Each Friday, Farhad Manjoo and Mike Isaac, technology reporters at The New York Times, review the week’s news, offering analysis and maybe a joke or two about the most important developments in the tech industry. Mike is off this week, so Nicole Perlroth, who covers cybersecurity, took his place.
Russians Harnessing American Tech
Farhad: O.K., it was a big week in tech. We should probably start with the thing we’ve been talking about every week for, what, 300 years now? Facebook and Russia. In a report this week, a couple of our colleagues found that when Russian operatives set out to sow civil unrest in America on Facebook, they turned to an obvious source — political messages posted by Americans.
The Russians created Facebook pages that had names like “Being Patriotic” and “Blacktivist,” and they populated their pages with videos and memes created by Americans — for instance, a hoax story about Muslim men collecting welfare checks for multiple wives. I found the story fascinating because the whole thing is so banal. You have this picture of foreign spies using James Bond-type technology to go after an enemy’s political system. Nope, turns out they went about it exactly how you or I might do it — they found some videos online and posted them on Facebook.
Nicole: Yup. It turns out the Kremlin has found their sweet spot in the ugly fault lines in American politics. They’ve truly exploited our country’s political grievances, cultural resentments, news literacy and diminishing faith in once-trusted institutions like the news media to bring out the worst in us, simply by creating some Facebook pages. Who would have thought that Russians would be behind a pro-Texas fan page disseminating pro-secessionist Texas messages, or a “Blacktivist” page advocating for more protests against racial inequality?
Farhad: It wasn’t just Facebook. Google disclosed this week that Russian operatives also bought ads on its platform to interfere with the 2016 race. The amounts were small — about $4,700 in ads from the Russian government — but they added to the overall story line, which is that the tech giants’ platforms are being used in ways they probably had never foreseen.
Nicole: Did we really think Russia was going to try to hack election databases in 21 states, and pour that many resources into Facebook and not touch Google, the No. 1 source of information for most Americans?
It’s frustrating that this is only coming out now, but to be fair, much of the Russian activity was not exactly obvious. The silver lining is that we may finally be getting some answers. This week, the House Intelligence Committee said it would turn over Russian Facebook ad content, after meeting with Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg.
Read the full article here: http://nyti.ms/2zxLXbX