Tag: russia

Digitally Literate #234

Turning Cracks & Crevices Into Chasms
Digitally Lit #234 – 2/22/2020**

Hi all, welcome to issue #234 of Digitally Literate.

I posted and shared the following this week:

  • Digital Justice, Surveillance, & Invisible Walls – We released another episode of the Technopanic Podcast this week. This episode is a discussion with Chris Gilliard about privacy, security, algorithms, & how parents can help children be more reflective about the activities in which they engage.
  • Web Literate Educator – I have been slowing revising the open educational resource (OER) for the technology classes I teach. You can follow along here on the Google Site.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe if you would like this newsletter to show up in your inbox. Feel free to reach out and let me know what you think of this work at hello@digitallyliterate.net.


Russia hacked U.S. minds and undermined democracy, author says (7:02)

“Russian trolls were different from normal trolls,” says Clint Watts, a former U.S. government intelligence analyst who observed how Russia deployed a campaign of disinformation to discredit Hillary Clinton and help elect Donald Trump. Nick Schifrin talks with Watts, author of “Messing With the Enemy,” about what Americans can do to withstand future attempts by Russia to meddle in democracy.

Review the transcript here.


Mass propaganda used to be difficult, but Facebook made it easy

Mass propaganda used to be difficult, but Facebook made it easy.

In the past, authoritarian regimes wielded state-run media (hence, monopolization) to utilize propaganda to capitalize on preexisting beliefs, attitudes and fears (hence, canalization). While a state-run media infrastructure does not exist in the United States, thanks to Facebook’s microtargeting features, individual citizens can still find themselves in information environments monopolized by just one side.

For a deeper dive on this, read this report on Weaponizing the Digital Influence Machine: The Perils of Online Ad Tech from Data & Society.

Why the 2020 Election Will Be a Mess: It’s Just Too Easy For Putin

There has been some news here in the U.S. over the past week about the Russian disinformation campaigns and their interest in disrupting the 2020 Presidential campaigns.

Sadly, this is largely viewed through partisan lenses as opposed to thinking about how this impacts American institutions, and societies around the globe.

This same Kremlin playbook was deployed outside the United States as well – from Britain to France, Spain to Italy, Hungary to Montenegro, and elsewhere. For those who study Russian intelligence modus operandi, the pattern is clear.

As such, we can be confident that the 2020 election cycle will provide the Kremlin opportunities to pursue further subversion, disinformation, and deception. We should expect to see a barrage of disinformation, from fake think tanks, fake media outlets, false social media accounts, false identities, trolls, and bots to launder fringe narratives into the mainstream and hijack the public discourse.

To learn more about these practices, read this RAND Report on The Russian “Firehose of Falsehood” Propaganda Model.

The good news is that you’re in the right place. As these events present themselves, I’ll try and cover them from a balanced perspective to keep you more informed.

Climate Change Rises as a Public Priority. But It’s More Partisan Than Ever.

This article shares new research from the Pew Research Center on the growing partisan gap in our thinking about addressing climate change here in the U.S.

The challenge is that media channels are being used for disinformation campaigns in an attempt to shift blame and divert attention from climate change. We saw this playbook in the piece about Rupert Murdoch and Australia’s Bushfire Debate in Digitally Literate #228.

It will be interesting to see how the world addresses a changing environment when one of the major factors in this decision making process is partisanship.

Does the sharing economy share or concentrate?

As the future of work is constantly shifting, there is a movement to a sharing economy.

In this post, the authors consider the sharing economy as characterized by consumers or firms granting each other temporary access to their underutilized physical assets. This definition, adopted from Frenken and Schor (2017), can be decomposed into three components: (1) peer-to-peer exchange; (2) temporary access either through borrowing or renting; and (3) better use of underutilized physical assets.

The term sharing economy has often been used interchangeably with many other terms such as platform economy, gig economy, collaborative economy, and on-demand economy. Each of them in fact emphasizes different aspects of an emerging wave of changes to economic organization.

The piece goes on to consider whether this economy is beneficial for society, or if it generally consolidates resources for a chosen few.

The Case for Inclusive Teaching

Kevin Gannon with a must-read piece on the need for a focus on inclusive teaching in our institutions of higher education.

Gannon includes guidance that inclusive education rests on three imperatives:

  • That we treat all of our students equitably (which is related to, yet distinct from,“equally”);
  • That all of our students have full access to learning, and the tools they need to do so successfully and meaningfully;
  • That all of our students feel welcomed, supported, and valued as they learn


Setting Up Your Webcam, Lights, and Audio for Remote Work, Podcasting, Videos, and Streaming

A great guide for setting up a podcasting and video conferencing hub on your desktop.

I already have the mic from my podcasting. I just need to set up the lights and connect my camera to a swing arm. More to come on this front.

Thank you to Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel for this post.



Know from the rivers in clefts and in crevices: those in small channels flow noisily, the great flow silent.

Gautama Buddha

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Digitally Literate is a weekly review of the news, notes, tips, and tricks from the week that resonated with me. I leave a trail of digital breadcrumbs as I read online. Some of this I share on my social networks…much more I do not. At the end of the week, I review my notes and write up this newsletter.

This article focuses on the school district where my son goes to elementary school. The title indicates that students in a local school district are using Google Docs to bully each other. The real theme of the piece is far more sinister. The district is monitoring and surveilling students as they use the Chromebooks & Google Docs.

Yes, youth will always use texts & tools in their possession to vent, cry for help, or lash out. Yes, we should do all in our power to support, defend, & advocate for youth. But, large scale surveillance is too far. Instead of paying for tools and third parties to monitor youth…perhaps we should hire more teachers, hire more social workers and counselors, pay them what they’re worth.

Feel free to connect at hello@digitallyliterate.net or on the social network of your choice.

Digitally Literate #207


The Great Hack
Digitally Lit #207 – 7/27/2019

Hi all, my name is Ian O’Byrne and welcome to issue #207 of Digitally Literate.

In this newsletter I distill the news of the week in technology into an easy-to-read resource. Thank you for reading. Please subscribe if you haven’t already.

This week I worked on a number of things in the background. More info coming soon.

This week’s issue will be a deepdive. Buckle up. 🙂


The Great Hack – Official Trailer (2:27)

In this newsletter, I’ve been actively questioning the role of technology as it disrupts democratic processes. Netflix’s new documentary, The Great Hack will hopefully make you think a bit more deeply about your digital footprint.

The documentary provides a deep dive into the world of Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and copious amounts of money. I also love the fact that the whole film begins as you follow David Carroll as he considers the questions that abound in these areas.

Do yourself a favor. Stop reading this newsletter. Go watch the documentary. Come back after you’ve finished. I have some questions.


Facebook lost control of our data. Now it’s paying a record $5 billion fine.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Wednesday announced that Facebook agreed to pay a $5 billion fine over privacy violations and its failure to inform tens of millions of users about a data leak that happened years ago. The fine is the largest the US regulator has levied against a tech company.

To prevent Facebook from deceiving its users about privacy in the future, the FTC’s new 20-year settlement order overhauls the way the company makes privacy decisions by boosting the transparency of decision making and holding Facebook accountable via overlapping channels of compliance.

This fine is primarily a response to Facebook’s actions as part of the Cambridge Analytica “data breach.” The FTC also announced today separate law enforcement actions against data analytics company Cambridge Analytica. The settlement alleges that the company used false and deceptive tactics to harvest personal information from millions of Facebook users.

This fine will go directly into the U.S. Treasury’s General Fund. The $5 billion is a fraction of Facebook’s overall revenue, representing approximately 9% of the company’s 2018 revenue.

Facebook to pay separate $100 million SEC fine over Cambridge Analytica scandal

The social network has also agreed to pay the US Securities and Exchange Commission $100 million over charges of making “misleading disclosures” over the risk of abusing users’ data.

The full complaint from the SEC holds a number of damning details about Facebook’s actions. Specifically, Facebook ignored warnings about “sketchy” Cambridge Analytica in 2015. You should also skim this Twitter thread from Jason Kint as he unpacks the complaint.

Even though this is only a fraction of the settlement with the FTC, I believe the SEC complaint is much more important. I believe that this was not a “data breach.” Facebook was doing was Facebook does. They collect and archive your data, and then sell it off to others. When this all comes to light, the social network deflects, obfuscates, and dissembles.

Russia Targeted Election Systems in All 50 States, Report Finds

The Senate Intelligence Committee concluded Thursday that election systems in all 50 states were targeted by Russia in 2016, an effort more far-reaching than previously acknowledged.

The heavily redacted report, titled, “Russian Efforts Against Election Infrastructure” is the first volume the committee has publicly released, after more than 200 witness interviews and the collection and review of nearly 400,000 documents. Subsequent volumes will deal with Russia’s effort to use social media and disinformation to influence voters.

When I talk about online disinformation campaigns, family & friends give me an eye roll with comments like “Uhhh…Russia.” Regardless of political tribes, we need to acknowledge that the US (& other nations) have been under attack using social media & other tools to influence our perspectives.

What’s your screenome? It may be more important than screen time

What’s your screenome? “Screenome” is a play on the word “genome,” which refers to the unique set of genetic material that every living organism contains.

In a paper published in the journal Human-Computer Interaction, social scientists at Stanford define a screenome as “the record of individual experiences represented as a sequence of screens that people view and interact with over time.”

HOW you interact might be more important than HOW LONG.

Does Technology Spell Doom for Close Relationships?

This post by Omri Gillath in the Scientific American discusses the recent trend of the “solomoon.” Solomooning, according to recent news articles, is a new phenomenon in which just-marrieds take a post-wedding trip separately from each other.

The post goes on to share research by Gillath and colleagues as they examine disposability and the ways in which social media impacts intimacy with others.

Gillath crystalizes some of these challenges:

Taken as a whole, they paint a gloomy picture of our relational future. A significant cause of these trends is people’s tendency to immerse themselves in technological advancements without considering the implications. Technology is not going to stop or go away, so unless we start taking these implications seriously, we may wake up one day in the near future with a broken heart and without the relationships that are so vital to our wellbeing.


Cleanse your Facebook account

After watching the documentary and reviewing the stories I shared…are you ready to delete your Facebook account?

Probably not. As we’ve regularly discussed in this newsletter, technology regularly offers us reasons to stop using their products, apps, and services. Yet…we stick around for some reason.

If you’re not going to delete your account…take some time and give it a good cleanse, or refresh.

Download your information from your settings. To download your information:

  1. Click at the top right of any Facebook page and select Settings
  2. Click Download a copy of your Facebook data at the bottom of General Account Settings
  3. Click Start My Archive

After that, test out two of the options shared in the post above (Facebook Timeline Cleaner and F___book Post Manager), to clean out your data.

I’m still deciding whether or not it is time to delete my Facebook account. I have been in the process of scaling back what the social network knows about me. I’ve been downloading and deleting all of my photos from the service. I’ve also refreshed my privacy settings as well. I’ll test out the tools above…and a total purge may soon be in my future.

What about you? 🙂

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I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

Rutger Hauer

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This week I started finally watching the Showtime documentary about the Wu-Tang Clan. The four part docuseries is all about the honesty the members of the super group weave into their rhymes. You can listen to some of the tracks from the series here.

Digitally Literate is a summary of all the great stuff from the Internet this week in technology, education, & literacy. Say hey with a note at hello@digitallyliterate.net or on the social network of your choice.

Documents Show How Russia’s Troll Army Hit America

Documents Show How Russia’s Troll Army Hit America

The adventures of Russian agents like The Ghost of Marius the Giraffe, Gay Turtle, and Ass — exposed for the first time.

Buzzfeed report in 2014. All annotations in context.

Russia’s campaign to shape international opinion around its invasion of Ukraine has extended to recruiting and training a new cadre of online trolls that have been deployed to spread the Kremlin’s message on the comments section of top American websites.
Plans attached to emails leaked by a mysterious Russian hacker collective show IT managers reporting on a new ideological front against the West in the comments sections of Fox News, Huffington Post, The Blaze, Politico, and WorldNetDaily.
The bizarre hive of social media activity appears to be part of a two-pronged Kremlin campaign to claim control over the internet, launching a million-dollar army of trolls to mold American public opinion as it cracks down on internet freedom at home.


The documents show instructions provided to the commenters that detail the workload expected of them. On an average working day, the Russians are to post on news articles 50 times. Each blogger is to maintain six Facebook accounts publishing at least three posts a day and discussing the news in groups at least twice a day. By the end of the first month, they are expected to have won 500 subscribers and get at least five posts on each item a day. On Twitter, the bloggers are expected to manage 10 accounts with up to 2,000 followers and tweet 50 times a day.


According to the documents, which are attached to several hundred emails sent to the project’s leader, Igor Osadchy, the effort was launched in April and is led by a firm called the Internet Research Agency. It’s based in a Saint Petersburg suburb, and the documents say it employs hundreds of people across Russia who promote Putin in comments on Russian blogs.


The trolls appear to have taken pains to learn the sites’ different commenting systems. A report on initial efforts to post comments discusses the types of profanity and abuse that are allowed on some sites, but not others. “Direct offense of Americans as a race are not published (‘Your nation is a nation of complete idiots’),” the author wrote of fringe conspiracy site WorldNetDaily, “nor are vulgar reactions to the political work of Barack Obama (‘Obama did shit his pants while talking about foreign affairs, how you can feel yourself psychologically comfortable with pants full of shit?’).” Another suggested creating “up to 100” fake accounts on the Huffington Post to master the site’s complicated commenting system.


“There’s no paradox here. It’s two sides of the same coin,” Igor Ashmanov, a Russian internet entrepreneur known for his pro-government views, told BuzzFeed. “The Kremlin is weeding out the informational field and sowing it with cultured plants. You can see what will happen if they don’t clear it out from the gruesome example of Ukraine.”


Gatov, who is the former head of Russia’s state newswire’s media analytics laboratory, told BuzzFeed the documents were part of long-term Kremlin plans to swamp the internet with comments. “Armies of bots were ready to participate in media wars, and the question was only how to think their work through,” he said. “Someone sold the thought that Western media, which specifically have to align their interests with their audience, won’t be able to ignore saturated pro-Russian campaigns and will have to change the tone of their Russia coverage to placate their angry readers.”


“Putin was never very fond of the internet even in the early 2000s,” said Andrei Soldatov, a Russian investigative journalist who specializes in security services and cyber issues. “When he was forced to think about the internet during the protests, he became very suspicious, especially about social networks. He thinks there’s a plot, a Western conspiracy against him. He believes there is a very dangerous thing for him and he needs to put this thing under control.”


“The internet has become the main threat — a sphere that isn’t controlled by the Kremlin,” said Pavel Chikov, a member of Russia’s presidential human rights council. “That’s why they’re going after it. Its very existence as we know it is being undermined by these measures.”

Fake ‘Ukrainian’ News Websites Run by Russian ‘Troll Army’ Offshoots

Fake ‘Ukrainian’ News Websites Run by Russian ‘Troll Army’ Offshoots (Global Voices)

A new investigation of Russia's information war has revealed fake 'Ukrainian' news sites are actually hosted, operated, and staffed in Russia without any local correspondents.

Aric Toler on GlobalVoices as part of the RuNet Echo Project. All annotations in context.

creating a new international news operation called Sputnik to “provide an alternative viewpoint on world events.” More and more, though, the Kremlin is manipulating the information sphere in more insidious ways.


In June, BuzzFeed published a detailed feature on this operation, through which the Kremlin supposedly funds a small army of young web-savvy Internet users who flood website comment sections around the world with pro-Russian and anti-Western rhetoric.

Social Network Analysis Reveals Full Scale of Kremlin's Twitter Bot Campaign

Social Network Analysis Reveals Full Scale of Kremlin’s Twitter Bot Campaign (globalvoices.org)
With the aid of open-source tools, Internet researcher Lawrence Alexander gathered and visualized data on nearly 20,500 pro-Kremlin Twitter accounts, revealing the massive scale of information manipulation attempts on the RuNet. In what is the first part of a two-part analysis, he explains how he did it and what he found.
All annotations in context.

RuNet Echo has previously written about the efforts of the Russian “Troll Army” to inject the social networks and online media websites with pro-Kremlin rhetoric. Twitter is no exception, and multiple users have observed Twitter accounts tweeting similar statements during and around key breaking news and events. Increasingly active throughout Russia’s interventions in Ukraine, these “bots” have been designed to look like real Twitter users, complete with avatars.


Using the open-source NodeXL tool, I collected and imported a complete list of accounts tweeting that exact phrase into a spreadsheet. From that list, I also gathered and imported an extended community of Twitter users, comprised of the friends and followers of each account. It was going to be an interesting test: if the slurs against Nemtsov were just a minor case of rumour-spreading, they probably wouldn’t be coming from more than a few dozen users.


Then I used Gephi, another free data analysis tool, to visualize the data as an entity-relationship graph. The coloured circles—called Nodes—represent Twitter accounts, and the intersecting lines—known as Edges—refer to Follow/Follower connections between accounts. The accounts are grouped into colour-coded community clusters based on the Modularity algorithm, which detects tightly interconnected groups. The size of each node is based on the number of connections that account has with others in the network.

Twitter thread on disinformation & propaganda from Foster Grant P.I.

Foster Grant P.I. 🇺🇸 on Twitter (Twitter)

“Those fault lines sound familiar. Build the Wall? Black Lives Matter? Gay wedding cakes? That's not to say the organizations working those issues are un-American. But Congressional hearings and indictments are showing – RU agitated the issues to shape the election.”

Full Thread Here

The Curious Case of the Russian Flash Mob at the West Palm Beach Cheesecake Factory

The Curious Case of the Russian Flash Mob at the West Palm Beach Cheesecake Factory | Radiolab | WNYC Studios from wnycstudios

When Robert Mueller released his indictment a few days ago, alleging that 13 Russian nationals colluded to disrupt the 2016 elections, we had a lot of questions.

Radiolab podcast on February 20th, 2018.

We don’t do breaking news. But when Robert Mueller released his indictment a few days ago, alleging that 13 Russian nationals colluded to disrupt the 2016 elections, we had a lot of questions. Who are these Russian individuals sowing discord? And who are these Americans that were manipulated?? Join us as we follow a trail of likes and tweets that takes us from a Troll Factory to a Cheesecake Factory.