Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Today's Links

1-New poll shows Hillary Clinton is even less popular than Trump

2--Finally, a Poll Trump Will Like: Clinton Is Even More Unpopular

Asked who he would rather have a beer with if neither one of them was president, Cowart said he’d rather stay home. “I wouldn’t go, even if I was thirsty,” he said.

For a president with historically low poll numbers, Donald Trump can at least find solace in this: Hillary Clinton is doing worse.

Trump’s 2016 Democratic rival is viewed favorably by just 39 percent of Americans in the latest Bloomberg National Poll, two points lower than the president. It’s the second-lowest score for Clinton since the poll started tracking her in September 2009.

The former secretary of state has always been a polarizing figure, but this survey shows she’s even lost popularity among those who voted for her in November.

More than a fifth of Clinton voters say they have an unfavorable view of her. By comparison, just 8 percent of likely Clinton voters felt that way in the final Bloomberg poll before the election, and just 6 percent of Trump’s voters now say they view him unfavorably.

3--Trump-Russia investigators probe Jared Kushner-run digital operation

4--War by Other Means-- Russian Active Measures and the Weaponization of Information

Facebook claims that it has developed “new analytical techniques” specifically “to uncover and disrupt” such abuse on its platform, which in the case of France, recently enabled Facebook to take action against 30,000 fake accounts.116 Facebook has also started to implement a third-party fact-checking tool to combat fake news that warns users when content is disputed.117 Additionally, Facebook has taken steps to change the algorithm for its trending section, which will now try to promote topics that are not only popular but also have multiple related articles to try to prevent viral false stories from being listed.118 Meanwhile, Google has announced the expansion of its use of fact-checking tags, whereby news search results are tagged with such phrases as “mostly true” or “false” if stories have been checked. Google has paired up with more than 100 news and fact-checking organizations whose conclusions appear in search results if they have met certain criteria.119 Both Facebook and Google have also taken actions against fake news sites directly, with Google banning websites that spread misinformation from using its online advertising service and Facebook clarifying its ad placement policies to include not displaying ads for sites that include fake news.120 Google reported that as a result of this change, it had banned 200 publishers from its advertising network.121...

The United States needs to support and expand efforts to provide an independent alternative to Russian disinformation. Doing so requires significant expansion in funding efforts for U.S.-sponsored outlets such as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America, which are funded by the United States but governed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors; therefore, the U.S. government has no operational or editorial input. Like the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR) here in the United States, these outlets serve as a source of independent news and as the surrogate free press where the press is stifled, producing content in more than 25 languages. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America also launched “Current Time” earlier this year, a fact-based Russian language 24-hour news channel designed to provide a fact-based alternative for Russian speakers.112 These efforts, however, remain woefully underfunded and fall short of what is needed to challenge Russian-backed media, which has become entrenched in many countries.

As part of this investment, the State Department should also revamp its approach to public
diplomacy. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (NDAA), expanded the mandate of the Global Engagement Center (GEC) beyond countering the Islamic State messaging to countering disinformation from state actors. The NDAA also authorized a significant increase in the GEC budget from $5 million to up to $80 million.113 Secretary of State Rex Tillerson should implement the changes authorized in the NDAA and prioritize the expansion of the GEC, including expanding its collaboration with NATO and the European Union. Additionally, the State Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs Rapid Response Unit, which monitors foreign news and reports trends, should feed its efforts into the GEC.114

I, the U.S. intelligence community report on Russian interference highlighted the Internet Research Agency in its unclassified report and concluded that “Russia used trolls … as part of its influence efforts to denigrate Secretary Clinton.”63 Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, noted that, “there were upwards of a 1,000 paid internet trolls, working out of a facility in Russia … they can generate news down to specific areas … in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania.” This enabled them to push anti-Clinton messages.64 Additionally, Time reported that U.S. intelligence officials found that “Moscow’s agents bought ads on Facebook to target specific populations with propaganda.” According to a senior intelligence official interviewed for the article, “‘They buy the ads, where it says sponsored by—they do that just as much as anybody else does.’”65...

According to the American publishing company McClatchy, the FBI, as part of its investigation into Russian interference in the election, is examining whether far-right websites such as Breitbart and Infowars knowingly coordinated with Russian cyber operators. McClatchy reported that “operatives for Russia appear to have strategically timed the computer commands, known as ‘bots,’ to blitz social media with links to the pro-Trump stories … Investigators examining the bot attacks are exploring whether the far-right news operations took any actions to assist Russia’s operatives.”71.....

The Russian hacking and subsequent release of emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta represented, according to the IC, an “unprecedented” intervention in the U.S. election process.38 The private cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike identified Russian hacking units Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear as the culprits behind the DNC and Podesta hacks, which was later corroborated by U.S. intelligence.39 Similarly, in the French elections, a massive document dump of stolen files from the campaign of Emmanuel Macron, the eventual winner, was released in the final few days of the election. It is not uncommon for foreign intelligence agencies to penetrate political campaigns in an effort to gain insight into future policy approaches. However, Russia was not seeking intelligence; it was seeking to influence the U.S. and French elections and the democratic process in both countries...

To build up these forces, the Kremlin has set up front organizations such as the Internet Research Agency, or the Agency, based in St. Petersburg. Funded by a Russian oligarch with ties to the Kremlin, the Agency was estimated to employ around 400 people with a budget of about $400,000 per month, with a typical employee working a 12-hour shift for approximately $700 per month.47 In 2014, BuzzFeed reported on leaked documents regarding the Agency, finding, “On an average working day, the Russians are to post on news articles 50 times. Each blogger is to maintain six Facebook accounts publishing at least three posts a day and discussing the news in groups at least twice a day. By the end of the first month, they are expected to have won 500 subscribers and get at least five posts on each item a day. On Twitter, the bloggers are expected to manage 10 accounts with up to 2,000 followers and tweet 50 times a day.”48

These groups, known as troll farms, operate like a campaign operation. They have certain messages or themes that they are pushing or advancing for that day or a week. This action can be as basic as defending the Kremlin or pushing pro-Russian content, but it can also involve advancing conspiracy theories that cast doubt on Western governments or pushing attacks on globalism. During the 2016 campaign, a major focus was spreading messages that attacked Hillary Clinton or that cast doubt on the credibility of U.S. institutions or on the election itself—in this case, claiming the election is “rigged.”49 The American intelligence community even noted that, “Pro-Kremlin bloggers had prepared a Twitter campaign, #DemocracyRIP, on election night in anticipation of Secretary Clinton’s victory, judging from their social media activity...

Debunk misinformation. The United States could also emulate the European Union’s efforts to counter Russian disinformation by publicly identifying and highlighting fake information. In 2015, the European Union established a disinformation task force dubbed East StratCom to address Russian disinformation campaigns. The task force scours the internet for fake news and disinformation, highlighting disinformation efforts on its Twitter account and sending it out in biweekly newsletters called the Disinformation Review.103 For instance, following the April terrorist attack in Stockholm, the Disinformation Review highlighted how pro-Kremlin outlets spread conspiracy theories and manipulated photos after the tragedy, noting that this fit a familiar pattern.104 As of November 2016, the newsletter had 20,000 readers each week,105 with a major audience for the material being journalists who can use it as a resource to avoid being duped.

  • Troll the trolls. Just as the United States monitors social media for counterterrorism purposes, it could develop its ability to detect state-sponsored operators. The United States could alert American users who interact with these operatives, or their controlled bots, that the accounts they are interacting with are either suspected agents of a foreign government or are bots controlled by suspected agents. A U.S. government account, operated by US-CERT, could effectively troll the trolls by pointing them out and shining a spotlight on their efforts. This sort of interaction would be similar to Google’s warning to Gmail users that a state-sponsored entity is seeking to hack someone’s email.106 Establishing this capacity would require additional resources and manpower but could likely rely on the same type of automation used by Kremlin-controlled bots.
  • Name and shame. The United States should more aggressively name and shame countries that violate norms of cyberspace. The Obama administration’s more aggressive approach to China in the cyber domain, for instance, prompted China to come to the table.107 While it is unlikely that naming and shaming would have a significant impact on Russia, it would help highlight its behavior for the public and would make Russian information operations a major bilateral irritant, forcing it on to the bilateral agenda. It would also prompt the rest of the international community to take notice and can serve to isolate...
  • In testimony to the Senate in January, James Clapper, then-director of national intelligence, said that America needs a “USIA [U.S. Information Agency] on steroids,” as we need “to fight this information war a lot more aggressively.”108

    5--The President’s Base vs. the Republican Party-- Trump voters care more about having a leader who understands them than about quick policy wins

    Recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling gives the president a 40% job-approval rating among all voters, while 55% disapprove. In counties Mr. Trump won last year, however, voters still back him by 50% to 46%. Similar results come from a Washington Post/ABC News survey released Sunday, which found that the president’s approval rating had slid to 36% from 42% in April, while his disapproval rating had climbed five points to 58%. Yet among Republican voters over the same period, Mr. Trump’s favorability has barely budged and remains above 80%.

    Moreover, these polling results reflect voter sentiment since news broke that Donald Trump Jr. met during the campaign with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton —the latest development in the Kremlin “collusion” narrative that has saturated cable news for months. According to the Post/ABC poll, 41% of all voters believe that the Trump campaign helped Russia try to influence the election, but that belief is shared by fewer than 1 in 10 Republican voters. The average Trump supporter’s concern about Russia roughly matches his concern about the president’s unreleased tax returns or witching-hour tweets....

    “I think there’s a lot of evidence to support the idea that Trump’s main appeal was validating the fears and concerns of a certain segment of Americans who felt they were being ignored by elites in the media, elites in politics, elite Republicans,” said Ms. Ekins. “My reading of the data is that he’s not on a timer or a clock. And it’s not clear to me that his supporters are waiting for him to achieve X, Y and Z policy goals. That’s an example of the press imposing their expectations on voters.”

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