How to spot Russian disinformation professionals, a/k/a trolls

Kurt Eichenwald, at Newsweek, has done some rightly celebrated journalism during this remarkable political campaign season.

One way to understand how solid his work has been is to know he’s being trolled by Russians disguised as regular old Amurrican folks wielding their First Amendment rights to trash him and the facts he’s presented about Donald Trump.

And Eichenwald has exposed them on Twitter:

This piece tells you: Can never tell who on social media is not who they pretend to be or whether they are Moscow.

As it happens, I spend what is probably an inordinate amount of time reading comments to some of the pieces the New York Times puts online. Yeah, an inordinate amount of time and I’m trying very hard to cut down.

But–to make something useful out of this somewhat wasteful habit–I have spotted a few things about these comments:

  • Far too many of them are written under pseudonyms, with vague locations (“outandabout”, “earth”, “the new world”, “not in NY,” a couple of other planets, like that). Some of the pseudonyms are colorful–“Really???”, “Aristotle Gluteus Maximus”; “in the north woods”. What’s with the pseudonyms? In a country like ours with a strong First Amendment, using a pseudonym to praise or criticize a news article is pretentious, suggesting the mind control police are hammering at your door. (No, there are no mind control police. I can’t believe I feel the need to write that.)
  • If you aren’t ashamed of your opinions, put your real name on them. If you are ashamed of your opinions–and some of these people should be, because they are virtually fact-free and often demonstrate the commenter hasn’t even read the entire article–don’t express them publicly. Because you make me sigh. Heavily.
  • Some comments are eloquently written, maybe a bit too eloquently for my taste, but hey. Many, though, are ungrammatical, full of misspellings and typos.

But j’accuse! Some of these comments have been produced by Russian trolls. How can I tell?

  • First, the pseudonym sounds plain vanilla American. “Glenn from Kansas.” “John from NYC.” Someone’s idea of real American names, circa 1953.
  • Second, the comment is relentlessly nasty about Hillary Clinton (and yeah, I used the word “nasty” deliberately), using precisely the same words and phrases every time, cut and pasted from a template prescribed by their troll masters at–taking a guess–whatever Kremlin agency specializes in this stuff. Often the comment openly praises Bernie Sanders and accuses Clinton of the blah blah blah evils you’d expect. (I’m graciously assuming this stuff is Russian trolling and not Bernie supporters. I want to think Bernie supporters are more intelligent than to come up with stuff the Kremlin could have produced.)
  • Third, the comment does not in any way overtly support Trump. The name is not even mentioned, although once in a while someone will say, “Not that I’m supporting Trump, that horrible guy, but…”
  • Fourth, the writing is awkward English, feels like it was translated from another language.
  • And one funny little thing I’ve noticed: the word “judgment” is often used, but it is always spelled “judgement.” Now, that is the way Brits have spelled it, at least in 19th century literature, but it is not the way we spell it in the U.S.A. For me, this is almost like a political tag, a clue.

One more teensy little thing to point out: occasionally I see Trump tweets because people I follow on Twitter forward Trump’s tweets in order to comment.

One Trump tweet had the word “judgment” in it, but it was spelled “judgement.”

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Giants team photo falls on woman: she sues

I have a stake in this personal injury lawsuit story. Memories, memories…

Years ago, I pulled a 1986 Giants team photo out of a game program, had it framed and hung it above my computer, alongside a 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers team photo. My two teams.

I live in another apartment now but both photos are still on the wall behind my computer. I’m looking at them, as I type.

I do feel badly for this lady, although I’m a tad jaundiced about reading personal injury complaints (the claims of permanent injury are pretty much boilerplate):

A New Jersey woman said she was sacked by a Giants team photo as she browsed in a souvenir shop at MetLife Stadium.

Source: N.J. woman sues Giants after team photo fell on her at MetLife – NY Daily News

Apparently she was in the Giants gift shop at the stadium:

In a lawsuit against the team and the stadium, Scotch Plains resident Laura Gallagher said she suffered multiple severe injuries when a framed picture of the team “fell from a shelf and violently struck her” as she was browsing the Giants Team Store on Sept. 14, 2014.

I’d really like to know more about what happened before I produce a classic knee-jerk opinion. As the resident handy-person in my own life, I’m the one who hangs all the art and photos and have never been “sacked” (Daily News, I do love your wit but maybe this wasn’t the best choice of words, if this woman has really been seriously injured) by any of my hanged art. I’m not claiming I’ve been granted special protection by the team just because I’m such a passionate and knowledgeable fan, with better and faster field vision than most of the TV commentators. But still, no Giants team photo has ever brained me.

It doesn’t take a lot of skill to use a picture nail and hammer. I’ve never had any of my hangings fall anywhere. I’m willing to bring my hammer and nails out to the stadium and do my bit for the team.

I’m sensing a fairly quick settlement here. (Oh and here I was saying I didn’t want to offer an ignorant, knee-jerk opinion.) (P.S. I don’t quite see how it’s the Giants’ fault a picture fell on her. It wasn’t as if the team in the photo came to life and piled on her, right? Except, of course, to point out that when a personal injury lawyer files such a lawsuit, he’s going for the deep pockets. OMG, I haven’t even closed off this paren so…)

I’m meandering because I’ll have to get up really early on Sunday to watch the Giants play the Rams in London. I am not a fan of the NFL’s effort to expand the league into Europe, just as I’m not a fan of watching my guys play with jet lag.

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“What constitutes illegal voter intimidation”

Source, Slate: What constitutes illegal voter intimidation.

An important and interesting article by two lawyers, Dahlia Lithwick and Raymond Vasvari.

I’m particularly interested because in November 2004 I was a volunteer voter protector in Miami, Florida. We were supported and instructed by our hosts, a terrific and inspiring Cuban-American group called (I hope I remember the name correctly) Mi Familia.

(Unfortunately, I and my two poll partners were stationed in Little Havana where grandmas clutching their little grandchildrens’ hands walked right by us as the adorable tots, said, “Bush! Bush!” Hey, we were not there to make sure everyone voted for Kerry. We were restricted to standing outside the polls and being available to anyone who had trouble voting for his/her choice. In the case of trouble–and one young woman told us the computer she was using that did not produce a paper confirmation switched her Kerry vote for Bush right in front of her eyes–we used our cell phone to call election lawyers.)

Given the threats Trump has been making–encouraging his followers to show up at the polls and do whatever they think they’re going to be doing to “protect” this election–I found this piece giving the legal boundaries and aspects of “voter protection” often surprising and occasionally unsettling. Especially when the writers lay out the possibilities of gun nuts, a/k/a “open carry”…what to call them other than nuts? Well, no, nuts they are and nuts I will label them…showing up with their open guns to protect them there polls from…dead people voting. That seems to be one of their focuses, all those dead people voting for Democrats. (It would be culturally savvy of me right here to comment that these people are watching far too many zombie TV shows, but I’ve never seen one so my comment would be irresponsibly pretentious. So I won’t comment.)

As you probably know, these polls watchers of our nightmares will be watching for, as one delightful Ohio guy, Steve Webb, put it, to the Boston Globe:

Trump said to watch your precincts. I’m going to go, for sure … I’ll look for … well, it’s called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American.” And what will Webb do if he finds any? “I’m going to go right up behind them. I’ll do everything legally. I want to see if they are accountable. I’m not going to do anything illegal. I’m going to make them a little bit nervous.”

Reading what Webb has said makes me nervous, and more than just a little bit.

Good news: voter intimidation is a federal crime.

Bad news:

So what is legal? Certainly every state allows for volunteer poll watchers, and has a legal right to do so. Almost all poll watchers are volunteers designated by specific candidates, parties, or election officials to monitor procedures and events at voting precincts. They are trained and briefed on the law.  But laws vary by state and, according to this report in ProPublica, in 46 states the laws permit private citizens to challenge a voter’s registration on or before Election Day. In Wisconsin, the report adds, “any voter can challenge someone’s ballot based on the suspicion that they are not qualified. The same goes in Virginia, Oregon and South Carolina.”

Worse news:

And that brings us, inexorably, to questions about jurisdictions with open carry laws. Does bringing a gun to a polling place in and of itself constitute voter intimidation?  What if a poll watcher decides to bring a gun she is otherwise authorized to carry while she is challenging voters?  And what if the pistol packer is not actively challenging voters but claims she is merely engaging in peaceful First Amendment speech?

But there is better news in this erudite article. Do not take my word for it: read the entire article. It’s blessedly well written.



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