president of the United States—but Ben Shapiro, a 34-year-old anti-Trump conservative pundit who came up unprompted in more than a third of my conversations.”

.. More important, though, is what Shapiro’s celebrity tells us about the changing nature of media, the emerging sensibility of conservative youth, and indeed the future of American conservatism itself.

Shapiro owes a lot to social media. His appearances on Fox News Channel are not the cause but the consequence of his fame. It is by searching YouTube that teenagers come across his debates with campus lefties, his speeches, his appearances on like-minded podcasts, and his extended interviews with friends and other members of the so-called intellectual dark web.

.. Shapiro is a conservative pundit for a dis-intermediated age.

.. They are more interested in debating social and cultural issues than the problems of government or the midterm elections. They have a snarky sense of humor that appreciates the irony in trolling the Left or “owning the libs.

.. Nor is their consumption of media limited to conservative sources. They are well aware of the critiques of the right from the mainstream media and comedy hosts, and even laugh at some of the jokes on SNL and John Oliver.

.. The issue that motivates these young people is political correctness:

  • its denial of differences between the sexes, its
  • reduction of identity to ethnic and racial ancestry, its
  • stultifying effect on intellectual inquiry and free speech.

For them, President Trump and the constellation of social and political problems with which he is associated are secondary to larger questions of cultural and academic freedom.

..  Ben Shapiro resembles no one so much as the young William F. Buckley Jr.

Maria Butina is just the tip of the Russia iceberg

There is no right to bear arms in Russia, and under this regime there never will be. According to court papers, Butina nevertheless convinced some naive members of the National Rifle Associationthat she was a genuine activist. In doing so, she gained access to their world.

.. They were both seeking to assist political movements they believed to be pro-Kremlin (the Communist Party of the 1930s; the pro-gun wing of the Republican Party of the 2010s). They were both backed by Kremlin money, diverted through cutouts (the Communist International, in the former instance; a couple of Russian oligarchs, allegedly, in the latter).

.. Butina, even if considering only her role as an open, pro-Kremlin activist, also has many counterparts, agents of influence who are openly agitating for Russian interests, now on the far-right edge of Western politics instead of the far-left.

  • Gianluca Savoini, the leader of the enigmatic Lombardy-Russia Cultural Association, seems to perform a similar role in Italian politics, even showing up recently as a member of an official Italian government delegation to Moscow.
  • Bela Kovacs , a Hungarian member of the European Parliament, is on trial in Budapest on a charge of spying on European Union institutions on behalf of Russia.

.. they too are part of a long-term project, though it’s not a proletarian revolution. Instead, it’s a kleptocratic coup d’état: The modern Kremlin project seeks to undermine Western democracies, break up the E.U. and NATO, and put corrupt relationships rather than the rule of law at the center of international commerce.

.. it’s worth remembering why Golos and his network failed. In large part,

  • it was because the center-left — especially the anti-Soviet wing of the American trade union movement — rejected Soviet-style communism in the United States. It’s also because,
  • in the 1940s and 1950s, the American political establishment, Democratic and Republican, unified around the need to defeat Soviet-style communism in Europe. And it’s because,
  • even in the depths of the Depression, the majority of Americans were never beguiled by the appeal of authoritarianism.

.. A wing of the Republican Party is preparing to double down and support the Russian autocracy, which it believes, mistakenly, is “Christian.” 

.. To push back against them, as well as their equivalents from the rest of the autocratic world, we will need not only to catch the odd agent but also to

  • make our political funding systems more transparent, to
  • write new laws banning shell companies and money laundering, and to
  • end the manipulation of social media.

It took more than a generation for Americans to reject the temptations of communist authoritarianism; it will take more than a generation before we have defeated kleptocratic authoritarianism too — if we still can.