back to article US election 2020: The disinfo operations have evolved, but so have state governments

With the United States set to undertake its first Presidential election since the Russian-tinged 2016 race, state governments and social networks are upping their game. This from the team at Cisco Talos, which cautioned in a new report that while governments and sites are better prepared for disinformation campaigns, the way …

  1. cynic56

    This isn't the real problem though

    Why are we so bothered about disinformation from foreign governments. Here in Blighty,almost all lies and disinformation come from our own government and their mates in the media.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: This isn't the real problem though

      The influence campaigning has been going on for a long time now - it's in the news because more people have started noticing it although the methods are getting deeper and darker. You can't say that British politics is influenced by foreign governments because there's no evidence of it, but it's clearly under the control of people who are being pushed in ways that will be seen in history as attacking the west. People are being influenced by people who are being influenced and profiting from other people who are being encouraged to move their policies in directions that are being manipulated to make them money paid by other companies controlled by governments protected by this multi-layer method of hiding influence.

      It's the same environment that billionaires use to avoid paying taxes by "moving" their income to other companies that "pay" other companies controlled by "unrelated" companies that pay for the billionaires lifestyle.

    2. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: This isn't the real problem though

      @cynic56

      Sounds like a similar situation in the US too. However after labour and democrats insulting their voters the idea now seems to be to blame external actors instead of directly calling the electorate stupid.

      1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: This isn't the real problem though

        In fairness, the US electorate is not stupid: most of us voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and the blue wave of 2018 indicates that plenty of people realize that Republican governance is a contradiction in terms. Unfortunately, there is a powerful minority of US voters who are, if not stupid, proudly ignorant and misinformed and who also actively work against their own interests. The Republicans have taken the tack not of calling their opponents stupid but instead creating trigger words out of "liberal," "socialist," etc. You can watch this practice in effect when having what passes for a discussion with the average rank-and-file Republican or conservative wherein they throw out an accusation of socialism and expect that to be the end of the discussion, as though their interlocutor ought to immediately quail at the very thought. The end result is that more people are openly embracing socialism; unfortunately, the Republican/conservative rank and file are responding to accusations of being stupid by actually embracing ignorance, which is not good for anyone.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: This isn't the real problem though

          You just called almost half of the US electorate stupid. I think you should re-read codejunky's post more carefully and update your hymnbook.

          1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
            FAIL

            Re: This isn't the real problem though

            I think you should learn to read English, but that would mean rejecting ignorance.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: This isn't the real problem though

              Oops, you did it again.

        2. codejunky Silver badge

          Re: This isn't the real problem though

          @Throatwarbler Mangrove

          Sorry dude but that post does not shine you in a good light at all. It is the same condescending approach I saw the dems (Hillary) take last time and it doesnt work to insult those you want to vote for you.

          I would argue that a vote for Trump is not necessarily ignorant nor stupid and the same for a vote for Hillary. They had their positives and negatives even if you have to hold your nose at their character.

          1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

            Re: Misquotes and defective logic

            Elephants are grey. My car is grey. My car is an elephant.

            Deplorables vote for Trump. You vote for Trump. You are deplorable.

            Republicans are so good at misquoting they actually believe that Al Gore said he invented the internet.

            1. codejunky Silver badge

              Re: Misquotes and defective logic

              @Flocke Kroes

              "Deplorables vote for Trump. You vote for Trump. You are deplorable.Deplorables vote for Trump. You vote for Trump. You are deplorable."

              As I understood it she insulted lower educated.

          2. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
            FAIL

            Re: This isn't the real problem though

            Trump supporters aren't going to come out and vote for anyone else, so trying to appeal to them is wasted effort. The smart effort is geared towards getting people to vote who normally sit elections out (which, not coincidentally, is why the Republicans are engaged in an effort of unprecedented scope to suppress voting). Hillary Clinton's main disadvantage was that the right-wing corporate media had spent the better part of three decades slagging her off. The only thing I had to hold my nose at was the odor of bullshit coming off of Fox News (and other similarly partisan outlets) and the fact that Clinton was far too right-wing for my ideal taste.

            What were Trump's positive qualities apart from not being a woman, Negro, or named Clinton?

            1. codejunky Silver badge

              Re: This isn't the real problem though

              @Throatwarbler Mangrove

              "Trump supporters aren't going to come out and vote for anyone else, so trying to appeal to them is wasted effort."

              Spot on. We have the same tribalism here for parties and cult followings for some politicians. Those voters are not the ones you can really turn without maximum effort. Its the rest of the population who may be leaning one way or another that everyone has to try to appeal to.

              If I remember right Hillary said something about lower educated voting for Trump, which was amongst other insults. She insulted a good portion of the electorate.

              "Hillary Clinton's main disadvantage was that the right-wing corporate media had spent the better part of three decades slagging her off."

              Ok. Trump had to battle against both the dems and republicans and an extreme media campaign against him. Hillary competed with Bernie who was an accident and 3 seat fillers and the dems had already decided she was running for them.

              "and the fact that Clinton was far too right-wing for my ideal taste"

              And for a portion of the dems voters too it seems. Once the dems ditched bernie it seems they had upset enough voters to damage Hillary's support. The dems had a choice, they had a popular dem version of trump to run against trump.

              "What were Trump's positive qualities apart from not being a woman, Negro, or named Clinton?"

              Thats the XFactor politics I hate. Thats like suggesting Hillary needed to look more orange, its bull. Hillary doesnt deserve to win because of her genitals, skin colour or the wife of an ex president.

              Trump was a great choice for the domestic economy although a problem for trade. Hillary the opposite. The dems had given up on the economy (Obama calling it the new economy) didnt help. Hillary was involved with Obama and his wars, Trump wanted to pull the troops back and reduce the spaffing on the military. Hillary and Obama had been weak on the world stage, Trump the opposite (maybe a bit far).

              Hillary had her positives and negatives (dropping the propaganda and jibes on looks) as did Trump. Even in disagreement of opinion people can acknowledge and agree on the facts.

          3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

            Re: They had their positives and negatives

            Pray tell, what positive does Trump have ?

            I really would like to know, because I can't see any.

            His reign has been a roller coaster of shit ending in a sewage tank full of dead bodies.

            1. batfink Silver badge

              Re: They had their positives and negatives

              That's a bit of a misinterpretation of what Junky said, Pascal.

              Junky's point was that at the time there were legitimate reasons for people to vote for Trump. I heard some of his speeches, as he was saying all the right things to his target audience. For example, he promised all those people who had been the losers from globalisation that he would bring their jobs back, which is what they need.

              So, yes, there were legitimate reasons why people would want to vote for him last time.

              The facts that he's turned out to be an inveterate liar since, and his presidency has been a shitstorm, don't detract from the original point.

            2. batfink Silver badge

              Re: They had their positives and negatives

              That's a bit of a misinterpretation of what Junky said, Pascal.

              Junky's point was that at the time there were legitimate reasons for people to vote for Trump. I heard some of his speeches, and he was saying all the right things to his target audience. For example, he promised all those people who had been the losers from globalisation that he would bring their jobs back, which is what they need.

              So, yes, there were legitimate reasons why people would want to vote for him last time.

              The facts that he's turned out to be an inveterate liar since, and his presidency has been a shitstorm, don't detract from the original point.

            3. codejunky Silver badge

              Re: They had their positives and negatives

              @Pascal Monett

              "Pray tell, what positive does Trump have ?"

              He has his negatives but for positives-

              > Caused a booming economy Obama didnt believe was possible.

              > Iowest unemployment rate in decades.

              > Iran violated the agreement by Obama and Europe. Trump pulled out of it.

              > Unlike his 2 predecessors has not started any wars and actively trying to pull troops out of those war zones.

              > Improving the commitment to NATO by 'encouraging' European countries to actually contribute to their defence.

              > Is considered less of a push over than Obama (e.g. Obama's red lines).

              > Reduced regulation burdens.

              > Where governors and police were unwilling, or for some police banned from intervening Trump sent federal agencies to deal with violent protests and riots.

              > Overhauled the tax code.

              > Changes to the law toward reducing the number of people in prison, reducing mandatory minimums for drug felonies and increasing support/rehabilitation.

              > Won the war against ISIS.

              > Challenged the failures of the WHO regarding the Covid situation and clearly blames China for its handling of the virus and causing a pandemic by not reacting

              > Returned due process to college rape accusations (that Obama put in place)

              1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
                Paris Hilton

                Re: They had their positives and negatives

                I can't tell if you believe the things you've posted or if you're just indicating what Trump supporters believe. Either way, I guess bravo for at least being to articulate them, even if a number of them are wrong or questionable.

                1. gsteele531

                  Re: They had their positives and negatives

                  If the only defense against fact that you have is that "I" don't think that's true, then you should buy the book Loserthink and try to get through it without hating yourself.

                  1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
                    FAIL

                    Re: They had their positives and negatives

                    As is so common with Trump supporters, you have failed to comprehend what I actually wrote. Try reading it again; if you still fail, consider a remedial reading comprehension course.

                2. codejunky Silver badge

                  Re: They had their positives and negatives

                  @Throatwarbler Mangrove

                  "Either way, I guess bravo for at least being to articulate them, even if a number of them are wrong or questionable."

                  I am happy to hear which are wrong or questionable, I do make mistakes.

          4. Smooth Newt Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: This isn't the real problem though

            Many people voted for Trump last time because they were fed up with smooth talking politicians who promised big but somehow never delivered.

            Despite decades of the slick promises, the hourly wage for most Americans hasn't increased in real terms since 1978, but somehow the billionaires have always managed to get richer whatever party was in charge.

            So Trump was seen as a complete outsider to this corrupt system, and a fresh start who would clean out and reset the self-serving political system. So, voting for him in 2016 was not stupid. If you have little to lose and you know the usual suspects will screw you over as usual, then it was even a smart one.

            Four years later, though, having seen that he is actually far worse than those smooth talking politicians at not delivering, and even more brazen in enriching himself and his billionaire friends, it would be.

            1. gsteele531

              Re: This isn't the real problem though

              "Not delivering." - very funny.

              "Enriching himself" - hysterical.

              Are you a writer for a late night "comedy" show?

              1. Smooth Newt Silver badge
                Happy

                Re: This isn't the real problem though

                "Not delivering." - very funny.

                "Enriching himself" - hysterical.

                Are you a writer for a late night "comedy" show?

                I honestly have no idea what your comment actually means. But I am glad that you are so easily amused.

    3. Smooth Newt Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: This isn't the real problem though

      Why are we so bothered about disinformation from foreign governments. Here in Blighty,almost all lies and disinformation come from our own government and their mates in the media.

      Because this sort of disinformation is proper high quality British disinformation lovingly crafted by skilled British workers, not the nasty second-rate foreign muck. It is disinformation that every Briton should be proud of.

      1. batfink Silver badge

        Re: This isn't the real problem though

        I believe you left out the term "world-beating"

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      almost all lies and disinformation come from ... their mates in the media.

      That is a very harsh comment to make about the Guardian!

    5. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: This isn't the real problem though

      Not only our own government but I suspect a lot of 'PR' comes from some of those lobbying the government for one thing or another, I also imagine that to be the case in other countries too, there are a lot more causes than those pushed by governments and arguably some megacorps may well have stronger and better methods than nation states at swaying populations.

  2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    Banjos. Get ready to be played one again like a hillbilly orchestra.

    Because that's what you are.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ukuleles. George Formby played one.

      And he had a song about lamp posts.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Coat

      Re: Banjos. Get ready to be played once again like a hillbilly orchestra.

      Meet the new conductor.

      Same as the old conductor.

  3. batfink Silver badge

    I don't believe it

    This is all fake news innit?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't believe it

      Yes.

      1. batfink Silver badge

        Re: I don't believe it

        Damn. Now I have to work out whether THAT is fake news...

        1. Kane Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: I don't believe it

          No, it's not.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't believe it

      The new term is "Hoax". "Fake News" is so pre COVID.

  4. Scott Broukell

    Social media can be so terribly both paralysing and polarising at the same time and the manner by which the vast majority of dumb f*ck sheeple flock to unquestioningly suck up everything that pops up therein is only going to lead to a narrowing of the middle way and a loss of tolerance / democracy.

    So it appears that the majority of people are simply too poorly educated to apply reasoned judgement or keep an open mind to alternative arguments within the political realm, they just act like it is all a game show because that is the only mental level they are capable of achieving.

    I am seriously beginning to consider welcoming AI-driven digital technocratic overlords to govern over us, which is not a position I had ever thought that I might one day espouse -(so long as any human interference in the functioning of such a system is utterly impossible perhaps).

    1. Mike 16 Silver badge

      AI-driven digital technocratic overlords

      Right up to the point where someone has a few too many on a Friday night and commits some "code cleanup" to a widely used library. Then the world goes all Colossus/Guardian on us, and the cockroaches are left to do the re-write.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      But but but.... DEMOCRACY! VOTING RIGHTS!!!

    3. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Welcome to the AI Jungle

      I am seriously beginning to consider welcoming AI-driven digital technocratic overlords to govern over us, which is not a position I had ever thought that I might one day espouse -(so long as any human interference in the functioning of such a system is utterly impossible perhaps). ...... Scott Broukell

      Be hereby advised, SB, such as may be certainly realistically possible has already been duly diligent and lobbied both government and the military in the UKGBNI on your behalf with an AWEsome Project for Advanced Warefighter Experimentation which is no Top Secret whenever it is already earlier revealed on El Reg. Maybe you missed it though, or simply thought it too impossible to be very likely and therefore most improbable ....... although such does tend to be the very erotic and exotic and highly disruptive nature of such stealthy things ....... one minute is nothing known, the next all hell breaks loose with headless chickens running around as if rabid dogs in the wake of recriminations and lost leading almighty advantageous opportunities .... which be a right peculiar and perhaps particularly human weakness for relentless remote party exploitation.

      Time will certainly tell that awesome tale. Of that there is no doubt.

      And, of course, whenever IT and AI are humanised, one can expect the odd rogue and renegade wannabe leading lightweights to both dip their toes and dive headlong into what are really deep and dark murky waters, for they are not without their extremely attractive and even addictively rewarding attractions with their own strange futuristic iterations of the phenomenon ..... https://www.zerohedge.com/geopolitical/robot-generals-will-they-make-better-decisions-humans-or-worse

  5. chivo243 Silver badge
    Megaphone

    Let's back up a bit

    The real problem is anyone who wants to be in politics shouldn't be allowed any where near it.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Let's back up a lot

      The ancient Greeks worked out that democracy led to career politicians about bad as the ones we have today so they tried sortition instead.

      1. Andy Non Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Let's back up a lot

        Lots of ancient Greek politicians were crooked and self serving. I should know, I had to assassinate loads of them in "Assassin's Creed Odyssey"

        1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

          Re: crooked and self serving politicians

          Lots of ancient Greek politicians were crooked and self serving. I should know, I had to assassinate loads of them in "Assassin's Creed Odyssey" .... Andy Non

          I suppose if one were to espouse that as also being an admirable present day solution, Andy Non, many's the fool who would agree and risk becoming a person of dodgy interest to any number of rogue agents and established status quo authorities alike.

    2. Claptrap314 Silver badge

      Re: Let's back up a bit

      I've been an activist for 26 years. (US, Republican) That is so very, very true. I'm only in it because I feel compelled. It would be so *easy* to just walk away from it all.

  6. Kefik

    Oh DemocraSSy, so much money wasted in your name!

    "Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence."

    See more in Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens at https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/perspectives-on-politics/article/testing-theories-of-american-politics-elites-interest-groups-and-average-citizens/62327F513959D0A304D4893B382B992B/core-reader

    Of course, in YOUR country, it's different. Right?

    At best, elites might know better as not to waste that much money in trying to influence voters.

    Except for nurturing the illusion that each vote counts.

    Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones. -- Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970)

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Oh DemocraSSy, so much money wasted in your name!

      Yes, in my country it is different. For one, candidates only have two weeks to campaign, time during which their speaking time is heavily regimented. Second, all candidates must submit a complete declaration of their personal possessions - trying a Trump will just get you excluded, billionaire or not. Third, in my country there is no second group of people who can override my vote. Finally, campaign expenditures are scrutinized under a microscope, and nobody spends billions on it.

      So yeah, France is different. It's actually a democracy.

      1. Louis Schreurs Bronze badge

        Re: Oh DemocraSSy, so much money wasted in your name!

        Well, you maybe have just made the case for my immigration into France.

        It becomes more clear over time why my favourite writer (W.F. Hermans) chose to live in France. He was fed up with stuff just as I am.

        I'll just have to look at the financial side of things, since I am already somewhat old and have to follow a 9 year path to my PhD here in The Netherlands.

      2. chivo243 Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Oh DemocraSSy, so much money wasted in your name!

        Tell me more! I might be a citizen of France in the future! Two parties is no choice!

  7. ExampleOne

    I still don't get the foreign interference argument. I mean, are people really suggesting that foreign states are spending anything more than a small fraction of what the political parties are spending? Of not, are we really saying that the political parties are so incompetent that foreign interference is that much more proceed effective?

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Foreign states hardly need to spend millions when Facebook will take anyone's post and chuck into everyone's "newsfeed".

      That's how the Russians interefered in 2016 - by writing a series of Facebook posts that got people who don't pay attention all riled up.

  8. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Just business as usual..... nothing to see here

    At the highest level we are far more aware, people are more aware of what disinformation is, and the states are actively involved," said Biasini.

    "I definitely think that we are in better shape, but we won't really know what is going to happen until it happens."

    No shit, Sherlock. Now do you want to tell us something we haven’t known since forever and as was eloquently revealed by a wordsmith master of the alarming misunderstatement not so very long ago :-) .....

    Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones ..... United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld

    Don’t you yet realise there are much greater Greater Great Games afoot ..... and how extremely catastrophically vulnerable one is to their business exploits and social experiments which be both real and virtually virtuous shenanigans? When is the penny going to drop ...... apart from the time it be far too late to do anything about anything whilst everything is collapsing around one?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ElectRon AI

    Feel sorta someone should say something...

    awesome cab1es, Ronald

    ...but better not. N0t in the m00d. Heavens know what makes what in this case.

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