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Bob Davis: Some social media users doing Russia's bidding

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Vladimir Putin

Russian Presdient Vladimir Putin addresses a news conference in Moscow on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013.  (Sergi L. Loiko/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Here’s a conspiracy theory waiting to happen: The spread of social media, particularly Facebook, is actually a plot to trick people into self-identifying as extremely gullible and prone to swallowing whole whatever nonsense comes along.

OK, your faithful correspondent doesn’t really believe this conspiracy theory, but it seems like something that might go viral. And the best place to spread it would be … Facebook.

Don’t believe me? Look closely at your social media feeds to see if your friends endorse posts from sketchy sources offering shocking news you won’t find anywhere else. For example, we stumbled across a Facebook post from something called The Whiner last week, “This Muslim just risked it all to tell the truth about Mayor de Blasio’s roll [sic] in attack today.” Here’s a handy guide to fake news. If the Facebook “revelation” isn’t on TV news or in your local newspaper, that’s likely because it’s phony. Other clues: Misspelling “role” and describing a source only as “Muslim.”

Last week, representatives of Google, Facebook and Twitter appeared before several congressional committees to discuss how their platforms were used by the Russians in an attempt to sway the 2016 presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as well as divide Americans, pitting different interest groups against one another, encouraging violence against one another.

Those Big Tech execs’ testimony further confirmed what U.S. intelligence agencies have been telling us for more than a year: The Russian government attempted to influence the election by engaging in cyber-espionage.

“Russians have been conducting information warfare for decades,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said at one hearing. “But what is new is the advent of social-media tools with the power to magnify propaganda and fake news on a scale that was unimaginable back in the days of the Berlin Wall. Today’s tools seem almost purpose-built for Russian disinformation techniques.”

The propaganda campaign waged by the Russians on social media included hundreds of sham accounts on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The estimated reach of this social media activity is at least 126 million Americans, many of whom we can safely assume unknowingly helped a hostile nation inject disinformation and discord into our democracy.

Many of whom, we can also safely assume, were doing the bidding of some team of Russian-backed hackers with every like and share of Facebook posts that stirred up Americans.

One such ad from a Russian front group, the Army of God, featured an image of Jesus arm-wrestling with Satan. The accompanying caption read, “Today Americans are able to elect a president with godly moral principles. Hillary is a Satan, and her crimes and lies had proved just how evil she is. And even though Donald Trump isn’t a saint by any means, he’s at least an honest man and he cares deeply for this country. My vote goes for him!”

Another ad posted by the Russians was supposedly from BM and promoted an anti-Trump rally with the words, “STOP TRUMP! STOP RACISM!”

Yet another phony Facebook account called Being Patriotic claimed, “Hillary Clinton is the co-author of Obama’s anti-police and anti-Constitutional propaganda.”

During the Red Scare of the 1950s, America’s uber-patriots had a name for their fellow Americans ensnared in Moscow’s schemes. They called them “dupes” and/or “unwitting accomplices” of the Russians.

Bob Davis is editor and publisher of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or bdavis@annistonstar.com. Twitter: EditorBobDavis