WaPo: McChrystal advising group “planning to deploy technology originally developed to counter Islamic State propaganda in service of a domestic political goal – to combat online efforts to promote President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic”
We know that an enormous amount of time, energy, and money are being funneled into a massive array of leftist groups with the sole purpose being to take down President Trump and/or to ensure he loses in November.
One of the more troubling such efforts being reported involves software allegedly funded by the U.S. taxpayer to track and defeat ISIS. This software is being used by a Democrat group to ensure Trump’s coronavirus messaging gets disappeared and/or refuted by paid “influencers” online.
It should be noted that the group’s claims of using taxpayer-funded software have been disputed by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Hougland's claim DARPA funded the tech at the heart of his political work is grossly misleading. He advised briefly on ways to counter ISIS online. He was not consulted to design AI or analysis tools, nor certainly anything remotely political. DARPA is strictly apolitical.
— DARPA (@DARPA) May 4, 2020
Whether or not the group is padding its resume in terms of the origins of the software and who paid for it, the details of this Democrat group’s anti-Trump online activities are alarming.
These activities reportedly include former General Stanley McChrystal acting as an advisor on how best to deploy the anti-terrorist software against Trump supporters online, boosting leftist narratives that run counter to Trump’s, and paying armies of online trolls to counter anything related to the Wuhan coronavirus that is pro-Trump.
A new Democratic-aligned political action committee advised by retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, is planning to deploy technology originally developed to counter Islamic State propaganda in service of a domestic political goal – to combat online efforts to promote President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The group, Defeat Disinfo, will use artificial intelligence and network analysis to map discussion of the president’s claims on social media. It will seek to intervene by identifying the most popular counter-narratives and boosting them through a network of more than 3.4 million influencers across the country – in some cases paying users with large followings to take sides against the president.
Democrats are worried that Trump’s support has not collapsed despite their and their media cohorts’ constant efforts, and they seek to quash his support online, hoping to destroy his base support, poll numbers, and his chances for reelection.
The initiative reflects fears within the Democratic Party that Trump’s unwavering digital army may help sustain him through the pandemic, as it has through past controversies, even as the economy craters, tens of thousands have died, and Trump suffers in the polls.
“It’s often said campaigns are a battle of ideas, but they’re really a battle of narratives,” said David Eichenbaum, a Democratic media consultant who is a senior adviser to the PAC. “Today those narratives spread quickly online.”
Disturbingly, if not surprisingly, the group will apparently be pushing false narratives, ones that have been debunked here at LI and elsewhere.
The initiative is run by Curtis Hougland, whose received initial funding for the technology from DARPA, the Pentagon’s research arm, as part of an effort to combat extremism overseas. He insists Democrats are ill-prepared for the looming battle over information and attention, which is bound to play an outsize role in November.
Hougland cites as an example Trump’s suggestion last week that injecting bleach or other household disinfectants could be a treatment for the novel coronavirus – a moment that appeared unequivocally damaging to the president but was less clear-cut as it unfolded on social media.
Although the episode was associated with a spike in Twitter engagement about Trump, especially in swing states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, according to Hougland’s analysis, four of the top six tweets about Trump and disinfectant came from accounts partial to the president, boosting the notion that he had not really suggested the bogus cure.
For his part, McChrystal claims that his involvement in the coordinated online hit job against the president is related to stopping the spread of disinformation.
He also seems to understand that this is questionable tactic because he justifies it by stating, “everyone wishes the Pandora’s box was closed and none of this existed, but it does.”
Yes, it’s there reportedly to combat ISIS, not to be used against the duly-elected American president and the millions of American citizens who support him. Just because you can, in other words, doesn’t mean you should.
McChrystal said his interest in the PAC is about ensuring the accuracy of information leading up to the election, even if it involves chasing viral attention with emotional appeals and other tactics rewarded by online clicks. “Everyone wishes the Pandora’s box was closed and none of this existed, but it does,” McChrystal said in an interview.
His ambivalence is shared by large parts of the Democratic Party, which recoiled at an effort, brought to light at the end of 2018, to use Russian-inspired tactics, including the creation of fake accounts, to sway the 2017 Senate election in Alabama.
You may recall McChrystal appearing on television to declare the president dishonest and “immoral.”
Hougland’s PAC . . . . differs from more traditional Democratic-aligned PACs, such as Priorities USA and American Bridge 21st Century, in embracing the practice of paying influencers to convey their messaging. The approach raised eyebrows and prompted tech companies to clarify their rules when it was put into practice by Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign earlier this year.
“I have no trepidation about paying content creators in seeking out and amplifying the best narratives,” Hougland said.
It seems the project is rejecting the creation of fake accounts but is seeking to pay existing “influencers,” i.e. those with large social media followings, to tweet, Facebook, and Instagram (etc.) the “best” narratives . . . as defined by Hougland and Democrats.
Even people purporting to be experts in disinformation are repeating the lie that calls to poison control spiked after Trump’s disinfectant comments.
Restraint could be a more effective approach, said Cindy Otis, a former CIA officer and disinformation researcher. She stressed the need to illustrate the real-world consequences of the president’s words, for instance demonstrating that his comments about bleach were followed by a spike in calls to emergency hotlines.
Otherwise, she said, “it’s most effective to counter false narratives with straight-up facts.”
Good advice, yet apparently she doesn’t think it applies to her. After all, the spike in calls occurred a good month before that particular presser.
It sounds like this is an online effort to spread and foreground disinformation online, not to correct or quell it, and to actively seek to silence and sideline actual “straight-up facts.”
This concept of paying social media “influencers” to post content provided by Defeat Disinfo for political purposes would seem to be a violation of most such platforms’ Terms of Service.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Facebook told Fox News that “our policies require creators and publishers to tag business partners in their branded content posts when there’s an exchange of value between a creator or publisher and a business partner.”
Politicians and PACs who are authorized under Facebook’s policy entitled “Ads About Social Issues, Elections or Politics” are allowed to use the site’s branded content tool, the spokesperson added. The policy suggested that if Hougland paid any influencers, the arrangement would need to be disclosed.
As part of the authorization process for advertisers, Facebook says on its website that it “confirms their ID and allows them to disclose who is responsible for the ad, which will appear on the ad itself. The ad and ‘Paid for by’ disclaimer are placed in the Ad Library for seven years, along with more information such as range of spend and impressions, as well as demographics of who saw it.”
Twitter also chimed in on their stance on paid political content and on the accounts paid to push such content on their platform.
Fox News continues:
After this article was published, a Twitter spokesperson told Fox News that the site doesn’t have any comment “on the tactics of a political consultant or similar organization.” But, the spokesperson did point to Twitter’s platform manipulation and spam policy, adding that “if we find anyone to be in violation of these rules, we’ll take a range of enforcement actions.” Further, the spokesperson said Twitter also has a “thorough policy on automation and the use of third-party applications on our service.”
In 2018, Twitter launched its Political Campaigning Policy, which promises a degree of “transparency” for paid political communications.
The policy requires “advertisers who want to run political campaigning ads for Federal elections to self-identify and certify that they are located in the US Candidates and committees will have to provide their FEC ID, and non-FEC registered organizations and individuals will have to submit a notarized form.”
Additionally, “handles used for political campaigning advertising will have to comply with stricter requirements,” Twitter’s policy states. “The handle’s profile photo, header photo, and website must be consistent with its online presence and the Twitter bio must include a website that provides valid contact information. We will also be including a visual badge and disclaimer information on promoted content from certified accounts in the near future. This will allow users to easily identify political campaigning ads, know who paid for them, and whether it was authorized by a candidate.”
All I can say is that it looks like this one group alone will keep our Media Hoaxes feature writers very busy in the weeks and months to come.DONATE
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