Automated Propaganda, Weaponized Bots

botSociologist Philip N. Howard, writing in “IEEE Spectrum,” discusses automated political propaganda.  His article “How political campaigns have weaponize social media bots” is readable and important to an understanding of political propaganda.

Looking at Tom Reed’s facebook page, I often wonder if comments there are posted by people or machines? It may not be possible to know.

  • False facebook accounts aren’t easily identified.
  • Some bots are mixed with human participation.
  • Postings from false accounts are echoed by persons who may be unaware of the source of the material.

In some cases one might be suspicious. One account “likes” whatever some other accounts post on Tom Reed’s official page but never anything else. As this suspicious account is an account devoid of content, one might think it is a bot. Other accounts which post comments, but are also devoid of meaningful content, are also suspicious. Yet Howard reports that bots can have all the attributes of an account created by a person.

Howard writes:

..about half of Twitter conversations originating in Russia involve highly automated accounts. Such accounts push out vast amounts of political content, and many are so well programmed that the targets never realize that they’re chatting with a piece of software.

Here is one way to identify automated propaganda postings:

We have found that accounts tweeting more than 50 times a day using a political hashtag are almost invariably bots or accounts that mix automated techniques with occasional human curation. Very few humans—even journalists and politicians—can consistently generate dozens of fresh political tweets each day for days on end.

Here is another point on the extent of propaganda efforts:

Facebook, for example, disabled over 1 billion fake accounts, and its safety and security team has doubled to more than 20,000 people handling content in 50 languages. Twitter reports that it blocks half a million suspicious log-ins per day. 

One thing I found interesting is that both the Clinton campaign and the Trump campaign used political bots in 2016. The Republican effort was larger and perhaps more sophisticated. One wonders if that made the difference in the election, and whether Russian expertise was critical in the Republican effort.

Howard concludes:

To defend our democratic institutions, we need to continue to independently evaluate social media practices as they evolve, and then implement policies that protect legitimate discourse. Above all, we need to stay vigilant, because the real threats to democracy still lie ahead.

Philip N. Howard is the director of the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford and principal investigator of the Computational Propaganda Project.


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NY-23 Election Results


Tracy Mitrano

Well done, Tracy Mitrano.

Year Candidate Votes Percentage
2012 Reed/Shinagawa 127/117/243 52/48
2014 Reed/Robertson 113/70/190 59/37
2016 Reed/Plumb 161/110/280 58/42
2018 Reed/Mitrano* 122/100/223 54/44

*Preliminary results

Posted in 2018 | Tagged | 41 Comments

What they say about themselves

women votersFor the over one-third of residents in our district relying on public health insurance, these cuts (to Medicare and Medicaid) would be devastating.–Tracy Mitrano

We are fighting to protect Medicare and Social Security, and have never supported a plan that cuts benefits for current recipients.–Rep Tom Reed

Tracy Mitrano writes:

In a district where the median household income is $50,747, there is no reason for our representative to vote for such legislation  (a tax giveaway to millionaires and corporations).

Mitrano, who has not yet served in Congress, says little about herself, yet we can infer the following from her article:

  • She opposes past and possible future tax breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations.
  • She is concerned about tax cuts at the expense of the Federal deficit.
  • She believes Medicare and Social Security are important to more than “current recipients.”

If elected, Tracy Mitrano should be a reliable vote for moderate, responsible, people-friendly government.

Tom Reed writes:

When I arrived in Washington, I discovered our voice was drowned out by all the shouting. Opportunists and extremists on both sides of the aisle were dominating the conversation. Name calling, rather than moving the country forward, seemed to be the priority for many.

  • Our voice, Tom?
  • Both sides of the aisle, Tom? Really, did Democrats have a voice in the Republican controlled House?
  • Name calling: Extreme Ithaca Liberal, Tom?

Tom Reed is a divisive politician, who has run a negative campaign once again. If reelected, we can expect more of the same–disregard for constituent’s views, cuts to Medicare and Social Security–programs which benefit his constituents, votes against affordable insurance for preexisting conditions, low taxes for corporations and wealthy individuals, at least tacit support for DJT’s divisive speech and proposals.

Please vote on Tuesday November 6th!

Posted in 2018, Campaigning, Economics, Health Care, Medicare, Reed's Views, Social Security, Taxes | Tagged | Leave a comment

Diversity in Congress


For the 2018 mid-term elections, an unprecedented number of women are standing, with more than 250 in the running for Congressional office following the selection of candidates in the primaries.–BBC News

Congress poorly reflects the population; in particular, women are underrepresented. The chart gives data on ethnicity; a chart which showed representation in Congress by party affiliation would show another disparity–due to gerrymandering, voter suppression, and other factors, Democrats (liberals, moderates, progressives) are underrepresented.

  • Tom Reed disrespects whole groups of his constituents, persons struggling economically, Democrats, women, residents of Tompkins County. Here are a few examples:
  • Opposes increasing Federal minimum wage, threatens to cut SNAP benefits, tax cuts for the rich, …
  • Labels Democrats extreme, pretends to listen, talks bipartisan, then votes with the GOP majority.
  • Failed to vote for VAWA once, accepted a temporary extension this fall. Is silent when President DJT attacks women.
  • Attacks Cornell, Democrats, Liberals; won’t acknowledge relative prosperity in Tompkins, County.

Tom Reed says he cares, but in eight years has done nothing to show that he does. NY-23 remains an economic backwater. His campaigns are funded by out-of-state special interests. It is wrong to reward a self-serving politician. Let’s give Tracy Mitrano a chance to show what she can do for us.

Posted in 2018, Campaigning, Constituents, Data, Reed's Views | Tagged | 1 Comment

Can Our Minds Be Won?

e article was written and submitted by Lee Marcus of Arkport.

What a week. Angry white man mails 14 pipe bombs to top leaders of the Democratic party plus CNN, a liberal philanthropist, and an actor. Oddly, this is the same hit list the president calls on in his raucous, sometimes frightening rallies across the country. Days later another angry white man attempts to attack an African American church, but fails, only to go to a supermarket and kill two people there. And on Saturday, another angry white man attacks a Jewish synagogue during services, killing eleven worshipers. The president, unable to stick to his teleprompter, blames the victims for not having armed guards protecting the congregation. In other words, right of way belongs to the shooter.

Where have we heard this before? In the Kavanaugh hearings we learned (as usual) that right of way belongs to the would-be rapist. If the victim didn’t run immediately to the police, or if she doesn’t remember the address where the attack happened, then not only is the accusation unproven, the accused is proven innocent. There will always be a mitigating “if,” because in Trump’s view, right of way belongs to the white male, period.

Okay, how did our regional leadership respond to these events? Did Congressperson Tom Reed offer his female constituents any kind of reassurance that would help to break the silence we all maintain as the bitter pill, the only option, when recovering from sexual discrimination or assault? No.

Did he decry political violence as un-American and unworthy of his party? No. Tom Reed’s response to our current political malaise is to run an ad full of lies so brazen that anyone who knows anything about Tracy Mitrano is almost forced to laugh out loud. But the ad ends with images of a computer monitor, on which Mitrano’s face appears, being thrown through a second-story window and then smashed by someone wielding the keyboard. Right of way to the angry white man. 

This isn’t the America for which our fathers and grandfathers fought and died 75 years ago. It is, sad to say, the America millions of indigenous people, African Americans, gays and lesbians, and women have died for. This America’s byword is All White Men Are Created Special. (Everybody else, dog eat dog.)

We seem to be on a precipice. I’ve been on a precipice myself before, and I know it takes extreme will to get back to safety. Let me suggest something.

The Haudenosaunee (also known as Iroquois) Nation, right here in New York State, has a well-worn tradition that I believe could help us now. It is called a Thanksgiving Prayer. Of course, our traditional Thanksgiving holiday is just around the corner. As Americans we take one day each year to come together and share our thanks for the blessings that surround us. Members of the Haudenosaunee tribes do this every time they gather. In a series of poetic pronouncements they thank the Earth under their feet for the food it grows; the water for nourishing life; in turn the wind, the sky, the animals, the sun, the moon, and so on. After each message of gratitude, they declare, “Now our minds are one.”

Imagine it. Here’s where we stand. Here’s what we have to be grateful for. And now our minds are one.

It would be hard to turn on each other after an invocation like that.

I would like to point out that the huge crowd in Pittsburgh that gathered on Saturday night shared their grief over the synagogue shootings with a chant. Did they call for revenge? No. They chanted, “VOTE. VOTE. VOTE. VOTE.” This means we still have leverage.

If you visit the wonderful Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor, you will discover that the founders of our fledgling nation borrowed shamelessly from our indigenous neighbors even while attempting to exterminate them. The result was a version of democracy that set forth principles of equality and human rights, even if its authors didn’t really mean to suggest that all people were equally human. White women in the Finger Lakes region later took as a revelation the discovery that their female indigenous neighbors lived lives of equality, respect, and power. It is doubtful our foremothers could have conceived the robust Declaration of Sentiments without this connection to the Haudenosaunee tribes.

America, at last, seems to have gone sour. Can we muster the humility to borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbors, again? Something like: 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Now our minds are one.

If we were to share these words at every gathering (instead of the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem, both of which have been all but weaponized), maybe we could begin to imagine a national story again. An American identity. And people who cannot accept this American premise would at least recede from public life, even if they cannot be persuaded. I hold out this hope.

Posted in Racism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

A campaign mailing

chemungI have an interesting letter from an incumbent on the Chemung County Legislature who is running for reelection. He doesn’t mention his party, but he is a Republican.  He distinguishes country government from NYS government and the Federal Government. He writes:

I ask that you remember that Chemung County government is not Washington or Albany.

I do know that, but I also know that I have no interest in maintaining a Republican armlock on local politics, just as I oppose Republicans and Republican policy in state and Federal government. It is an interesting letter, this candidate cites numerous accomplishments, yet there is no reason to believe that his Democratic opponent might not achieve as much or more.

Years ago, I knew a women, a Democrat, who was surprisingly elected to the town board. She retired after one term because the Republican majority on the board ignored her presence.

I remember another occasion when another Republican member of the County Legislature told me that his duty was to protect private interests rather than the public interest. He worked for an oil drilling company.

The three way race for Chemung County Executive should be very interesting. The Democrat might have a chance, if the two Republicans split the Republican vote.


Posted in 2018, Campaigning | Leave a comment

Government finances

punditMy HS Physics teacher had a favorite theme: he said he was doing his students a favor by teaching, as he could make much more money working in industry. I don’t remember him as a particularly good teacher, and I doubt his claim: jobs in industry for Physicists with less than a PhD were few then as they are now. Then too, if money was important to him, and he could have found a higher paying job, then why didn’t he do so? One thing teachers could expect, which my teacher didn’t mention, was insurance benefits and pensions.

Applying for jobs, the HR person would explain the salary and benefits: insurance, pension, and possible bonuses. As a young healthy person, I undervalued promises of insurance and pension. The offered bonuses often didn’t materialize. I could live on my salary. Older now, pensions have proved valuable. I wonder what younger persons will do now that pensions have largely disappeared from all but public employment.

John Stossel warns that government may renege on pensions and other benefits; I trust he is wrong. Hopefully cities and States wouldn’t dare or be allowed to do that. Predictably, Stossel touts IRAs as an alternative to pensions; IRAs and pensions are not equivalent–workers investing in IRAs may save too much or not enough. Moreover, we should not rush to replace pensions with IRAs because we fear promises will not be kept.

Tom Reed revives his effort to promote fear of bankruptcy: “… programs that are going to bankrupt America even further.” American isn’t bankrupt; American can afford to provide health care for all without fear as other countries do. If Reed really were concerned about Federal finance, he wouldn’t have voted unneeded tax cuts for the rich and super rich.

Tom’s family struggled economically when he was a youth; he now seems to confuse individual finances with government finances. Government has both the means and obligation to fund programs and benefits as promised. The Federal Government, unlike States (possibly?), businesses, and individuals can’t escape debt by declaring bankruptcy. Representatives must act responsibly to raise needed revenue. When Tom Reed promises ever lower taxes for all as if taxation were no more than an unnecessary nuisance, he is selling snake oil. Perhaps voters won’t be so easily fooled.

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