web analytics
a

Facebook

Twitter

Copyright 2015 Libero Themes.
All Rights Reserved.

8:30 - 6:00

Our Office Hours Mon. - Fri.

703-406-7616

Call For Free 15/M Consultation

Facebook

Twitter

Search
Menu
Westlake Legal Group > Rumors and Misinformation

Trump Calls Warning of Russian 2020 Meddling a Democratic ‘Hoax’

Westlake Legal Group 21dc-trump1-facebookJumbo Trump Calls Warning of Russian 2020 Meddling a Democratic ‘Hoax’ United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Rumors and Misinformation Presidential Election of 2020 Grenell, Richard Espionage and Intelligence Services

LAS VEGAS — President Trump said Friday that a disclosure by American intelligence officials that Russia was again meddling in a presidential election in his favor was merely another partisan campaign against him, dismissing the warning as a hoax cooked up by rivals.

“Another misinformation campaign is being launched by Democrats in Congress saying that Russia prefers me to any of the Do Nothing Democrat candidates who still have been unable to, after two weeks, count their votes in Iowa,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. “Hoax number 7!”

The intelligence assessment, delivered last Thursday to lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee, determined that Russia is planning to interfere in the 2020 primaries as well as the general election. But the way it was delivered angered some Republicans, and the attendance of Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the committee who led the impeachment proceedings, particularly angered Mr. Trump.

The president’s decision to remove Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, and install Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany and a fervent loyalist, was also seen as a direct outcome of the briefing. On Thursday evening, Mr. Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, an ally and a vocal opponent of impeachment, was one of the candidates under consideration as a permanent successor. By Friday morning, Mr. Collins said he was not interested.

“This is not a job that interests me; at this time, it’s not one that I would accept because I’m running a Senate race down here in Georgia,” Mr. Collins said in an interview on Fox News.

Mr. Trump has a long history of discarding assessments made by intelligence agencies that he has deemed unfair or unflattering. Multiple intelligence groups have determined that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, and, before the 2018 midterms, delivered warnings that Russia was prepared to do it again. Early in his presidency, Mr. Trump grudgingly accepted those assessments before falling back on personal assurances from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

“He said he didn’t meddle,” Mr. Trump said in November 2017. “I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”

Since then, Mr. Trump, with the assistance of his Justice Department, has moved to retaliate against the intelligence community rather than Mr. Putin: A federal prosecutor is scrutinizing how the intelligence officials assessed Russia’s 2016 election interference, targeting the former C.I.A. director John O. Brennan in particular.

On Friday, Mr. Trump seemed to add the details of the latest briefing on Russia to his pile of so-called hoaxes.

That pile is ever growing.

Among them: He has long slammed the special counsel investigation into Russia’s election interference and ties to his campaign as a “Russian hoax,” and in the fall, Mr. Trump’s Justice Department opened a criminal inquiry into the investigation. He has disparaged the impeachment inquiry into his behavior with foreign leaders and later charges that he abused his power and obstructed Congress as a “failed impeachment hoax.” He claimed that sexual assault accusations against Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh were a “hoax.”

On Friday, Mr. Trump tweeted that he had a list of four candidates to succeed Mr. Grenell, and that he would announce a decision in the coming weeks.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

He Combs the Web for Russian Bots. That Makes Him a Target.

Westlake Legal Group 00disinfo-nimmo-facebookJumbo He Combs the Web for Russian Bots. That Makes Him a Target. YouTube.com twitter Social Media Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Rumors and Misinformation Presidential Election of 2016 Politics and Government Facebook Inc elections Cyberwarfare and Defense Computers and the Internet Ben Nimmo

HADDINGTON, Scotland — In August 2017, Ben Nimmo was declared dead by 13,000 Russian bots on Twitter.

“Our beloved friend and colleague Ben Nimmo passed away this morning,” read the epitaph, which was manipulated to look as if it were from a co-worker’s Twitter account. “Ben, we will never forget you.”

The message was immediately shared thousands of times by the network of automated accounts. Notes began pouring in from worried friends and colleagues — even though Mr. Nimmo was very much alive.

It didn’t take long for Mr. Nimmo, who helped pioneer investigations into online disinformation, to figure out what was going on: He had been targeted by a shadowy group after reporting, along with others, that American far-right groups had adopted pro-Kremlin messages on social media about Ukraine. His fake death notice was a sinister attempt at disinformation, which is the spreading of falsehoods with the deliberate intent to mislead.

“That made it personal,” said Mr. Nimmo, 47, whose home address in a town near Edinburgh and other personal data, like bank details, have also been posted online.

For the last five years, Mr. Nimmo, a founder of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, has been a leader of a small but growing community of online sleuths. These researchers serve as an informal internet police force that combats malicious attempts to use false information to sway public opinion, sow political discord and foment distrust in traditional institutions like the news media and the government.

Mr. Nimmo’s work came to the fore after the 2016 American presidential election, when intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had used Facebook and other internet platforms to influence voters. His research has since caused Facebook and other companies to ban thousands of disinformation-related accounts; he has also been tapped as an expert by governments studying foreign interference.

Now his skills are needed more than ever, as the 2020 presidential election approaches and the tactics of internet trickery have been adopted by governments, activist groups and clickbait farms in at least 70 countries. In tandem, a disinformation-for-hire industry has emerged. And domestic disinformation efforts in the United States are also on the rise.

“It doesn’t matter how much money you throw at the problem, or how many technological advances you have,” said Jenni Sargent, managing director of First Draft, a London group that tracks disinformation and trains journalists. “Without the human layer of someone like Ben dissecting the way that people use the internet, then we wouldn’t be as far ahead as we are in terms of understanding the problem and the scale.”

Mr. Nimmo’s goal is to spot disinformation early — essentially, to stamp out the fire before it spreads.

His techniques have changed as his adversaries have become more cunning. Because Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are now policing their platforms more aggressively, he is less able to rely on obvious clues like masses of automated Twitter posts and fake Facebook accounts.

So Mr. Nimmo has started looking for clues in obscure areas of the internet, like German news sites that accept unverified user-generated content and Iranian video-sharing services. Websites like Reddit, Medium and Quora are becoming popular places to create fake accounts and plant disinformation and leaks.

“Every time we catch a threat actor, you can bet that the other ones will change their tactics to try and keep ahead,” he said.

More interference is coming in the 2020 campaigns, Mr. Nimmo said. He said he was particularly worried about a “hack-and-leak” operation like the one in 2016 when Russian operatives took information from the Democratic National Committee’s servers and got it published online. Loaded with juicy and accurate information, such leaks go viral on social media and can be irresistible to the news media.

Mr. Nimmo’s path to disinformation research was not an obvious one. An Englishman who studied literature at Cambridge University, he worked as a scuba diving instructor in Egypt, as well as a travel writer and journalist in Europe. In 2007, while reporting on violent demonstrations in Estonia for Deutsche Presse-Agentur, he was head-butted by a protester, breaking his nose and leaving it off center still today.

In 2011, he began working at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a press officer. While there in 2014, he saw how Russia had worked to muddy perceptions of its invasion of Crimea that year, including misrepresenting Russian soldiers as “local self-defense forces.”

“There was this constant drumbeat of Russian disinformation,” he said.

Inspired to dig deeper, he became an independent researcher that same year. He moved to Scotland to be closer to family and began doing contract work on Russia for pro-democracy think tanks like the Institute for Statecraft.

During the 2016 American election campaign, Mr. Nimmo helped found the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, a Washington-based group that studies online disinformation. Facebook made him and the lab among the first outsiders allowed to study disinformation networks on its site before the company shut the networks down.

Last year, Mr. Nimmo became the head of investigations for the social-media monitoring company Graphika.

“He was there well before this was a trendy thing to do,” said Alex Stamos, who is conducting similar disinformation research work at Stanford University and was previously Facebook’s chief security officer. Both Graphika and the Digital Forensic Research Lab have received funding from Facebook.

Mr. Nimmo works from his home atop a hill and next to a grain farm in the small Scottish town of Haddington. To ferret out disinformation networks, he relies on open-source digital tools: the Wayback Machine to find internet pages that have been deleted; Amnesty International’s Citizen Evidence Lab, which provides information about YouTube videos; and Sysomos for spotting social media trends.

What is hard, he said, is determining when material is coming from regular people expressing a point of view or from a coordinated system linked to a government. One giveaway is when the same material is posted at the same time, or when it can be traced to an original post — “patient zero,” he said — known to be a website or social media account used by a government.

“The magic of the internet is there is always another clue to find,” he said.

Mr. Nimmo speaks fluent Russian, French, German and Latvian — and is conversant in several other languages — teaching himself by buying books in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy in languages he is trying to learn. That makes it easier for him to spot clues like mistakes a native Russian speaker makes when writing in English in disinformation posts.

The amount of disinformation has increased recently. In October, Mr. Nimmo’s team at Graphika explained how pro-China propaganda accounts targeted Hong Kong demonstrators. In November, he helped expose an operation that used fringe platforms to leak a sensitive British trade document before Britain’s general election. And in December, he analyzed Facebook’s first big takedown of fake accounts with profile pictures generated by artificial intelligence.

Most recently, he has investigated Iranian disinformation after the United States killed the head of Iran’s security machinery, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, last month. Mr. Nimmo is also tracing Russia-linked campaigns, including an effort to blame the United States for the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, which Iran said it mistakenly shot down last month, killing 176 people.

This past week, after technical problems delayed the reporting of results from the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Nimmo was on alert for disinformation. There was little, he said, and he mainly found gleeful trolling from Republican supporters and right-wing groups.

Mr. Nimmo has sometimes made mistakes in identifying culprits. In 2018, he pinpointed a number of Twitter accounts as “Russian trolls,” when one of them was a British citizen sympathetic to Russia.

One recent evening, he started work at 7, chasing leads on Iranian disinformation related to the killing of General Suleimani. One suspicious Twitter account provided clues that led to various YouTube videos. From there, Mr. Nimmo found links to Facebook and Instagram pages. After a few hours, he had traced how memes from a suspicious pro-government Iranian website had traveled elsewhere on the web.

By the time Mr. Nimmo went to bed after 2 a.m., he had more than 50 tabs open on his browser, but no definitive evidence of an Iranian government campaign.

“He’s very careful,” said Camille François, the chief innovation officer at Graphika, who hired Mr. Nimmo. “It’s important to detect them, and to study them, but it’s also important not to overreact to the threat.”

That’s especially true now that foundations, universities and companies have poured money into efforts to examine disinformation, luring new researchers eager to spot such activity. Mr. Nimmo said he was concerned that investigators could have an incentive to sensationalize material that cannot be accurately attributed and argued that new standards were needed.

“When we look back on 2020, I hope we’ll see it as the year when disinformation research passed the tipping point and really started becoming a mainstream discipline,” he said. “We need to make that happen, because the threat actors aren’t going away.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

What Happens When QAnon Seeps From the Web to the Offline World

Westlake Legal Group 00QAnon-facebookJumbo What Happens When QAnon Seeps From the Web to the Offline World United States Politics and Government Social Media Rumors and Misinformation qanon News and News Media Fringe Groups and Movements

A city council member in California took the dais and quoted from QAnon, a pro-Trump conspiracy theory about “deep state” traitors plotting against the president, concluding her remarks, “God bless Q.”

A man spouting QAnon beliefs about child sex trafficking swung a crowbar inside a historic Catholic chapel in Arizona, damaging the altar and then fleeing before being arrested.

And outside a Trump campaign rally in Florida, people in “Q” T-shirts stopped by a tent to hear outlandish tales of Democrats’ secretly torturing and killing children to extract a life-extending chemical from their blood.

What began online more than two years ago as an intricate, if baseless, conspiracy theory that quickly attracted thousands of followers has since found footholds in the offline world. QAnon has surfaced in political campaigns, criminal cases, merchandising and at least one college class. Last month, hundreds of QAnon enthusiasts gathered in a Tampa, Fla., park to listen to speakers and pick up literature, and in England, a supporter of President Trump and the Brexit leader Nigel Farage raised a “Q” flag over a Cornish castle.

Most recently, the botched Iowa Democratic caucuses and the coronavirus outbreak have provided fodder for conspiracy mongering: QAnon fans shared groundless theories online linking the liberal billionaire George Soros to technological problems that hobbled the caucuses, and passed around bogus and potentially dangerous “treatments” for the virus.

About a dozen candidates for public office in the United States have promoted or dabbled in QAnon, and its adherents have been arrested in at least seven episodes, including a murder in New York and an armed standoff with the police near the Hoover Dam. The F.B.I. cited QAnon in an intelligence bulletin last May about the potential for violence motivated by “fringe political conspiracy theories.”

Matthew Lusk, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary for a Florida congressional seat and openly embraces QAnon, said in an email that its anonymous creator was a patriot who “brings what the fake news will not touch without slanting.” As for the theory’s more extreme elements, Mr. Lusk said he was uncertain whether there really was a pedophile ring associated with the deep state.

“That being said,” he added, “I do believe there is a group in Brussels, Belgium, that do eat aborted babies.”

The seepage of conspiracy theorizing from the digital fever swamps into life offline is one of the more unsettling developments of the Trump era, in which the president has relentlessly pushed groundless conspiracies to reshape political narratives to his liking. In promoting fringe ideas about deep state schemes, Mr. Trump has at times elevated and encouraged QAnon followers — recirculating their posts on Twitter, posing with one for a photograph in the Oval Office, inviting some to a White House “social media summit.” Recently, during a daylong Twitter binge, Mr. Trump retweeted more than 20 posts from accounts that had trafficked in QAnon material.

QAnon began in October 2017, when a pseudonymous user of the online message board 4chan started writing cryptic posts under the name Q Clearance Patriot. The person claimed to be a high-ranking official privy to top-secret information from Mr. Trump’s inner circle. Over two years and more than 3,500 posts, Q — whose identity has never been determined — has unspooled a sprawling conspiracy narrative that claims, among other things, that Mr. Trump was recruited by the military to run for office in order to break up a global cabal of pedophiles, and that Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation would end with prominent Democrats’ being imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay.

The anonymous posts subsequently moved to 8chan, where they remained until August, when that site was taken offline after the El Paso mass shooting. They now live on 8kun, a new website built by 8chan’s owner.

Some QAnon fans are hardened conspiracy buffs who previously believed other fringe theories, such as the bogus claim that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were an “inside job.” But many QAnon adherents are everyday Americans who have found in Q’s messages a source of partisan energy, affirmation of their suspicions about powerful institutions or a feeling of having special knowledge. Some are older adults who discovered the theory through partisan Facebook groups or Twitter threads, and were drawn in by the movement’s promises of inside information from the White House (some QAnon devotees even believe that Mr. Trump posts himself, under the code name “Q+”). Others are seduced by the movement’s wild, often violent fantasies, including claims that Hollywood celebrities are part of a satanic child-trafficking ring.

In online chat rooms, Facebook groups and Twitter threads, QAnon followers discuss the hidden messages and symbols they believe to be exposed in Q’s posts, or “drops” — for example, because Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet, a reference by Mr. Trump to the number 17 is seen as a possible signal of his support for them.

They watch “Patriots’ Soapbox,” a YouTube call-in show devoted to coverage of QAnon, and other niche media projects that have popped up to fill the demand for Q-related content. Reddit barred a cluster of QAnon groups from its platform in 2018, after a spate of violent threats from members, and Apple pulled a popular QAnon app from its app store. But other social platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, still host large amounts of QAnon content. In general, these platforms do not prohibit conspiracy theories unless their adherents break other rules, such as policies against hate speech or targeted harassment.

The frequent introduction of new symbols and arcane plot points to dissect and decipher has given QAnon the feel of a theological study group, or a massive multiplayer online game. In interviews, several adherents described QAnon as a “lifestyle” or a “religion,” and said it had become their primary source of political news and analysis.

“It’s more of a cult than other conspiracy theories,” said Joseph Uscinski, a political-science professor at the University of Miami who studies fringe beliefs. “QAnon is not just an idea; it’s an ongoing thing that people can sort of get into and follow along with that keeps them entertained.”

With its core belief that the president is heroically battling entrenched evildoers, QAnon may be the ultimate manifestation of Trump-inspired conspiracy mongering. From the start, it was inexorably bound up with “Make America Great Again” communities online: The New York Times found last year that some 23,000 of Mr. Trump’s Twitter followers had QAnon references in their profiles.

But QAnon has steadily migrated offline to Trump campaign rallies, where dozens of supporters can be found with Q paraphernalia, carrying signs and commiserating about the theory. In recent months, QAnon adherents have complained that security officials keep people from bringing their gear into the rallies; the campaign said it permitted only approved signs and licensed merchandise at its events.

Harry Formanek, a 65-year-old retiree who attended Mr. Trump’s Florida rally in November wearing a QAnon T-shirt, said he learned about the theory after hearing allegations that top Democrats were running a child-sex ring out of a Washington pizza parlor — the hoax known as “Pizzagate,” which was something of a precursor to QAnon. Now, he said, he spends roughly an hour a day on QAnon-related websites and believes, among other things, that Mr. Trump signals his support with Q-shaped hand gestures during public appearances.

“My friends think I’m crazy,” Mr. Formanek said. “I mean, the proofs are just undeniable.”

With its growth in popularity, QAnon’s tangible presence is not limited to clothes, bumper stickers and campaign signs, all of which can be found for sale on Amazon and at other retailers. The theory also showed up at Mesa Community College in Arizona, where an adjunct professor of English, Douglas Belmore, began working it into classroom lectures. He was fired last summer after students complained.

Mr. Belmore announced his dismissal on Twitter, saying, “Why aren’t more professors, teachers, cops, pastors, and woke Americans everywhere NOT talking about this?” Later, he tweeted, “I pray that you see The Truth about POTUS and Q and their War against the trafficking of children,” and posted a video clip of Mr. Trump at a rally pointing to a baby wearing a Q onesie.

On the campaign trail during the past two years, at least six Republican congressional candidates, as well as several state and local politicians, have signaled some level of interest in QAnon. Danielle Stella, a Republican congressional candidate in Minnesota whose campaign’s Twitter account has “favorited” QAnon material and used a QAnon-related hashtag, was suspended from the platform in November after suggesting that the Democratic incumbent, Ilhan Omar, be hanged for treason.

In an email responding to questions about her position on QAnon, Ms. Stella said through a campaign aide: “The decision to side with Twitter regarding my suspension for advocating for the enforcement of federal code proves that The New York Times and Twitter will always side with and fight to protect terrorists, traitors, pedophiles and rapists.”

In San Juan Capistrano, Calif., Pam Patterson, a city council member, invoked QAnon in her farewell speech to the body in December 2018, reciting a Q posting as if it were Scripture.

“To quote Q No. 2436,” she said, “for far too long, we have been silent and allowed our bands of strength that we once formed to defend freedom and liberty to deteriorate. We became divided. We became weak. We elected traitors to govern us.”

Lin Bennett, a state legislator in South Carolina, spoke approvingly of QAnon on social media but later backed away from it, telling Charleston’s Post and Courier newspaper in May, “I got tired of looking at that stuff.”

And in Montana, an elected justice of the peace, Michael Swingley, was reprimanded in November by a state judicial board for using his official email account to send an angry message to a journalist who had written an article skeptical of QAnon. Mr. Swingley wrote that, regardless of “whether Q is real,” patriots were uniting because of it and “your world of fake news and liberal agendas that give away our country to foreigners and protect the Clintons and Obamas is coming to an end.”

Beyond the mainstreaming of QAnon in certain Republican circles, a bigger concern for researchers who track conspiracy theories is the potential for violence by unstable individuals who fall under its sway, particularly in the fraught political climate of the 2020 election. In its intelligence bulletin identifying QAnon as a potential domestic terror threat, the F.B.I. warned that partisan conspiracy mongering in the United States was being exacerbated by “the uncovering of real conspiracies or cover-ups” by political leaders. Social media was serving as an incubator for groundless theories and inspiring followers to take action, it said.

“Although conspiracy-driven crime and violence is not a new phenomenon,” the bulletin said, “today’s information environment has changed the way conspiracy theories develop, spread and evolve.”

Mr. Uscinski said that because some people with a conspiracy mind-set are willing to entertain political violence, it was perhaps inevitable that as QAnon attracted a bigger following, it would eventually come to include a dangerous, if tiny, subset of adherents.

“Once you reach a threshold of people,” he said, “that particular apple is going to show up in the barrel.”

The F.B.I. bulletin cited two episodes it said involved QAnon followers. In one, a 30-year-old Nevada man, Matthew Wright, armed himself with an AR-15-style rifle, a handgun and extra ammunition, and drove an armored truck onto a bridge near the Hoover Dam in June 2018. There, he engaged in a 90-minute standoff with police officers while demanding the release of an inspector general’s report on the government investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email practices.

After his arrest, Mr. Wright wrote letters to Mr. Trump and other officials, calling himself a “humble patriot” and making references to the QAnon slogans “Great Awakening” and “Where we go one, we go all.”

“I simply wanted the truth on behalf of all Americans,” Mr. Wright wrote, adding that he hoped those “responsible for purposely damaging our beloved country be held accountable and be brought to justice.”

In Arizona, the leader of a local veterans-aid group in Tucson, Michael Lewis Arthur Meyer, 39, was arrested in July 2018 after occupying a tower at a cement plant that he insisted was sheltering a child-sex-trafficking ring. Mr. Meyer “alleged a law enforcement cover-up and referenced the QAnon conspiracy theory as he and armed group members searched” for the nonexistent ring, according to the F.B.I. bulletin.

After the bulletin was prepared, there were additional incidents in Arizona and Colorado. Timothy Larson, 41, was accused in September of taking a crowbar to the altar inside the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, while yelling about the Catholic Church and sex trafficking. Mr. Larson’s social media posts are filled with QAnon references and pro-Trump memes.

And in December the police in Parker, Colo., charged Cynthia Abcug, 50, with conspiring with fellow QAnon believers to kidnap one of her children, who had been removed from her custody. Ms. Abcug believed her child was being held by Satan worshipers and pedophiles, according to her arrest warrant.

Also recently, Anthony Comello, 25, said in a New York City court in December that his belief in QAnon had led him to murder a mob boss, Francesco Cali, who he asserted was part of the deep state cabal working against Mr. Trump. Mr. Comello’s defense lawyer, Robert C. Gottlieb, said in a court filing that after the 2016 election, his client’s family “began to notice changes to his personality” that worsened over time.

“Mr. Comello’s support for QAnon went beyond mere participation in a radical political organization,” Mr. Gottlieb wrote. “It evolved into a delusional obsession.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Fact-Checking Joe Biden Before the Iowa Caucuses

Westlake Legal Group defaultPromoCrop Fact-Checking Joe Biden Before the Iowa Caucuses United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Social Security (US) Sanders, Bernard Rumors and Misinformation Presidential Election of 2020 Federal Budget (US) Embargoes and Sanctions Civil Rights Movement (1954-68) Black People Biden, Joseph R Jr

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. remains atop most national polls before the first votes are cast next month in the Democratic presidential primary. Before the Iowa caucuses, The New York Times reviewed recent statements he made defending his decades-long career, stressing his standing in the black community and highlighting his perceived strength on foreign policy. Here’s a fact check.

what the facts are

What Was Said

Antonia Hylton, a reporter for Vice News: “Do you think, though, that it’s fair for voters to question your commitment to Social Security when in the past you’ve proposed a freeze to it?”

Mr. Biden: “No, I didn’t propose a freeze.”
at the Brown & Black Democratic Presidential Forum last week in Iowa

False. In 1984, faced with budget deficits under the Reagan administration, Mr. Biden was a co-sponsor of an amendment with two Republican senators that froze for one year nearly all military and domestic spending, including cost-of-living adjustments to Social Security benefits.

Pressed by Ms. Hylton after his inaccurate denial, Mr. Biden said that his proposal came “in the context of we saved Social Security during the Reagan administration” and noted that Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, a liberal stalwart, voted for the plan.

When President Ronald Reagan entered office in 1981, Social Security was running low on funding and Mr. Reagan did propose to make deep cuts to benefits. But he ultimately endorsed and signed bipartisan legislation in 1983 — which Mr. Biden and Mr. Kennedy both voted for — to assure the fund’s continuing solvency. Changes included postponing cost-of-living adjustments, and the Biden campaign said that the former vice president was referring to this episode.

“It is easy to believe Biden thought minor cuts in the program in the short run would represent a better outcome than the much bigger cuts President Reagan and his advisers seemed to favor,” Gary Burtless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said. “In those days, ‘compromise’ was not a dirty word in the eyes of most members of Congress.”

Mr. Biden’s own freeze plan, though, came “well after the Social Security rescue was over,” said Paul C. Light, a professor at New York University who wrote a book on the 1983 effort.

Rather, the plan was another step in a decades-long “mating dance between centrist Democrats and Republicans to come up with a grand bargain on the deficit,” said Eric Laursen, author of “The People’s Pension: The Struggle to Defend Social Security Since Reagan.”

Mr. Biden said as much in April 1984, as he decried “gargantuan deficits” and argued that not accepting a one-year freeze to cost-of-living adjustments would lead to a “a fundamental debate over whether or not there should be COLAs in Social Security” at all. The amendment that he co-sponsored ultimately failed by a vote of 65 to 33 (Mr. Kennedy voted against it).

Mr. Biden’s overall record on Social Security includes both actions that would slow or reduce spending and those that would protect benefits.

He voted for an amendment in 1995 to require a balanced federal budget that he and other Democrats warned would endanger the Social Security fund. He supported raising the eligibility age for Social Security in 2007. And he brokered a deal with Republican lawmakers in 2010 that extended the Bush-era tax cuts and created a holiday for the payroll tax, which funds Social Security, that temporarily reduced the tax by two percentage points.

But Mr. Biden also voted for an amendment to that balanced budget legislation in 1995 that would have excluded Social Security from its aims. From 2001 to 2008, he repeatedly voted against privatizing Social Security and for improving the trust fund’s solvency, according to the Alliance for Retired Americans, an affiliate of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. that represents union retirees. In 2008, Mr. Biden’s last year in the Senate, he received a lifetime score of 96 out of 100 from the group. He spoke out against Social Security privatization in the 2012 vice-presidential debate and his current plan vows to protect the safety net.

What Was Said

Lauren Kelley, New York Times Editorial Board member: “You also originally argued for greater exemptions to the contraception mandate in Obamacare. So I think there’s some concern out there —”

Mr. Biden: “No, I didn’t, by the way.”
— in an interview with The New York Times Editorial Board published Jan. 17

This is disputed. The Obama administration announced in January 2012 a rule requiring most insurance plans to cover birth control free of charge, including for the employees of hospitals, schools and charities run by Catholic groups.

The making of the rule sparked an internal debate in the White House. Reporting from news outlets cast Mr. Biden as part of the camp arguing for a less stringent rule.

According to ABC News and Bloomberg, the vice president and William Daley, then the chief of staff to President Barack Obama, warned of the political fallout with Catholic voters who backed Mr. Obama in the 2008 election and argued that the issue would be framed as an attack on religious liberty. The Times reported that officials had initially sought a year to work out a compromise, but “a group of advisers had bested Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and others and sold the president on a stricter rule.”

The announcement fueled a fierce backlash from Catholic organizations and Republicans. As the Obama administration contemplated the fallout, Mr. Biden did not publicly oppose or defend the rule, but hinted during a radio interview that it would be softened.

“There’s going to be a significant attempt to work this out, and there’s time to do that,” he said on Feb. 9, 2012. “And as a practicing Catholic, you know, I am of the view that this can be worked out and should be worked out and I think the president, I know the president, feels the same way.”

Mr. Biden also said in the interview that the administration wanted to “make sure women who need access to birth control are not denied that,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

A day later, the administration revised the rule to shift the responsibility of providing contraception to insurers, rather than the religiously affiliated institutions themselves.

what the facts are

What Was Said

Ms. Hylton: “Why is Senator Sanders leading you with voters under age 35?”

Mr. Biden: “He is not leading me with black voters under the age — look, just all I know is, I am leading everybody, combined, with black voters.”
— at the Brown & Black forum

This is exaggerated. Mr. Biden is correct that in most polls, he leads Democratic candidates among black voters overall, but he is wrong to deny Senator Bernie Sanders’ edge with younger African Americans.

A January poll conducted by The Washington Post and Ipsos, a nonpartisan research firm, found that Mr. Biden held a wide lead among black Democrats with 48 percent support, but Mr. Sanders led with those between age 18 and 34 at 42 percent while Mr. Biden placed second at 30 percent.

An Ipsos survey conducted with Vice this month asked black Americans who they would consider voting for and found that 56 percent would consider voting for Mr. Sanders and 54 percent for Mr. Biden, a statistical tie. Among those between ages 18 and 34, Mr. Sanders’ support increased to 81 percent compared with 65 percent for Mr. Biden, according to a breakdown provided by Chris Jackson, the vice president of Ipsos Public Affairs.

In a poll by the political action committee BlackPac and released in December, Mr. Biden led all black voters with 38 percent, but trailed Mr. Sanders in support among black voters between ages 18 and 24 at 14 percent compared to 30 percent for Mr. Sanders. Support for the two candidates was nearly identical among black voters between the ages of 25 and 39, with 24 percent supporting Mr. Biden and 25 percent supporting Mr. Sanders.

The Sanders campaign also pointed to an array of surveys demonstrating the same generational gap: a fall poll from Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics where Mr. Sanders was the first choice of black voters between ages 18 and 29, a January poll from Chegg Media Center where Mr. Sanders led with black college students with 43 percent and a September survey from Essence Magazine where Mr. Sanders had the most support of black women between ages 18 and 34 with 19 percent.

What Was Said

“I was involved in the civil rights movement.”
— at the Brown & Black forum

This is exaggerated. Over his long political career, Mr. Biden has occasionally suggested he played a greater role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s than he actually did. While there are accounts of Mr. Biden participating in a few desegregation events, he has also said he would not consider himself an activist in the movement.

Mr. Biden has said that he protested a segregated movie theater in demonstrations in Wilmington, Del. at the Rialto Theater in the early 1960s. His account is backed by a former president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a former president of the Delaware A.F.L.-C.I.O.

A 1987 edition of “Current Biography Yearbook,” a magazine that profiles American figures, noted that Mr. Biden had participated in “anti-segregation sit-ins at Wilmington’s Town Theatre during his high school years.”

During his first bid for president, Mr. Biden wrongly said in 1987 that he had “marched with tens of thousands of others” in the civil rights movement. Later, a spokesman for Mr. Biden clarified that he had participated in actions to “desegregate one restaurant and one movie theater.” Mr. Biden himself conceded that “I was not an activist.”

“I worked at an all-black swimming pool in the east side of Wilmington, Del. I was involved in what they were thinking, what they were feeling. But I was not out marching,” he said in a news conference that fall. “I was not down in Selma. I was not anywhere else. I was a suburbanite kid who got a dose of exposure to what was happening to black Americans.”

He struck a similar tone in interviews with the journalist Jules Witcover, who wrote the book “Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption.”

“I didn’t do any big deal, but I marched a couple of times to desegregate the movie theaters in downtown Wilmington,” Mr. Biden said in the book. But he acknowledged that “I wasn’t part of any great movement.”

what the facts are

What Was Said

“The president showed up, met with them, gave him legitimacy, weakened these sanctions we have against him.”
— at the Democratic presidential debate in January

This is misleading. Mr. Biden is referring to Mr. Trump’s efforts to engage diplomatically with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. There is a widespread consensus that the president’s willingness to meet with him provided Mr. Kim with additional credibility at home and abroad without giving the United States and its allies much in return.

At the same time, Mr. Trump’s meetings with the North Koreans have increased support from China and Russia for easing United Nations sanctions on North Korea, as the Biden campaign pointed out. Soo Kim, a policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, a research group, pointed out that South Korea has also recently been testing the waters for securing sanctions relief for its northern neighbor.

But the Trump administration itself has not lifted the United States’ own sanctions and has opposed the calls from China and Russia to ease the international sanctions.

“As far as I know, sanctions have not been eased,” said Jim Walsh of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Certainly the international U.N. sanctions continue unabated, and I am unaware of any significant sanctions relief granted by the administration.”

A spokeswoman for the Treasury Department said Mr. Biden’s statement was inaccurate and that the agency “has sanctioned 261 individuals and entities under its North Korea authorities, accounting for more than half of North Korea-related sanctions ever imposed.”

Nearly every month from March 2017 to March 2018, the department announced sanctions on North Korean nationals and companies, as well people and entities around the world linked to North Korea. After Mr. Trump’s summit with Mr. Kim in Singapore in June 2018, Treasury imposed more sanctions in August, September, October, November and December of that year.

In March 2019, shortly after Mr. Trump met again with Mr. Kim in Hanoi, Vietnam, the president issued a confusing statement on Twitter announcing that he had rolled back newly imposed sanctions on North Korea, though restrictions announced a day earlier on two Chinese companies linked to North Korea were not actually revoked. The White House press secretary at the time, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, explained that Mr. Trump “doesn’t feel it’s necessary to add additional sanctions at this time.”

A month later, Mr. Trump said the sanctions on North Korea are “at a fair level” and should remain in place. More were announced in June, August and September. The United States opposed lifting United Nations sanctions on North Korea in December and sanctioned two more entities January.

Mr. Biden’s theory that Mr. Trump’s personal appeals to Mr. Kim has weakened the resolve of other countries to enforce sanctions is a matter of interpretation.

This line of argument “was trotted out every time Obama engaged in diplomacy,” Mr. Walsh said. “We don’t know if diplomacy with North Korea has had the effect of reducing the impact of sanctions. Maybe. But as with all things North Korea, it’s hard to say.”

Curious about the accuracy of a claim? Email factcheck@nytimes.com.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Buckle Up for Another Facebook Election

Westlake Legal Group 10Roose-01-facebookJumbo Buckle Up for Another Facebook Election Zuckerberg, Mark E United States Politics and Government Social Media Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Rumors and Misinformation Presidential Election of 2020 Presidential Election of 2016 Political Advertising Online Advertising Facebook Inc Computers and the Internet

SAN FRANCISCO — If you were hoping to hear less about Facebook this year, you’re out of luck.

The social platform announced on Thursday — after months of hemming and hawing — that it would not change its basic rules for political advertising ahead of the 2020 election. Unlike Google, which restricted the targeting of political ads last year, or Twitter, which barred political ads entirely, Facebook and its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, decided to preserve the status quo.

Politicians will still be exempt from Facebook’s fact-checking program, and will still be allowed to break many of the rules that apply to other users. Campaigns will still be allowed to spend millions of dollars on ads targeted to narrow slices of the electorate, upload their voter files to build custom audiences and use all the other tools of Facebook tradecraft.

The social network has spent much of the past three years apologizing for its inaction during the 2016 election, when its platform was overrun with hyperpartisan misinformation, some of it Russian, that was amplified by its own algorithms. And ahead of 2020, some people wondered if Mr. Zuckerberg — who is, by his own admission, uncomfortable with Facebook’s power — would do everything he could to step out of the political crossfire.

Instead, Mr. Zuckerberg has embraced Facebook’s central role in elections — not only by giving politicians a pass on truth, but by preserving the elements of its advertising platforms that proved to be a decisive force in 2016.

“It was a mistake,” Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former chief security officer, said about Facebook’s decision. Mr. Stamos, who left the company after the 2016 election, said political considerations had most likely factored into the decision to leave its existing ad targeting options in place.

“They’re clearly afraid of political pushback,” he said.

Mr. Stamos, like some Facebook employees and outside agitators, had advocated for small but meaningful changes to Facebook’s policies, such as raising the minimum size of an audience that a political advertiser is allowed to target and disallowing easily disprovable claims made about a political candidate by his or her rivals. These proposed changes were intended to discourage bad behavior by campaigns, while still letting them use Facebook’s powerful ad tools to raise money and turn out supporters.

But in the end, those arguments lost out to the case — made by Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook executive, in an internal memo, as well as President Trump’s campaign and several Democratic groups — that changing the platform’s rules, even in an ostensibly neutral way, would amount to tipping the scales. Mr. Bosworth, who oversaw Facebook’s ad platform in 2016, argued that the reason Mr. Trump was elected was simply that “he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser.”

In other words, the system worked as designed.

Don’t get me wrong: Facebook has made strides since 2016 to deter certain kinds of election interference. It has spent billions of dollars beefing up its security teams to prevent another Russian troll debacle, and it has added more transparent tools to shine more light on the dark arts of digital campaigning, such as a political ad library and a verification process that requires political advertisers to register with an American address. These moves have forced would-be election meddlers to be stealthier in their tactics, and have made a 2016-style foreign influence operation much less likely this time around.

But despite these changes, the basic architecture of Facebook is largely the same as it was in 2016, and vulnerable in many of the same ways. The platform still operates on the principle that what is popular is good. It still takes a truth-agnostic view of political speech — telling politicians that, as long as their posts don’t contain certain types of misinformation (like telling voters the wrong voting day, or misleading them about the census), they can say whatever they want. And it is still reluctant to take any actions that could be construed as partisan — even if those actions would lead to a healthier political debate or a fairer election.

Facebook has argued that it shouldn’t be an arbiter of truth, and that it has a responsibility to remain politically neutral. But the company’s existing policies are anything but neutral. They give an advantage to candidates whose campaigns are good at cranking out emotionally charged, hyperpartisan content, regardless of its factual accuracy. Today, that describes Mr. Trump’s strategy, as well as those used successfully by other conservative populists, including President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary. But it could just as well describe the strategy of a successful Democratic challenger to Mr. Trump. Facebook’s most glaring bias is not a partisan one — it is a bias toward candidates whose strategies most closely resemble that of a meme page.

On one level, Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision on ads, which came after months of passionate lobbying by both Republican and Democratic campaigns, as well as civil rights groups and an angry cohort of Facebook employees, is a bipartisan compromise. Both sides, after all, rely on these tools, and there is an argument to be made that Democrats need them in order to close the gap with Mr. Trump’s sophisticated digital operation.

Ultimately, though, Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision to leave Facebook’s platform architecture intact amounts to a powerful endorsement — not of any 2020 candidate, but of Facebook’s role in global democracy. It’s a vote for the idea that Facebook is a fairly designed playing field that is conducive to healthy political debate, and that whatever problems it has simply reflect the problems that exist in society as a whole.

Ellen L. Weintraub, a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission who has been an outspoken opponent of Facebook’s existing policies, told me on Thursday that she, too, was disappointed in the company’s choice.

“They have a real responsibility here, and they’re just shirking it,” Ms. Weintraub said. “They don’t want to acknowledge that something they’ve created is contributing to the decline of our democracy, but it is.”

In Facebook’s partial defense, safeguarding elections is not a single company’s responsibility, nor are tech companies the sole determinants of who is elected. Income inequality, economic populism, immigration policy — these issues still matter, as do the media organizations that shape perception of them.

I also don’t believe, as some Facebook critics do, that Mr. Zuckerberg is doing this for the money. Facebook’s political advertising revenue is a tiny portion of its overall revenue, and even a decision to bar political ads entirely wouldn’t materially change the company’s financial health.

Instead, I take Mr. Zuckerberg at his word that he genuinely believes that an election with Facebook at its core is better than one without it — that, as he said last year, “political ads are an important part of voice.”

There are reasons to quibble with Mr. Zuckerberg’s definition of “voice,” and to ask why a platform that fact-checked politicians’ ads or limited their ability to microtarget voters would have less of it. But it barely matters, because the terms for the 2020 election are now set. This election, like the 2016 election, will be determined in large part by who can best exploit Facebook’s reluctance to appear to be refereeing our politics, even while holding the whistle.

“They’ve laid out what the rules are going to be — and now everyone has to line up behind these rules,” said Mr. Stamos, the former Facebook security chief. “Which are effectively no rules.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

‘Chaos Is the Point’: Russian Hackers and Trolls Grow Stealthier in 2020

Westlake Legal Group 22dc-CYBERELECT-01-facebookJumbo ‘Chaos Is the Point’: Russian Hackers and Trolls Grow Stealthier in 2020 Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia Rumors and Misinformation Presidential Election of 2020 News and News Media Cyberwarfare and Defense

The National Security Agency and its British counterpart issued an unusual warning in October: The Russians were back and growing stealthier.

Groups linked to Russia’s intelligence agencies, they noted, had recently been uncovered boring into the network of an elite Iranian hacking unit and attacking governments and private companies in the Middle East and Britain — hoping Tehran would be blamed for the havoc.

For federal and state officials charged with readying defenses for the 2020 election, it was a clear message that the next cyberwar was not going to be like the last. The landscape is evolving, and the piggybacking on Iranian networks was an example of what America’s election-security officials and experts face as the United States enters what is shaping up to be an ugly campaign season marred by hacking and disinformation.

American defenses have vastly improved in the four years since Russian hackers and trolls mounted a broad campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election. Facebook is looking for threats it barely knew existed in 2016, such as fake ads paid for in rubles and self-proclaimed Texas secessionists logging in from St. Petersburg. Voting officials are learning about bots, ransomware and other vectors of digital mischief. Military officials are considering whether to embrace information warfare and retaliate against election interference by hacking senior Russian officials and leaking their personal emails or financial information.

Yet interviews with dozens of officials and experts make clear that many of the vulnerabilities exploited by Moscow in 2016 remain. Most political campaigns are unwilling to spend what it takes to set up effective cyberdefenses. Millions of Americans are still primed to swallow fake news. And those charged with protecting American elections face the same central challenge they did four years ago: to spot and head off any attack before it can disrupt voting or sow doubts about the outcome. It is a task made even more difficult by new threats to the election from other American rivals, such as Iran, which has more motive than ever to interfere in 2020 after a drone strike killed its top security and intelligence commander last week in Iraq.

The Russians were sloppy in 2016 because they could be: They caught Americans off guard. Now hackers and trolls, who have seen their tradecraft splashed across the pages of American intelligence assessments and federal indictments, are working far harder to cover their tracks. They are, as one American intelligence official put it, “refreshing” their operations.

One of the two Russian intelligence units that hacked the Democrats in 2016, known as “Fancy Bear,” has shifted some of its work to servers based in the United States in an apparent attempt to thwart the N.S.A. and other American spy agencies, which are limited by law to operating abroad, according to federal officials tracking the moves. The other unit, known as “Cozy Bear,” abandoned its hacking infrastructure six months ago and has dropped off the radar, security analysts said.

The trolls at the Internet Research Agency — the now-indicted outfit behind much of the Russian disinformation spread in 2016 — have ditched email accounts that were being tracked by Western intelligence agencies and moved to encrypted communication tools, like ProtonMail, that are much harder to trace. They are also trying to exploit a hole in Facebook’s ban on foreigners buying political ads, paying American users to hand over personal pages and setting up offshore bank accounts to cover their financial tracks, said an official and a security expert at a prominent tech company.

At the Department of Homeland Security, there is renewed anxiety about a spate of ransomware attacks on American towns and cities over the last year. The attacks, officials say, revealed gaping security holes that could be exploited by those looking to disrupt voting by locking up and ransoming voter rolls or simply cutting power at critical polling centers on Election Day. And while large-scale hacking of voting machines is difficult, it is by no means impossible.

There are also weak points up and down the long chain of websites and databases used to tally and report votes, officials said. Run by states or counties, the systems that stitch together reports from thousands of polling centers are a hodgepodge of new and old technologies, many with spotty security.

With the first primaries just weeks away, officials are keeping a watchful eye for hints about what to expect come November. The widespread expectation is that hackers, who may have only a single shot at exploiting a particular bug or vulnerability, will wait until the general election rather than risk wasting it on a primary.

Some of the meddling is homegrown. Americans have been exposed spinning up fake websites for Democratic front-runners and paying Macedonians to promote divisive political views. Facebook, the most important digital platform for political ads, also made it clear this week that it would not police political messaging for lies or misleading claims.

With Americans so mistrustful of one another, and of the political process, the fear of hacking could be as dangerous as an actual cyberattack — especially if the election is close, as expected. That is what happened last November in Kentucky, when talk of a rigged election spread online after it became clear that the governor’s race would come down to the wire.

“You don’t actually have to breach an election system in order to create the public impression that you have,” said Laura Rosenberger, director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which tracks Russian disinformation efforts.

“Chaos is the point,” she added. “You can imagine many different scenarios.”

Still, officials say, the deepest challenges come from abroad. Iran, under harsh sanctions that were not in place four years ago, nosed around the election system in 2018. More recently, Iranian hackers have been caught trying to compromise President Trump’s campaign and impersonating American political candidates on Twitter.

For his part, Mr. Trump has already warned North Korea against “interference,” though he appeared to be referring to missile launches meant to embarrass him.

The president has shown far less concern about Russian interference. He has repeatedly questioned the idea that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election, viewing such talk as a challenge to his legitimacy. In his zeal to find another culprit, Mr. Trump eagerly embraced a Russian-backed conspiracy theory that shifted the blame to Ukraine, and set in motion the events that led to his impeachment.

American officials, however, are nearly unanimous in the conclusion that Russia interfered in 2016, and that it remains the greatest threat in 2020. Unlike other countries, which are seen as eager to influence American policy, Russia appears, above all, to be interested in undermining confidence in America’s democratic institutions, starting with the voting process.

Then and now, officials and experts said, the Russians and others could bank on one constant: America’s partisan divide, which engenders deep cynicism among Democrats and Republicans alike.

“Our adversaries, including Russia, China, Iran and others, are persistent: They focus on our politics and try to take advantage of existing fissures and American sentiment, particularly if it may weaken us,” said Shelby Pierson, who monitors election threats at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

“They’ll try many tactics and can adapt,” she added. “If it doesn’t work out, they try something else.”

In the public imagination, the defining elements of Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election were disinformation and the hacking of Democratic Party emails. But as they look to 2020, many election security officials and experts say the most worrying piece of the Russian meddling was the hacking of state election systems.

Election systems in all 50 states were targets of Russian hackers in 2016, though voting went smoothly in most places. In the estimation of many officials and experts, the effort was probably a trial run meant to probe American defenses and identify weaknesses in the vast back-end apparatus — voter-registration operations, state and local election databases, electronic poll books and other equipment — through which American elections are run.

One expert told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia was “conducting the reconnaissance to do the network mapping, to do the topology mapping, so that you could actually understand the network, establish a presence so you could come back later and actually execute an operation.”

Of particular concern is the Russians’ hacking of three companies that provide states with the back-end systems that have increasingly replaced the thick binders of paper used to verify voters’ identities and registration status.

Current and former officials say American intelligence agencies determined in 2017 that the companies’ systems had been penetrated. But officials still cannot say how far the hackers got or whether any data was stolen or corrupted.

The companies operate without federal oversight — it is states, after all, that run American elections, yet most lack the resources or expertise to oversee what are essentially tech firms. As a result, little is known about the companies’ security, employee requirements or supply-chain practices, experts said.

One of the targeted companies, VR Systems, provided e-poll books to Durham County, N.C., where malfunctions with the electronic systems in 2016 led to scores of voters’ being told incorrectly that they had already cast ballots or were ineligible to vote.

Though officials declassified a report in recent weeks that showed configuration errors, not an attack, were to blame for the problems in Durham, experts say the Election Day chaos there highlighted the risk of an attack or ordinary malfunction that blocks voters from casting their votes in swing states.

The rise of ransomware — which typically locks a system until victims pay the attackers in a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin — has given another weapon to attackers looking to sow chaos and digitally disenfranchise voters.

American cities and towns faced a record number of ransomware attacks last year, with more than 100 federal, state and municipal governments hit.

Homeland Security officials are investigating whether Russian intelligence was involved in any of the attacks, according to two department officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence. They are looking into whether cybercriminals, who appeared to be motivated by greed, were used as decoys to test the defenses of states and cities that might make ideal targets closer to the election. Among the towns hit hardest by ransomware last year was Riviera Beach, Fla., in Palm Beach County — which played an outsize role in deciding the contested 2000 presidential election.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election, there was an intense focus on America’s voting machines, particularly the pricey touch-screen devices that lack the paper trail necessary to audit random samples of the tallies or conduct a reliable — if slow — manual recount.

Yet many machines remain vulnerable, as J. Alex Halderman, a professor at the University of Michigan, often demonstrates when he runs fake elections between George Washington and Benedict Arnold, and manipulates the software that prepares the ballots to assure a victory for America’s most famous traitor.

“In every single case, we found ways for attackers to sabotage machines and to steal votes,” he told the Senate Intelligence Committee, describing his research.

A study published in December by Interos, a risk-management firm, raised questions about the security of the hardware used in the machines, as well. Two-thirds of the companies that supply critical components for voting machines maintain offices in Russia and China, where foreign companies are regularly required to give security officials sensitive technical information, including software code in some cases. Chinese-owned companies make about a fifth of the voting machine components.

Each of those parts presents an opportunity for foreign interference. “There has been insufficient attention to the potential problems of the actual voting machines being hacked,” said David Dill, founder of the Verified Voting Foundation.

Come November, eight or so states will still be without full paper backup. These include battleground states, like Pennsylvania, that are out of funds to replace paperless machines.

Much as 20th-century militaries learned to combine soldiers, sea power and airplanes to mount a coordinated assault, Russia has proved adept at meddling in elections by blending different types of digital malfeasance into one larger operation. The 2016 election exemplified the playbook: Russian hackers stole sensitive material, starting with Democratic Party emails, then used trolls to spread and spin the material, and built an echo chamber to widen its effect.

Now, as the next election approaches, hackers appear to be laying the groundwork for a repeat. But this time they are employing techniques that are more sophisticated — and dangerous — in their attempts to steal potentially embarrassing material from political campaigns.

Security experts say they are witnessing a significant ramp-up in attempts to hack Democratic front-runners. In just the last two months, there were roughly a thousand phishing attempts against each of the leading Democratic candidates, according to Area 1, a Silicon Valley security firm, which did not name the candidates.

Most were attempts to replicate the 2016 hack of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, who was successfully baited into turning over his email credentials, said Oren Falkowitz, Area 1’s chief executive. But in about a fifth of the attacks, hackers compromised the accounts of campaign consultants and affiliates, and used those to send malicious lures to people inside the campaign. It is an extra step for hackers, but individuals are softer targets than the campaign, and people are far more likely to click on a link if they know the sender.

An episode during the run-up to Britain’s recent parliamentary election highlighted the potential, but also the limits, of disinformation campaigns based on real information.

In November, an anonymous Reddit user — who has since been linked to a wide-ranging Russian disinformation campaign — posted internal British government documents that detailed preliminary talks with the United States on a trade deal. Though the post did not gain much attention initially, it eventually made its way to the opposition Labour party, which said it offered proof that the Conservatives, if re-elected, planned to privatize the National Health Service as part of a deal with the United States.

News of the documents forced Prime Minister Boris Johnson to deny that his party planned to privatize the health service, though his government acknowledged that the leaked materials were genuine.

But with the Conservatives well ahead in the polls, the episode did nothing to alter the election’s outcome. Mr. Johnson won a commanding majority in Parliament and a clear mandate to proceed with Britain’s exit from the European Union — and cut a trade deal with the United States.

The other pieces of the Russian campaign, which targeted a number of Western countries between 2016 and 2019, had even less impact, according to a report last month by Graphika, a firm that tracks social media activity. Called Secondary Infektion, the campaign was run by trolls who used hundreds of social media accounts to spread 44 stories in at least six languages. The stories ranged from fictitious claims about the 2016 American election to an article that sought to link President Emmanuel Macron of France to Islamist militants.

Most were demonstrably false and based on faked interviews or manufactured documents. The trade-deal story appears to have been the only one based on real material, and the only one that made international headlines.

“Some were openly mocked by real users; many were simply ignored,” Ben Nimmo of Graphika wrote in the firm’s report.

“As the 2020 U.S. presidential election approaches,” Mr. Nimmo added, “it is vital to be wary of potential interference, but it is equally important to understand what forms of interference are most damaging.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

‘Chaos Is the Point’: Russian Hackers and Trolls Grow Stealthier in 2020

Westlake Legal Group 22dc-CYBERELECT-01-facebookJumbo ‘Chaos Is the Point’: Russian Hackers and Trolls Grow Stealthier in 2020 Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia Rumors and Misinformation Presidential Election of 2020 News and News Media Cyberwarfare and Defense

The National Security Agency and its British counterpart issued an unusual warning in October: The Russians were back and growing stealthier.

Groups linked to Russia’s intelligence agencies, they noted, had recently been uncovered boring into the network of an elite Iranian hacking unit and attacking governments and private companies in the Middle East and Britain — hoping Tehran would be blamed for the havoc.

For federal and state officials charged with readying defenses for the 2020 election, it was a clear message that the next cyberwar was not going to be like the last. The landscape is evolving, and the piggybacking on Iranian networks was an example of what America’s election-security officials and experts face as the United States enters what is shaping up to be an ugly campaign season marred by hacking and disinformation.

American defenses have vastly improved in the four years since Russian hackers and trolls mounted a broad campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election. Facebook is looking for threats it barely knew existed in 2016, such as fake ads paid for in rubles and self-proclaimed Texas secessionists logging in from St. Petersburg. Voting officials are learning about bots, ransomware and other vectors of digital mischief. Military officials are considering whether to embrace information warfare and retaliate against election interference by hacking senior Russian officials and leaking their personal emails or financial information.

Yet interviews with dozens of officials and experts make clear that many of the vulnerabilities exploited by Moscow in 2016 remain. Most political campaigns are unwilling to spend what it takes to set up effective cyberdefenses. Millions of Americans are still primed to swallow fake news. And those charged with protecting American elections face the same central challenge they did four years ago: to spot and head off any attack before it can disrupt voting or sow doubts about the outcome. It is a task made even more difficult by new threats to the election from other American rivals, such as Iran, which has more motive than ever to interfere in 2020 after a drone strike killed its top security and intelligence commander last week in Iraq.

The Russians were sloppy in 2016 because they could be: They caught Americans off guard. Now hackers and trolls, who have seen their tradecraft splashed across the pages of American intelligence assessments and federal indictments, are working far harder to cover their tracks. They are, as one American intelligence official put it, “refreshing” their operations.

One of the two Russian intelligence units that hacked the Democrats in 2016, known as “Fancy Bear,” has shifted some of its work to servers based in the United States in an apparent attempt to thwart the N.S.A. and other American spy agencies, which are limited by law to operating abroad, according to federal officials tracking the moves. The other unit, known as “Cozy Bear,” abandoned its hacking infrastructure six months ago and has dropped off the radar, security analysts said.

The trolls at the Internet Research Agency — the now-indicted outfit behind much of the Russian disinformation spread in 2016 — have ditched email accounts that were being tracked by Western intelligence agencies and moved to encrypted communication tools, like ProtonMail, that are much harder to trace. They are also trying to exploit a hole in Facebook’s ban on foreigners buying political ads, paying American users to hand over personal pages and setting up offshore bank accounts to cover their financial tracks, said an official and a security expert at a prominent tech company.

At the Department of Homeland Security, there is renewed anxiety about a spate of ransomware attacks on American towns and cities over the last year. The attacks, officials say, revealed gaping security holes that could be exploited by those looking to disrupt voting by locking up and ransoming voter rolls or simply cutting power at critical polling centers on Election Day. And while large-scale hacking of voting machines is difficult, it is by no means impossible.

There are also weak points up and down the long chain of websites and databases used to tally and report votes, officials said. Run by states or counties, the systems that stitch together reports from thousands of polling centers are a hodgepodge of new and old technologies, many with spotty security.

With the first primaries just weeks away, officials are keeping a watchful eye for hints about what to expect come November. The widespread expectation is that hackers, who may have only a single shot at exploiting a particular bug or vulnerability, will wait until the general election rather than risk wasting it on a primary.

Some of the meddling is homegrown. Americans have been exposed spinning up fake websites for Democratic front-runners and paying Macedonians to promote divisive political views. Facebook, the most important digital platform for political ads, also made it clear this week that it would not police political messaging for lies or misleading claims.

With Americans so mistrustful of one another, and of the political process, the fear of hacking could be as dangerous as an actual cyberattack — especially if the election is close, as expected. That is what happened last November in Kentucky, when talk of a rigged election spread online after it became clear that the governor’s race would come down to the wire.

“You don’t actually have to breach an election system in order to create the public impression that you have,” said Laura Rosenberger, director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which tracks Russian disinformation efforts.

“Chaos is the point,” she added. “You can imagine many different scenarios.”

Still, officials say, the deepest challenges come from abroad. Iran, under harsh sanctions that were not in place four years ago, nosed around the election system in 2018. More recently, Iranian hackers have been caught trying to compromise President Trump’s campaign and impersonating American political candidates on Twitter.

For his part, Mr. Trump has already warned North Korea against “interference,” though he appeared to be referring to missile launches meant to embarrass him.

The president has shown far less concern about Russian interference. He has repeatedly questioned the idea that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election, viewing such talk as a challenge to his legitimacy. In his zeal to find another culprit, Mr. Trump eagerly embraced a Russian-backed conspiracy theory that shifted the blame to Ukraine, and set in motion the events that led to his impeachment.

American officials, however, are nearly unanimous in the conclusion that Russia interfered in 2016, and that it remains the greatest threat in 2020. Unlike other countries, which are seen as eager to influence American policy, Russia appears, above all, to be interested in undermining confidence in America’s democratic institutions, starting with the voting process.

Then and now, officials and experts said, the Russians and others could bank on one constant: America’s partisan divide, which engenders deep cynicism among Democrats and Republicans alike.

“Our adversaries, including Russia, China, Iran and others, are persistent: They focus on our politics and try to take advantage of existing fissures and American sentiment, particularly if it may weaken us,” said Shelby Pierson, who monitors election threats at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

“They’ll try many tactics and can adapt,” she added. “If it doesn’t work out, they try something else.”

In the public imagination, the defining elements of Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election were disinformation and the hacking of Democratic Party emails. But as they look to 2020, many election security officials and experts say the most worrying piece of the Russian meddling was the hacking of state election systems.

Election systems in all 50 states were targets of Russian hackers in 2016, though voting went smoothly in most places. In the estimation of many officials and experts, the effort was probably a trial run meant to probe American defenses and identify weaknesses in the vast back-end apparatus — voter-registration operations, state and local election databases, electronic poll books and other equipment — through which American elections are run.

One expert told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia was “conducting the reconnaissance to do the network mapping, to do the topology mapping, so that you could actually understand the network, establish a presence so you could come back later and actually execute an operation.”

Of particular concern is the Russians’ hacking of three companies that provide states with the back-end systems that have increasingly replaced the thick binders of paper used to verify voters’ identities and registration status.

Current and former officials say American intelligence agencies determined in 2017 that the companies’ systems had been penetrated. But officials still cannot say how far the hackers got or whether any data was stolen or corrupted.

The companies operate without federal oversight — it is states, after all, that run American elections, yet most lack the resources or expertise to oversee what are essentially tech firms. As a result, little is known about the companies’ security, employee requirements or supply-chain practices, experts said.

One of the targeted companies, VR Systems, provided e-poll books to Durham County, N.C., where malfunctions with the electronic systems in 2016 led to scores of voters’ being told incorrectly that they had already cast ballots or were ineligible to vote.

Though officials declassified a report in recent weeks that showed configuration errors, not an attack, were to blame for the problems in Durham, experts say the Election Day chaos there highlighted the risk of an attack or ordinary malfunction that blocks voters from casting their votes in swing states.

The rise of ransomware — which typically locks a system until victims pay the attackers in a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin — has given another weapon to attackers looking to sow chaos and digitally disenfranchise voters.

American cities and towns faced a record number of ransomware attacks last year, with more than 100 federal, state and municipal governments hit.

Homeland Security officials are investigating whether Russian intelligence was involved in any of the attacks, according to two department officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence. They are looking into whether cybercriminals, who appeared to be motivated by greed, were used as decoys to test the defenses of states and cities that might make ideal targets closer to the election. Among the towns hit hardest by ransomware last year was Riviera Beach, Fla., in Palm Beach County — which played an outsize role in deciding the contested 2000 presidential election.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election, there was an intense focus on America’s voting machines, particularly the pricey touch-screen devices that lack the paper trail necessary to audit random samples of the tallies or conduct a reliable — if slow — manual recount.

Yet many machines remain vulnerable, as J. Alex Halderman, a professor at the University of Michigan, often demonstrates when he runs fake elections between George Washington and Benedict Arnold, and manipulates the software that prepares the ballots to assure a victory for America’s most famous traitor.

“In every single case, we found ways for attackers to sabotage machines and to steal votes,” he told the Senate Intelligence Committee, describing his research.

A study published in December by Interos, a risk-management firm, raised questions about the security of the hardware used in the machines, as well. Two-thirds of the companies that supply critical components for voting machines maintain offices in Russia and China, where foreign companies are regularly required to give security officials sensitive technical information, including software code in some cases. Chinese-owned companies make about a fifth of the voting machine components.

Each of those parts presents an opportunity for foreign interference. “There has been insufficient attention to the potential problems of the actual voting machines being hacked,” said David Dill, founder of the Verified Voting Foundation.

Come November, eight or so states will still be without full paper backup. These include battleground states, like Pennsylvania, that are out of funds to replace paperless machines.

Much as 20th-century militaries learned to combine soldiers, sea power and airplanes to mount a coordinated assault, Russia has proved adept at meddling in elections by blending different types of digital malfeasance into one larger operation. The 2016 election exemplified the playbook: Russian hackers stole sensitive material, starting with Democratic Party emails, then used trolls to spread and spin the material, and built an echo chamber to widen its effect.

Now, as the next election approaches, hackers appear to be laying the groundwork for a repeat. But this time they are employing techniques that are more sophisticated — and dangerous — in their attempts to steal potentially embarrassing material from political campaigns.

Security experts say they are witnessing a significant ramp-up in attempts to hack Democratic front-runners. In just the last two months, there were roughly a thousand phishing attempts against each of the leading Democratic candidates, according to Area 1, a Silicon Valley security firm, which did not name the candidates.

Most were attempts to replicate the 2016 hack of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, who was successfully baited into turning over his email credentials, said Oren Falkowitz, Area 1’s chief executive. But in about a fifth of the attacks, hackers compromised the accounts of campaign consultants and affiliates, and used those to send malicious lures to people inside the campaign. It is an extra step for hackers, but individuals are softer targets than the campaign, and people are far more likely to click on a link if they know the sender.

An episode during the run-up to Britain’s recent parliamentary election highlighted the potential, but also the limits, of disinformation campaigns based on real information.

In November, an anonymous Reddit user — who has since been linked to a wide-ranging Russian disinformation campaign — posted internal British government documents that detailed preliminary talks with the United States on a trade deal. Though the post did not gain much attention initially, it eventually made its way to the opposition Labour party, which said it offered proof that the Conservatives, if re-elected, planned to privatize the National Health Service as part of a deal with the United States.

News of the documents forced Prime Minister Boris Johnson to deny that his party planned to privatize the health service, though his government acknowledged that the leaked materials were genuine.

But with the Conservatives well ahead in the polls, the episode did nothing to alter the election’s outcome. Mr. Johnson won a commanding majority in Parliament and a clear mandate to proceed with Britain’s exit from the European Union — and cut a trade deal with the United States.

The other pieces of the Russian campaign, which targeted a number of Western countries between 2016 and 2019, had even less impact, according to a report last month by Graphika, a firm that tracks social media activity. Called Secondary Infektion, the campaign was run by trolls who used hundreds of social media accounts to spread 44 stories in at least six languages. The stories ranged from fictitious claims about the 2016 American election to an article that sought to link President Emmanuel Macron of France to Islamist militants.

Most were demonstrably false and based on faked interviews or manufactured documents. The trade-deal story appears to have been the only one based on real material, and the only one that made international headlines.

“Some were openly mocked by real users; many were simply ignored,” Ben Nimmo of Graphika wrote in the firm’s report.

“As the 2020 U.S. presidential election approaches,” Mr. Nimmo added, “it is vital to be wary of potential interference, but it is equally important to understand what forms of interference are most damaging.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Awash in Disinformation Before Vote, Taiwan Points Finger at China

Westlake Legal Group 00taiwanmeddling-1-facebookJumbo Awash in Disinformation Before Vote, Taiwan Points Finger at China Voting and Voters Tsai Ing-wen Taiwan Social Media Rumors and Misinformation Propaganda Politics and Government Han Kuo-yu elections Democratic Progressive Party (Taiwan) Computers and the Internet Chinese Nationalist Party (Taiwan) China

TAIPEI, Taiwan — At first glance, the bespectacled YouTuber railing against Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, just seems like a concerned citizen making an appeal to his fellow Taiwanese.

He speaks Taiwanese-accented Mandarin, with the occasional phrase in Taiwanese dialect. His captions are written with the traditional Chinese characters used in Taiwan, not the simplified ones used in China. With outrage in his voice, he accuses Ms. Tsai of selling out “our beloved land of Taiwan” to Japan and the United States.

The man, Zhang Xida, does not say in his videos whom he works for. But other websites and videos make it clear: He is a host for China National Radio, the Beijing-run broadcaster.

As Taiwan gears up for a major election this week, officials and researchers worry that China is experimenting with social media manipulation to sway the vote. Doing so would be easy, they fear, in the island’s rowdy democracy, where the news cycle is fast and voters are already awash in false or highly partisan information.

China has been upfront about its dislike for President Tsai, who opposes closer ties with Beijing. The Communist Party claims Taiwan as part of China’s territory, and it has long deployed propaganda and intimidation to try to influence elections here.

Polls suggest, however, that Beijing’s heavy-handed ways might be backfiring and driving voters to embrace Ms. Tsai. Thousands of Taiwan citizens marched last month against “red media,” or local news organizations supposedly influenced by the Chinese government.

That is why Beijing may be turning to subtler, digital-age methods to inflame and divide.

Recently, there have been Facebook posts saying falsely that Joshua Wong, a Hong Kong democracy activist who has fans in Taiwan, had attacked an old man. There were posts about nonexistent protests outside Taiwan’s presidential house, and hoax messages warning that ballots for the opposition Kuomintang, or Chinese Nationalist Party, would be automatically invalidated.

So many rumors and falsehoods circulate on Taiwanese social media that it can be hard to tell whether they originate in Taiwan or in China, and whether they are the work of private provocateurs or of state agents.

Taiwan’s National Security Bureau in May issued a downbeat assessment of Chinese-backed disinformation on the island, urging a “‘whole of government’ and ‘whole of society’ response.”

“False information is the last step in an information war,” the bureau’s report said. “If you find false information, that means you have already been thoroughly infiltrated.”

Taiwanese society has woken up to the threat. The government has strengthened laws against spreading harmful rumors. Companies including Facebook, Google and the messaging service Line have agreed to police their platforms more stringently. Government departments and civil society groups now race to debunk hoaxes as quickly as they appear.

The election will put these efforts — and the resilience of Taiwan’s democracy — to the test.

“The ultimate goal, just like what Russia tried to do in the United States, is to crush people’s confidence in the democratic system,” said Tzeng Yi-suo of the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, a think tank funded by the government of Taiwan.

Fears of Chinese meddling became acute in recent months after a man named Wang Liqiang sought asylum in Australia claiming he had worked for Chinese intelligence to fund pro-Beijing candidates in Taiwan, buy off media groups and conduct social media attacks.

Mr. Wang’s account remains largely unverified. But there are other signs that Beijing is working to upgrade its techniques of information warfare.

Twitter, which is blocked in mainland China, recently took down a vast network of accounts that it described as Chinese state-backed trolls trying to discredit Hong Kong’s protesters.

A 2018 paper in a journal linked to the United Front Work Department, a Communist Party organ that organizes overseas political networking, argued that Beijing had failed to shape Taiwanese public discourse in favor of unification with China.

In November, the United Front Work Department held a conference in Beijing on internet influence activities, according to an official social media account. The department’s head, You Quan, said the United Front would help people such as social media influencers, live-streamers and professional e-sports players to “play an active role in guiding public opinion.”

“We understand that the people who are sowing discord are also building a community, that they are also learning from each other’s playbooks,” said Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s digital minister. “There are new innovations happening literally every day.”

In Taiwan, Chinese internet trolls were once easily spotted because they posted using the simplified Chinese characters found only on the mainland.

That happens less these days, though there are still linguistic slip-ups.

In one of the YouTube videos from Mr. Zhang, the China National Radio employee, a character in the description is incorrectly translated into traditional Chinese from simplified Chinese. Mr. Zhang did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Puma Shen, an assistant professor at National Taipei University who studies Chinese influence efforts, does not believe that disinformation from China is always guided by some central authority as it spreads around the internet.

“It’s not an order from Beijing,” Mr. Shen said. Much of the activity seems to be scattered groups of troublemakers, paid or not, who feed off one another’s trolling. “People are enthusiastic about doing this kind of stuff there in China,” he said.

In December, Taiwan’s justice ministry warned about a fake government notice saying Taiwan was deporting protesters who had fled Hong Kong. The hoax first appeared on the Chinese social platform Weibo, the ministry said, before spreading to a Chinese nationalist Facebook group.

Sometimes, Chinese trolls amplify rumors already floating around in Taiwan, Mr. Shen said. He is also on the lookout for Taiwanese social media accounts that may be bought or supported by Chinese operatives.

Ahead of midterm elections in 2018, his team had been monitoring several YouTube channels that discussed Taiwanese politics. The day after voting ended, the channels disappeared.

After Yu Hsin-Hsien was elected to the City Council that year in Taoyuan, a city near Taipei, mysterious strangers began inquiring about buying his Facebook page, which had around 280,000 followers. Mr. Yu, 30, immediately suspected China.

His suspicions grew after he demanded an extravagantly high price and the buyers accepted. Mr. Yu, who represents Ms. Tsai’s party, the Democratic Progressive Party, did not sell.

“Someone approaches a just-elected legislator and offers to buy his oldest weapon,” Mr. Yu said. “What’s his motive? To serve the public? It can’t be.”

Recently, internet users in Taiwan noticed a group of influencers, many of them pretty young women, posting messages on Facebook and Instagram with the hashtag #DeclareMyDeterminationToVote. The posts did not mention candidates or parties, but the people included selfies with a fist at their chest, a gesture often used by Han Kuo-yu, the Kuomintang’s presidential candidate.

Many of the posts later vanished. Mr. Han’s campaign denied involvement. But some have speculated that China’s United Front might be to blame. The United Front Work Department did not respond to a fax requesting comment.

One line of attack against Ms. Tsai has added to the atmosphere of mistrust and high conspiracy ahead of this week’s vote.

Politicians and media outlets have questioned whether Ms. Tsai’s doctoral dissertation is authentic, even though her alma mater, the London School of Economics, has confirmed that it is.

Dennis Peng hosts a daily YouTube show dedicated to proving otherwise. His channel has 173,000 subscribers. Theories about Ms. Tsai’s dissertation have circulated in China, too, with the help of the Chinese news media.

Mr. Peng, a former television anchor, once supported Ms. Tsai. He was proud that Taiwan elected a female president. Now he says he is not being paid by anyone, including China, to crusade against her.

He is not worried about being smeared as fake news.

“Let news and fake news compete against each other,” Mr. Peng said. “I trust that most people aren’t so stupid. Everybody eventually figures it out.”

Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting. Wang Yiwei contributed research from Beijing.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Biden Warns About Disinformation After Misleading Video

Westlake Legal Group 02dems-biden-facebookJumbo-v2 Biden Warns About Disinformation After Misleading Video Video Recordings, Downloads and Streaming Social Media Sanders, Bernard Rumors and Misinformation Presidential Election of 2020 Democratic Party Biden, Joseph R Jr

ANAMOSA, Iowa — As the Democratic presidential candidates fanned out across Iowa and New Hampshire on Thursday to address voters still scarred by President Trump’s victory in the 2016 election, Joseph R. Biden Jr. argued that any Democratic nominee would be vulnerable to baseless criticism and disinformation in the general election.

Mr. Biden’s remarks in Iowa, at his first political event of the 2020 election year, came a day after a deceptive video of him circulated online, highlighting how campaigns are still struggling to combat false information on the internet.

“You’re going to see a lot more of not only my statements being taken out of context and lied about or altered, you’re going to see whomever the Democratic nominee is, because that’s how this guy operates,” Mr. Biden said, adding that Democratic candidates would face unfair attacks from Mr. Trump “if I were to drop out of the race tomorrow” or “if I were to drop dead tomorrow.” (There was no evidence that the video was connected to the president.)

Mr. Biden’s comment came in response to an event attendee who asked him about his ability to beat Mr. Trump, and also to clarify his remarks in the video, which had been misleadingly edited to wrongly suggest that Mr. Biden was making racist remarks. In fact he was emphasizing the need to change “our culture” around violence toward women.

Still, the video spread rapidly on social media, amplified by many right-wing verified users on Twitter, including reporters at conservative news outlets, the former speaker of the Missouri House and Republican strategists, according to data compiled by Vinesight, a company that detects disinformation on social media. It is an online environment that alarms many Democratic voters who are gripped by anxiety over how best to defeat Mr. Trump.

The president, who was impeached in the House of Representatives in connection with asking Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden, is comfortable only in a “mosh pit,” said Mr. Biden, who has faced months of false or exaggerated attacks from Mr. Trump and other Republicans.

Still, he argued that the Democratic Party was in a far stronger position today to confront Mr. Trump than in 2016, noting support for the president’s impeachment among some voters — “Hillary didn’t have that advantage” — and saying that in the previous campaign, not everyone took Mr. Trump seriously.

In response to the questioner, who also asked whether he was running a better campaign than Hillary Clinton had, Mr. Biden offered a wide-ranging answer and relitigated how Mrs. Clinton handled a debate after Mr. Trump was caught on tape bragging about making unsolicited sexual advances.

He suggested that Mrs. Clinton could have changed the subject, pivoting to how she hoped to change voters’ lives. Instead, Mr. Biden said, “she did what every other candidate probably would have done” by lacing into his character, yielding an ugly debate, and “it all went down the drain.” Yet before that debate even started, Mr. Trump had invited several women who had made allegations against former President Bill Clinton to join him for a photo opportunity.

Mr. Biden also noted sexism as he discussed the last campaign, which he called “unfair,” but added, “That’s not going to happen with me.”

It was not just Mr. Biden who was ruminating on the 2016 election on Thursday; Mrs. Clinton’s loss in the Electoral College was on the minds of other candidates as well as voters.

At a campaign office opening in Plymouth, N.H., the entrepreneur Andrew Yang told voters: “Donald Trump is our president today because he had a very simple message — he said he was going to ‘make America great again.’ What did Hillary Clinton say in response? ‘America is already great.’”

“That did not quite work,” Mr. Yang said. “The problems are real. The struggles are real. Many Americans are being left behind. But Donald Trump’s solutions were not what we need.”

And Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, campaigning at a town-hall-style event in Concord, N.H., was asked by a voter whether she would work to unite the party around the Democratic nominee if it was not her. The voter noted how some supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont did not rally behind Mrs. Clinton in the general election against Mr. Trump.

Ms. Warren began a lengthy answer by first committing to party unity: “Every single person who is in the race for the Democratic nomination for president would make a far better president than Donald Trump,” she said to applause.

“I’m in all the way,” she added, and started making the case for differences between the 2020 race and the 2016 campaign — chiefly, in her telling, the palpably greater determination and intensity among Democrats to beat Mr. Trump.

“What we have to remind ourselves is, 2020 is not 2016. The world has changed,” she said, recalling the protest marches after Mr. Trump’s inauguration and the Democratic victories in 2018 in the House of Representatives and key governorships, and in 2019 in Kentucky, Louisiana and Virginia.

“We are getting stronger and we are in this fight,” she said. “2020 gives us this remarkable moment that is very different from ’16 or ’12 or ’08 or however far you want to go back. This moment where Americans are off the sidelines.”

Saying that “the door is open a crack” to an era of major reforms and the end of “business as usual,” she added: “Think about it — a nation that elects someone like Donald Trump is a nation that has got serious problems. Going back is not where we want to be. Our chance in 2020 is to look at that crack, drop our shoulder, run hard at it and build the America we want to be.”

Asked for comment, a Republican National Committee spokesman, Steve Guest, said, “Insulting half the country didn’t work for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and it won’t work for the Democrats in 2020, either.”

Mr. Sanders, another leading progressive in the race, also waded into the debate over how to defeat Mr. Trump as he uncorked some of his fiercest criticism of Mr. Biden to date in an interview with The Washington Post.

“It’s just a lot of baggage that Joe takes into a campaign, which isn’t going to create energy and excitement,” Mr. Sanders said. “He brings into this campaign a record which is so weak that it just cannot create the kind of excitement and energy that is going to be needed to defeat Donald Trump.”

Mr. Sanders on Thursday reported an eye-popping fund-raising haul of more than $34.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2019, according to his campaign, ahead of Mr. Biden at $22.7 million — Mr. Biden’s strongest quarter to date — as well as former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., whose campaign reported more than $24.7 million.

Even as Mr. Sanders sharpened his attacks on Mr. Biden in the interview, he largely stuck to his familiar message on the trail in Iowa on Thursday, denouncing income inequality and championing his signature policy proposal, “Medicare for all.” At a canvass kickoff in Grinnell, he jokingly named a young girl as his running mate.

As he boarded his new campaign bus after that event, he briefly answered a question about his fourth-quarter fund-raising, calling attention specifically to the more than five million contributions his campaign had received since he entered the race. “That tells me the kind of grass-roots support that we have and tells me why we’re going to win the nomination and why we’re going to defeat Donald Trump,” he said.

Reporting was contributed by Patrick Healy and Matt Stevens from Concord, N.H.; Sydney Ember from Muscatine, Iowa; and Nick Corasaniti from New York.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Facebook Discovers Fakes That Show Evolution of Disinformation

Westlake Legal Group merlin_166226280_01e1cbc9-c350-4082-8c26-13e406edc001-facebookJumbo Facebook Discovers Fakes That Show Evolution of Disinformation twitter Social Media Rumors and Misinformation Facebook Inc Epoch Times Computers and the Internet Artificial Intelligence

Facebook said on Friday that it had removed hundreds of accounts with ties to the Epoch Media Group, parent company of the Falun Gong-related publication and conservative news outlet The Epoch Times.

The accounts, including pages, groups and Instagram feeds meant to be seen in both the United States and Vietnam, presented a new wrinkle to researchers: fake profile photos generated with the help of artificial intelligence.

The idea that artificial intelligence could be used to create wide-scale disinformation campaigns has long been a fear of computer scientists. And they said it was worrying to see it already being used in a coordinated effort on Facebook.

While the technology used to create the fake profile photos was most likely a far cry from the sophisticated A.I. systems being created in labs at big tech companies like Google, the network of fake accounts showed “an eerie, tech-enabled future of disinformation,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

The people behind the network of 610 Facebook accounts, 89 Facebook Pages, 156 Groups and 72 Instagram accounts posted about political news and issues in the United States, including President Trump’s impeachment, conservative ideology, political candidates, trade and religion.

“This was a large, brazen network that had multiple layers of fake accounts and automation that systematically posted content with two ideological focuses: support of Donald Trump and opposition to the Chinese government,” Mr. Brookie said in an interview.

The Atlantic Council’s lab and another company, Graphika, which also studies disinformation, released a joint report analyzing the Facebook takedown.

The Epoch Media Group denied in an email sent to The New York Times that it was linked to the network targeted by Facebook, and said that Facebook had not contacted the company before publishing its conclusions.

The people behind the network used artificial intelligence to generate profile pictures, Facebook said. They relied on a type of artificial intelligence called generative adversarial networks. These networks can, through a process called machine learning, teach themselves to create realistic images of faces, even though they do not belong to a real person.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said in an interview that “using A.I.-generated photos for profiles” has been talked about for several months, but for Facebook, this is “the first time we’ve seen a systemic use of this by actors or a group of actors to make accounts look more authentic.”

He added that this A.I. technique did not actually make it harder for the company’s automated systems to detect the fakes, because the systems focus on patterns of behavior among accounts.

Ben Nimmo, director of investigations at Graphika, said that “we need more research into A.I.-generated imagery like this, but it takes a lot more to hide a fake network than just the profile pictures.”

Facebook said the accounts masked their activities by using a combination of fake and authentic American accounts to manage pages and groups on the platforms. The coordinated, inauthentic activity, Facebook said, revolved around the media outlet The BL — short for “The Beauty of Life” — which the fact-checking outlet Snopes said in November was “building a fake empire on Facebook and getting away with it.”

Mr. Gleicher said Facebook began its investigation into The BL in July, and accelerated its efforts when the network became more aggressive in posting this fall. It is continuing to investigate “other links and networks” tied to The BL, he said.

Facebook said the network had spent less than $9.5 million on Facebook and Instagram ads. On Friday, Facebook said The BL would be banned from the social network.

The Epoch Times and The BL have denied being linked, but Facebook said it had found coordinated, inauthentic behavior from the network to the Epoch Media Group and individuals in Vietnam working on its behalf.

The Epoch Media Group said in its email that The BL was founded by a former employee and employs some of its former employees. “However, that some of our former employees work for BL is not evidence of any connection between the two organizations,” the company said.

In August, Facebook banned advertising from The Epoch Times after NBC News published a report that said The Epoch Times had obscured its connection to Facebook ads promoting President Trump and conspiracy content.

Twitter said on Friday that the social network was also aware of The BL network, and had already “identified and suspended approximately 700 accounts originating from Vietnam for violating our rules around platform manipulation.” A company spokeswoman added that its investigation was still open, but Twitter has not identified links between the accounts and state-backed actors.

Facebook also said on Friday that it had taken down a network of more than 300 pages and 39 Facebook accounts and their coordinated, inauthentic activities on domestic political news in Georgia.

Facebook said the network tried to conceal its coordination but it found that the accounts responsible were run by the Georgian Dream-led government, and Panda, a local advertising agency in the country. The owners of the Facebook pages masqueraded as news organizations and impersonated public figures, political parties and activist groups.

In a related move, Twitter said it also took down 32 million tweets from nearly 6,000 accounts related to a Saudi Arabian social media marketing company called Smaat, which ran political and commercial influence operations.

Smaat was led in part by Ahmed Almutairi, a Saudi man wanted by the F.B.I. on charges that he recruited two Twitter employees to search internal company databases for information about critics of the Saudi government, said Renee DiResta, a disinformation researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory, which separately analyzed Twitter’s takedown.

The operation was “extremely high volume,” and automatically generated by “Twitter apps that made religious posts, posts about the weather” and other topics, Ms. DiResta said.

At times, the accounts were used for “more tailored purposes,” including more than 17,000 tweets related to Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and columnist for The Washington Post, who was killed while visiting a Saudi consulate in October last year.

Many of the tweets claimed that those criticizing the Saudi government for their involvement were doing so for their own political purposes.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com