In a TV interview with CNBC a the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon, Chess icon Gary Kasparov laid it out once again about Russia’s meddling in the politics of their own and other nations.
“I’m tired of repeating ‘I told you so’. For so many years I’ve been pointing out Putin’s activities in Russia, in neighboring countries, in Europe, predicting that he would go elsewhere if he could see potential benefits. The whole industry of fake news, supported by troll factories, that was the invention of KGB (the former Soviet Union’s state security agency) in Russia to deal with Russian opposition to control the internet. Then they extended this practice to Russian speaking neighborhoods in the former Soviet Union. Then they tried it in Europe. Eventually they successfully tried it in the United States.”
Facebook, Twitter and Google have all admitted to Russian meddling during the US presidential elections of 2016.
Estimates show that fake news and other politically targeted posts on Facebook created by Russian actors reached about 146 million people, which includes 20 million people with Instagram accounts. Just two months ago Facebook found at least 470 accounts operating 120 pages belonging to the Internet Research Agency. During the congressional hearings, Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch revealed that the agency had spent $46,000 on advertisements on the platform leading up to the 2016 elections.
Around the same time, a source at Google revealed that tens of thousands of dollars were spent on YouTube, Gmail and Google Search ads by Russian operatives, presumably to distort public opinion before the elections using fake news and false information. On Monday Google wrote in its blog that 1,108 videos that were linked to Russian entities were viewed a total of 309,000 times between June 2015 and November 2016.
Twitter has now identified and deactivated 2,752 accounts that were opened by Russian actors.
Disinformation campaigns are nothing new in the political realm, and Russian intelligence agencies have been using them since nearly a century ago. In fact, the word “disinformation” is from the Russian dezinformatsia, a term used by the Russian black propaganda unit known as Service A. If you’re interested in the subject, you should read this book:
Closer to today, Russian activity on social media has been targeting U.S. users for more than a year before the elections, possibly even before. And nothing was done about it at the time, simply because nobody knew the magnitude of the agency’s actions. Had anyone taken Kasparov’s words seriously at the time, perhaps a lot of the fake news and misleading content could have been curtailed.
Unfortunately, we’ll never know.