Tag: election

Google and ProPublica help journalists cover local elections

ProPublica and Google's News Lab are teaming up to help journalists, especially at the local level, report on all things related to elections. The Election Databot, which launched during the 2016 general election, will now offer up data on every race from the Alabama senate race through to the 2018 midterms. The portal for each event will broadcast a firehose of relevant news stories, search trends for the candidates and even broadcast FEC spending data.

The idea is that by providing local journalists with key, verified data at their fingertips, they will be able to better cover each election. For instance, the portal will have access to deleted tweets -- archived by Politwoops -- and material from each candidate's social media profile more widely. In an era where trust in the media is falling, and the media is becoming more partisan with each passing day, such solid data may be a small, but useful, step in restoring everyone's faith in the system.

Source: Election Databot, ProPublica, Google

Facebook will alert you if you liked a fake Russian account

As part of its ongoing transparency efforts on Russian activity, Facebook today revealed that it will soon let users find out if they liked or followed pages created by the Internet Research Agency between January 2015 and August 2017. The company said it plans to roll out the tool by the end of this year, which is going to live in the Facebook Help Center and will also include information about Instagram accounts.

"It is important that people understand how foreign actors tried to sow division and mistrust using Facebook before and after the 2016 US election," Facebook said in a blog post. "That's why as we have discovered information, we have continually come forward to share it publicly and have provided it to congressional investigators."

Last month, Facebook announced that Russian influence had reached 126 million people on its platform -- and that doesn't include the additional 20 million who were reportedly exposed on Instagram. The company's General Counsel, Colin Stretch, has since testified before a US House of Representatives committee investigating Russia's meddling in the 2016 US Presidential Election and said that the social network is "deeply concerned about all these threats."

Stretch added that the social network is doubling its engineering efforts, hiring more ad reviewers and requiring more information from political advertisers to crack down on these "bad actors." Before the end of the year, you can find out whether or not you were fooled by one of them.

Source: Facebook

UK watchdog calls for transparency on online political ad funding

The UK's Electoral Commission wants political parties to be more transparent about the people or companies bankrolling their online advertising campaigns during general elections. The independent body says British voters deserve the same transparency while browsing the web as they do looking at billboards and pamphlets. At present, candidates and non-party campaigners are required to include an "imprint," or disclaimer, on physical advertising that explains who is behind it. Now, the Commission wants that same requirement to cover online material too.

"This would enable voters to identify who is spending money on trying to influence them at elections," it said in a report yesterday.

The UK's election rules are currently outlined under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA). The Commission's recommendations would require a piece of secondary legislation, created by the UK government and signed off by parliament, before any fines or sanctions could be levied against uncooperative groups. It follows remarks by the Prime Minister Theresa May, who on Monday accused Russia of meddling in British elections. "We know what you are doing," she said during a speech at the Lord Mayor's banquet, "and you will not succeed."

Bots are but one method that could be used to sway a vote. The Commission says it's aware of the "commentary and concern" raised during the last general election, and would extend its new imprint ruled to cover this campaigning technique. "It should be an offence to use 'bots' in this way without making clear who has caused the material to be created and on whose behalf it is disseminated," it added. The comments follow research from the University of Edinburgh, which discovered more than 400 fake Twitter accounts controlled by Russia to influence Brexit.

Damian Collins, the chairman of the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, has also asked Twitter for Russia-linked accounts that could have influenced "the democratic process of the United Kingdom."

The Commission also wants political parties to give a more detailed breakdown of the amounts they are spending on social media campaigns and digital advertising. These are covered under PPERA, but can be difficult to track because parties file them under general advertising and unsolicited campaign material. The Commission can filter by supplier name, which might reveal invoices from Facebook and Twitter, but others are trickier to track, especially if they involve intermediary media agencies. Directly employed staff — crucial for creating and amplifying social media campaigns — currently aren't counted in election spending either.

Finally, the Commission wants its investigative and sanctioning powers to be broadened to include offences relating to candidate spending and donations. "Most campaigners follow the rules, but failures to comply can reduce transparency for voters and confidence that an election was well run," the Commission said in its report. "It is therefore important that when breaches do occur they are dealt with robustly and effectively."

Source: Electoral Commission, The Guardian

Senators want FEC to improve transparency for online political ads

It's not just companies like Google asking the Federal Election Commission to improve disclosure for online political ads. A group of 15 Democrat senators (led by Sens. Claire McCaskill, Amy Klobuchar and Mark Warner) has filed an official comment calling on the FEC to take "immediate action" increasing the transparency for internet political ads. Russia took advantage of exemptions in political ad law to influence the 2016 presidential election without revealing its involvement, the senators argued, and that could be "the norm" if the Commission doesn't step in. Internet ads should be scrutinized just as closely as their TV and radio counterparts, according to the senators.

The filing comes just a day before the end of a comment period on a proposal that the FEC should update its election ad rules. It also follows less than a month after a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill that would ask online companies to follow the same political ad rules as conventional media.

There's no guarantee that the comments will influence the FEC's position. However, it illustrates the sense of urgency among those worried Russia will try to skew future elections. The 2018 midterms are less than a year away -- if there's going to be any kind of impact, lawmakers can't afford to wait.

Source: Senator Mark Warner

Google urges FEC to adopt more specific rules for political ads

Google, Facebook and Twitter have all found evidence of Russian influence for last year's US presidential election. Google, however, is seeking to separate itself a bit from it's social-media peers in a new document filed with the US Federal Election Commission (FEC) on Thursday, according to a report by Recode.

The Google filing apparently urges US election regulators to create more specific rules for foreign-funded online political ads, including guidelines for ads about issues as well as those about candidates. In addition, the company says that it is different than Facebook or Twitter in that it allows political ads on Adsense websites, in search and on YouTube, so needs different rules for publishing.

According to Recode, Google things that the "majority of advertisers...self-impose some sort of disclaimer" when placing ads, though the company is also considering requiring all election-related ads to use a specific icon to explain to viewers why they're seeing the ad. Google further said that it needed to "modernize its disclaimer rule so that political committees and other organizations have clear notice regarding the disclaimers they are required to include with their internet communications," according to the report.

While this all sounds like a great first step, there's more work to be done to ensure that future elections are not tampered with in this way. As Recode notes, it wasn't just ads that were placed, but organic content shared and published by fake Russian accounts.

Source: Recode

Major news outlets shared Russian propaganda from Twitter

Now that it's clearer just how many Twitter accounts have been linked to the Russian government (2,752 at last count), it's becoming evident that many reputable news sites were tricked into sharing propaganda. Recode and media intelligence company Meltwater have determined that the Washington Post, CBS, the Miami Herald, Vox Media (which owns Recode) and other well-known media outlets shared tweets from Russian accounts without realizing that these "grassroots" posts were really misinformation efforts.

The study, which covers tweets from January 1st, 2016 through September 30th, 2017, noted that many of the accounts posed as activists on both major sides of contentious issues. As on Facebook, Russia's "troll team" (the IRA) was trying to exploit social divisions. It's not known how many of the accounts were created explicitly for propaganda purposes versus being hijacked, but at least some of them have shut down (whether through Twitter bans or otherwise).

The findings not only show how pervasive the Russian manipulation campaign has been both during and after the US presidential election, but illustrate how effective the messages could be. Even outlets that are famous for their thorough fact-checking inadvertently magnified the Russian government's bogus messages -- were they going to trace the origins of every tweet? And in at least some cases, it's prompting a change of strategy. The Post, for example, is both correcting past stories and will "assess [its] policy" for citing tweets in articles. However tempting it is to blame the social networks themselves for turning a blind eye to Russian propaganda, those who shared that propaganda also bear some responsibility.

Source: Recode

US could charge six Russian officials over DNC email hacking

Is Russia's hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails a "hoax," as Donald Trump maintains? The US Department of Justice reportedly doesn't think so. It has identified six Russian government officials involved in hacking the DNC and using the information against candidate Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. Prosecutors have enough evidence to bring charges against those individuals by next year, according to a report from the WSJ.

The information supports claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin is behind a coordinated effort to influence US elections, as US intelligence has claimed since last year. Talks about a criminal case are in the early stages. The inquiry is being conducted by Robert Mueller, in cooperation with federal prosecutors and agents in Washington, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Philadelphia, according to the report. The team has identified both military and intelligence hackers.

Russians hacked DNC emails and the account of 2016 Democrat campaign chairman John Podesta, according to insiders. Thousands of those emails were made public by Wikileaks at the time, something that likely impacted voting in the 2016 presidential election. No charges were ever brought against Clinton or any Democrats over the contents of the emails.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.

Trump has called the claims of Russian DNC hacking "a big Dem scam and excuse for losing the election." US intelligence officials, however, have maintained that Russians were indeed behind the hacking. "Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election," it assessed in January.

Mueller's team has already obtained a guilty plea from Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos in relation to his Russian dealings, and has filed numerous, serious charges against Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate, Richard Gates.

Facebook recently admitted that a Russian disinformation campaign reached 126 million users during the presidential election with ads that attempted to influence US users by exploiting social and political divisions, among other tactics. Sources say the Russian DNC hacking is not unlike the Yahoo attack, which allowed Russian hackers to steal the information from at least 500 million accounts, among the largest in US history.

It would difficult for the Department of justice to arrest any Russian officials. However, charges would make it nearly impossible for those folks to travel. More importantly, if charges are brought sometime next year, they will no doubt shine a floodlight on a case about which, so far, there has been little information.

Source: WSJ

Twitter offered Russian media outlet 15 percent of its election ads

Twitter may have just given the boot to ads from Russia-backed media outlets, but it wasn't quite so discerning in 2016. BuzzFeed News has obtained email showing that Twitter offered Russia Today up to 15 percent of its US election ad volume in June of last year. This wouldn't have been nearly as large as Fox's ad buy (32 percent) or CNN's (56 percent), but there's a real chance you would have noticed... had it gone through. While it's not clear whether the reach or the $3 million price tag influenced the decision, RT turned the offer down.

Twitter didn't challenge the legitimacy of the email, but said it doesn't have any comment on private chats with "any advertiser, even a former advertiser."

It's important to note that word of the Democratic National Committee hack had only recently surfaced at the time Twitter was making its offer. And it wasn't alone in unintentionally aiding a Russian propaganda effort. Just this week, word emerged that Facebook gave advertisers electoral demographics that made it easier for Russia to exploit social divisions. The Twitter scoop ultimately illustrates how internet giants weren't fully aware of what could happen by courting key Russian advertisers.

Source: BuzzFeed News

Russian Instagram posts reached 20 million users in the US

Earlier this week, we learned that over half of Facebook's US audience, 126 million Americans, were exposed to Russia's attempts to influence last November's election on the platform. Now, tech companies are back in front of Congress answering questions on Russian use of their social media platforms to affect the election. Today, Facebook's general counsel Colin Stretch disclosed that an additional 20 million people may have been exposed to 120,000 Russian-backed posts on Instagram.

The figure that the executives shared earlier this week apparently did not take Instagram users into account (Facebook owns the popular image-based social media platform). Sixteen million Instagram users may have been exposed to Russian-backed posts on the service. An additional 4 million may have seen content prior to October 2016, but the data isn't as sound. Adding those 20 million possible users into the numbers shared earlier this week, we're at total of almost 150 million people. In the last census, the entire US population was recorded as 323.1 million people.

Of course, it's likely that there was some overlap between people who saw this content on Facebook and Instagram, but this news is unsettling, to say the least. Facebook's initial claim that the platform didn't influence the 2016 US presidential election at all is looking more and more irresponsible as these new facts come to light.

Source: Senate Hearing

Senators push legislation to protect election systems from hacks

Senators Susan Collins and Martin Heinrich have put forward a bill that would protect America's voting infrastructure from foreign interference. The Securing America's Voting Equipment Act, or SAVE, is the newest attempt by the US to prevent elections from being compromised by foreign powers.

The law is designed to push the Director of National Intelligence to share out pieces of classified information with election officials in every state. Those officials would then be tasked with strengthening each state's infrastructure and equipment against threats both foreign and domestic.

The legislation would also enable a hacking program and bug bounty that encouraged researchers and vendors to look for and close holes in critical software. Future elections would only be undertaken on devices that had been audited and passed fit for use according to certain criteria.

In addition, the bill would hand out grants to certain states to enable them to upgrade their hardware in an attempt to avoid future hacks. This would also be supported by the Department of Homeland Security which, in January of this year, marked election technology as "Critical Infrastructure."

The move is likely to anger the same swing states that violently pushed back against having their voting machines protected in this manner. Last summer, key battlegrounds like Pennsylvania and Georgia rejected DHS' overtures to protect their machinery against hacking.

That decision was described as a push back against "vast federal overreach," by Georgia secretary of state Brian Kemp. Others, like UNC professor Zeynep Tufekci, said that the state's equipment, which runs Windows 2000, was "more than a decade old" and "falling apart."

As it transpired, officials believe that election hardware in 39 states was breached by Russian hackers, including voting systems, campaign finance and voter databases. Subsequently, a server that was related to a lawsuit against Georgia election officials was wiped, with Brian Kemp a named defendant.

A demonstration at this years DefCon revealed just how easy it is to breach a voting machine even for a novice hacker. If the SAFE act passes, and right now there's no guarantee that it will, officials are going to have a lot of work to do to ensure the integrity of American democracy.

Via: Reuters

Source: Martin Heinrich