The troll farms are winning and can’t be stopped


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“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

That’s the first amendment and may prove to be what undoes liberal democracies. Worse yet, the Supreme Court has interpreted ‘free speech’ extremely broadly, including the use of money as free speech.

It’s increasingly clear to me this is an extreme vulnerability that being exploited in the US and around the world.

On June 6 the State DepartmentÂ’s top official on digital and cyber
policy, Nate Fick, told an audience at an event hosted by the Washington Post:

“I don’t think most American
citizens really viscerally understand how much of the content they see
on social platforms is actually a foreign intelligence operationÂ…. I
just donÂ’t think we viscerally get how much of what we see is
bot-generated or foreign intelligence service–generated.”

I have little doubt that’s true and an increasing fear that much of what I see — and maybe even things I believe — has been hijacked by these groups.

Seeing the tools that are out there with AI and bots, I believe it’s almost trivial now to set up a bot farm. If I were an anti-American Russian doing it, I wouldn’t be writing “Mother Russia is great,” the aim would be to sow division, to crank up the volume on any issue, to inspire American hate for other Americans.

Divide and conquer.

I also believe that Russia sees itself as a victim of this game, rightly or wrongly. They believe that the Euromaidan rallies in Ukraine — which were organized on social media — were a US influence operation.

On Friday, Reuters reported an incredible story. During the peak of the pandemic, the US was running an online operation to discredit the Chinese vaccine in the Philippines and ultimately vaccines in general, putting thousands of lives at risk and the Philippines had among the worst inoculations rates in Southeast Asia.

It was part of a petty fight after China started a “disinformation campaign to falsely blame the United States for the spread of COVID-19,” according to the report.

If the US was willing to do that to the Philippines, what is it doing elsewhere?

After Euromaiden, the Russians became determined to retaliate and that was why the Internet Research Agency — founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin — was at work in the 2016 US election. I suspect the Russians were amazed at how well it worked and so did the rest of the world. The aim isn’t to invent stories but to elevate conspiracies and make people angry.

Given the comments from the State Department, the US knows its a target. Heather Cox Richardson wrote about it earlier this week:

Officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence
(ODNI) told lawmakers that Russian influence operations aimed at
undermining support for Ukraine and faith in democratic institutions
provide the top threat to the upcoming U.S. election. China is the
second-greatest threat but is more cautious because it is concerned
about U.S. blowback, while the third, Iran, acts primarily as a “chaos
agent,” trying to confuse voters. The ODNI officials said they have been
issuing warnings to political candidates, government officials, and
others targeted by foreign groups.

That brings us back to free speech. These kinds of campaigns are going to prove nearly-impossible to stop. Democrats like it when false rumours are spread about Republicans and vice versa. Anyone trying to stop the rumours would be seen as partisan or disloyal. It’s a win-at-all costs mentality that puts party ahead of country.

AI is going to hyper-charge this. There will be individually-optimized campaigns based on your data that create videos and ads targeted at you personally to make you unhappy and enraged.

Yes, some bot farms will be shut down but 10 more will spring up. I don’t see any way to stop it. The first amendment is written in stone and social platforms are open, anonymous and for sale.

What can we do? Ban anonymity online? That would be extremely unpopular. Go to a censored, walled-off internet like China? That’s completely incompatible with the Constitution and freedom in general.

For markets, the destabilization will inevitably lead to conflict and division; none of which can be good for growth.