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Dashed by Bots, Then Ignored

I had to create an entire post to have even the slightest chance of having someone at the New York Times read what I had intended to add to the Comments on their report about Russian bots contributing to the shaming of a feminist participating in The Women’s March of 2017.

So, I’ll paste in my commentary and some of thier report here:

“I read the Comments here until my eyes glazed over and my scrolling finger cramped. 

“The vicious botters don’t have to create mean memes – they pick up on our own riled slogans and slap us back with them.  Don’t dare say anything about feminism, Israel, or trans or you’ll likely get slapped down.  Rage is all the rage. 

“Our worn and warry brains watch out for harm.  Amygdalas enraged, we’re prone to fear, hate, and disgust.  We remember our hurts and sympathize with those who have been hurt but grow lonely and weary.  People of all political sides feel victims of the wretched, vicious realm.

“Argumentation doesn’t sway, intimidation does.  A raised eyebrow, a sneer – these steer our discourse more than facts, intelligence, and compassion.  It works!  Witness Fox News.  Witness Steve Bannon’s having advised Bolsonaro. 

“That Putin’s bots helped screw us with Trump in 2016 (enabled by Zuckerberg, etc.) is the old news we’re just now getting.  Americans are getting hip to their tricks.  Too late, except for impending rounds.

“We need detailed reporting about it and preemptive alerts for future typical bot attacks (as well as preemptive reports on who finances such attacks and political ads) such as provided in Ellen Barry’s report here, and the shorter and punchier jokes that expose the king’s nudity such as court jesters Stephen Colbert’s, David Chappell’s provide.

“Bots be damned!  Such news will not replace us!”

Here are elements of the article I railed about:

9-19-22 Quotes from NYT on Russian bots dividing feminists following the 2017 Women’s March placed in italics.

“Over the 18 months that followed, Russia’s troll factories and its military intelligence service put a sustained effort into discrediting the movement by circulating damning, often fabricated narratives around Ms. Sarsour, whose activism made her a lightning rod for Mr. Trump’s base and also for some of his most ardent opposition.

“One hundred and fifty-two different Russian accounts produced material about her. Public archives of Twitter accounts known to be Russian contain 2,642 tweets about Ms. Sarsour, many of which found large audiences, according to an analysis by Advance Democracy Inc., a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts public-interest research and investigations.”

…There was a routine: Arriving for a shift, workers would scan news outlets on the ideological fringes, far left and far right, mining for extreme content that they could publish and amplify on the platforms, feeding extreme views into mainstream conversations.

…The job was not to put forward arguments, but to prompt a visceral, emotional reaction, ideally one of “indignation,” said Mr. Baranov, a psychoanalyst by training, who was assigned to write posts on Russian politics. “The task is to make a kind of explosion, to cause controversy,” he said

,,, Already, for months, Russian accounts purporting to belong to Black women had been drilling down on racial rifts within American feminism:

“White feminism seems to be the most stupid 2k16 trend”

“Watch Muhammad Ali shut down a white feminist criticizing his arrogance”

“Aint got time for your white feminist bullshit”

“Why black feminists don’t owe Hillary Clinton their support”

… In January 2017, as the Women’s March drew nearer, they tested different approaches on different audiences, as they had during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. They posed as resentful trans women, poor women and anti-abortion women. They dismissed the marchers as pawns of the Jewish billionaire George Soros.And they derided the women who planned to participate, often in crudely sexual terms. In coordination, beginning on Jan. 19, 46 Russian accounts pumped out 459 original suggestions for #RenameMillionWomenMarch, a hashtag created by a right-wing podcaster from Indiana:

The Why Doesn’t Anybody Love Me March

The Strong Women Constantly Playing the Victim March

The Lonely Cat Lady March

The Cramp Camp

The Bearded Women Convention

Broken Broads Bloviating

The Liberal Trail of Tears

Coyote Ugly Bitchfest

…Not all of this backlash was organic. That week, Russian amplifier accounts began circulating posts that focused on Ms. Sarsour, many of them inflammatory and based on falsehoods, claiming she was a radical Islamist, “a pro-ISIS Anti USA Jew Hating Muslim” who “was seen flashing the ISIS sign.”

Some of these posts found a large audience. At 7 p.m. on Jan. 21, an Internet Research Agency account posing as @TEN_GOP, a fictional right-wing American from the South, tweeted that Ms. Sarsour favored imposing Shariah law in the United States, playing into a popular anti-Muslim conspiracy theory that Mr. Trump had helped to popularize on the campaign trail.

This message took hold, racking up 1,686 replies, 8,046 retweets and 6,256 likes. An hour later, @PrisonPlanet, an influential right-wing account, posted a tweet on the same theme. The following day, nearly simultaneously, a small army of 1,157 right-wing accounts picked up the narrative, publishing 1,659 posts on the subject, according to an analysis conducted by the online analytics firm Graphika on behalf of The Times.

…“It’s playing a trick on you,” said Dr. Rid, a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. “You become a useful idiot if you ignore effective info ops. But also if you talk it up by telling a story, if you make it more powerful than it is. It’s a trick.”

…Data on Russian messaging around the Women’s March first appeared late last year in an academic journal, where Samantha R. Bradshaw, a disinformation expert at American University, reviewed state interference in feminist movements.She and her co-author, Amélie Henle, found a pattern of messaging by influential amplifier accounts that sought to demobilize civil society activism, by pumping up intersectional critiques of feminism and attacking organizers.

So ends the impetus for my screed posted here. This is the only place it ever showed and you are of the few who read it.

My gripe and advice never made it to the Times. The issue and the danger are still with us. I’ve never seen a decent deconstruction of how bots and trolls swayed our society during Trump’s election or how we’re still vulnerable to this invisible placing of visible trouble in our minds.

Byron has been using his writing and public speaking to engage, challenge and inspire audiences for over 40 years. Reverend Carrier's mission is to rescue and revive our earthly Eden, including our human worth and potential. If you enjoy his work, consider supporting him with Patreon.

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