Never Stop Fighting Until the Fight is Done

Never stop fighting till the fight is done.

That was a tagline from movie adaptation of The Untouchables, released back in 1987 when Ronald Reagan was President of the United States and communists had not yet taken down the Berlin Wall.

Never stop fighting till the fight is done.

The problem is, particularly with Russia, America keeps thinking the fight is done. America keeps thinking WE won. That is the nature of our “immediate gratification” society. We want black and white answers today. America is about today, and maybe some impending tomorrows. But Russia, they play the long game. America implements foreign policy with an eye on exacting regime change TODAY. Russia plots for the long term, even if the seeds they plant take decades to grow.

Never stop fighting till the fight is done.

I began covering politics in earnest during the 2012 campaign season. Nate Silver (who would found fivethirtyeight.com) became a household name that November for successfully predicting the outcome of all 50 states in that year’s Presidential election using some fascinating advanced metrics that took polling and predictions to a new level. He brought the sort of advanced analytics and sabermetrics which currently dominate major league baseball evaluations to the field of elections. I also correctly predicted the outcomes of all 50 states, but I was just a guy annoying his friends and family on Facebook back then.

So what do a 30+ year old movie tagline and the birth of fivethirtyeight.com during the 2012 election results have in common?

Presidential elections happen only every four years. Midterms every two. That means Nate Silver and his team have plenty of time and resources to spend the periods between elections applying their analysis to more than just who wins and loses elections.

At the end of July, fivethirtyeight.com went public with information about some fascinating work being done by two researchers at Clemson University. The researchers examined nearly 3 million tweets sent from nearly 3,000 troll/bot Twitter accounts banned for being part of the efforts by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian front organization designed to influence America’s elections and destabilize our democracy.

The research determined there were actually five distinct types of trolls/bots hard at work, some hiding in plain sight.

Troll

Right Trolls behaved a lot like the typical MAGA Americans one might see being interviewed outside a Trump rally. All they did was talk about politics all day long, and they were quite opinionated. They served to antagonize the Left while motivating the Right.

Left Trolls sometimes mirrored Black Lives Matter activists, or Bernie Bros bashing Hillary Clinton, decrying the Democratic Party for not being liberal enough or for being too beholden to corporate interests and big donors. They worked to split the party and lower voter turnout.

News Feed Trolls are a little harder to explain. They acted much the way a site like HuffPost might, aggregating legitimate news stories and sharing them all day long. They typically focused on one city or region per account. Perhaps the plan was to influence opinions by sharing a higher percentage of stories slanted towards a political bias, or perhaps it was a long-game to amass followers who view the posts as trusted instead of fake news?

Hashtag Gamer Trolls specialized in playing hashtag games. Many of their tweets were harmless, just like many of the News Feed Trolls shares were legitimate news. But they also worked-in among the mundane just enough socially divisive posts to start trouble.

Fearmonger Trolls typically spread fake news, but news which was still widely shared and spread. Think of how many people today believe vaccines are dangerous, or cause autism. Fearmongers sowed stories like that on a much more limited basis, hoping to catch one that went viral and caused a panic.

So why should anyone care, right?  The 2016 election is over. Thousands of trolls and bots were outed and banned. It is over. WRONG.

Never stop fighting till the fight is done.

There were two key findings exposed by the Clemson researchers:

“There were more tweets in the year after the election than there were in the year before the election.”

“This is not just an election thing. It’s a continuing intervention in the political conversation in America.”

The other night, something odd happened. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is locked in a tough re-election battle against Congressman Beto O’Rourke. At exactly 2:00 AM, hundreds of accounts that look like everyday Americans issue the SAME TWEET, word-for-word, endorsing Ted Cruz and bashing Beto O’Rourke for his defense of national anthem protesters.  If you look at the news feeds of these people, they seem like real people, though they clearly have a Trump-centric view of politics. What should give people pause if that they deny coordination. And the skill of these bots and trolls has advanced light years since 2016. They respond quickly to comments and messages. They mix-in individual shares among the rare bulk shares. In effect, these are the 2.0 version of the bots and trolls. They learned WHY the previous bots and trolls were banned, what behaviors tipped people off. They studied how real activists on both sides of the political aisle behave on Twitter and Facebook. They speak in slang. They misspell words. They have more realistic profiles and photos and life events. But they are the same fakers sitting in a Russian office complex they were in 2016 and 2017. Back then, no disguise was needed, as no one was keeping an eye out for them. Now, they disguise themselves and are potentially more potent than ever.

These bots and trolls are like weeds. You either keep plucking them or they take over. In that sense, the fight is NEVER done. The winner of the United States Senate race in Texas could well determine which party controls the Senate for the next two years. Is there anything Russia would like more, or which would stir more division in America than Democrats (with Nancy Pelosi as Speaker) taking control of the House of Representatives while Republicans (with an emboldened Mitch McConnell) control the Senate?

Never stop fighting till the fight is done.

The fight was not done when Vietnam ended. It was not done when the Cold War ended and the Berlin Wall fell. The fight was not over on that grim Wednesday morning in November of 2016 when America and the world realized Vladimir Putin had successfully installed a puppet as President of the United States. The fight was not over when Facebook and Twitter finally started taking action to stop these bots and trolls from spreading fake news, or worse, real news specifically designed to sow fear or distrust. The fight certainly will not end this November. The fight NEVER ends.

What are you prepared to do?

Here is the link to the source article if anyone would like more detail:

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/why-were-sharing-3-million-russian-troll-tweets/

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