Beware Fake Tweets

The Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, Russia

By Peter Galuszka

Around midnight Monday, reporters in downtown Washington D.C., stood by ready to cover the next round of protests about the slaying of African Americans by police.

They started getting tweets marked #dcblackout suggesting that internet service was being interrupted because of a secret program presumably run by the government that would cut them off.

The curious thing, NBC News reported, is that the reporters’ cell phones worked just fine. Later Twitter was contacted and began to investigate. It was curious that the questionable tweet seemed to be coming from the left-wing ANTIFA group that is said to have helped organize protests around the country.

A tweet labeled as been sourced with ANTIFA proclaimed “Tonight’s the night, comrades. Tonight we say F&*^The city and we move into the residential areas, the white hoods and we take what’s ours.”

Twitter quickly uncovered the problem. The tweets were fakes put out by a far-right white nationalist group called Identity Evropa. Twitter took down the sites because they violated the company’s policy against using social media to incite violence, NBC reported.

Just a few days earlier, Twitter had warned President Donald Trump about his provocative, violence-inciting tweets. It was an extraordinary step for a social media firm to rebuke the highest public official in the land.

As tensions grow and buildings burn across the country, including cities in Virginia, social media users have to wonder whether the information they get on the Net is fake.

After violence in Richmond, tweets purporting to be from ANTIFA with a hammer and sickle style logo appeared, claiming to be guiding protests to location for more mayhem. Whether they are real or not is unclear.

The issue is crucial since law enforcement and public officials are trying to tease out who or what is behind the remarkable series of violent protests that have occurred at many of the 140 or locations where protests have occurred.

Underscoring the instability and seriousness of the situation, Trump announced Monday that he would order in active duty troops if he thought state governors were not cracking down hard enough on protesters. It was big step but apparently Trump has the authority to do so. President Dwight Eisenhower sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas in the 1950s to enforce school integration.

Using fake tweets has become a new and threatening policy in the past few years.

In 2018, the Knight Foundation and The George Washington University released a lengthy report that in the run up to the 2016 election, more than 6.6 million tweets were linked to fake news and accounts. Many are still active. From mid-March to mid-April 2017, just after Trump took office, four million fake tweets were revealed, the report said.

Many of the tweets were sourced to Russia and China which are especially adept at penetrated social media to spread disinformation.

Russia has actively used new methods to sow confusion and scramble chains of command. It did so in a 2008 dispute with Estonia, shutting down their ATM machines and cell phones machines. They took similar steps with Ukraine before taking over Crimea and invading southeastern Ukraine.

Many of the tweets were sourced to trolls at the so-called Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg.

To be sure, individuals linked to the ANTIFA movement have played pranks with social media as well. The problem is the Big Lie concept dating back to the extreme fascism and communism movements of the 1930s. If you repeat a lie enough times, people tend to accept it as true.

Trump is a master of it to his nation’s peril.