Molly McKew explains how bots and pro-Trump trolls worked together to push #ReleaseTheMemo on social media

From the February 5 edition of MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson:

Video file

HALLIE JACKSON (HOST): So, we've talked about on this show how Russian bots have helped drum up support on social media for the release of this Nunes memo. So now, we're getting a closer look at how this thing got pulled off and what it might mean for the future. There's this new report out from Politico that breaks down just how this hashtag, #ReleaseTheMemo, caught on. The first tweet reportedly appeared January 18th from this specific user here, the account is restricted by Twitter for unusual activity, but Politico reports the account seems to belong to a real person. Fine. But then, on the same day, several accounts, each with a few thousand followers, said to be run by real people but also some automation, retweeted that first tweet, pushing the hashtag, #ReleaseTheMemo. Politico reports that the early promoters of the hashtag meet basic criteria for bots, for trolls. The day before the memo was released, the hashtag was everywhere. Lawmakers like Congressman Lee Zeldin, Jeff Duncan were using it too. I'm joined now by the author of that piece, really interesting stuff. Molly McKew, an information warfare expert specializing in U.S.-Russia relations, along with my panel, Nick Johnston and Nancy Cook. So Molly, we'll start with you. This is a really fascinating deep dive into the anatomy of #ReleaseTheMemo. Is this, in your view, standard operating procedure for how Russians spread disinformation and try to sow chaos?

MOLLY MCKEW (INFORMATION WARFARE EXPERT): So I think the -- you're right about both of those things. I think the really interesting thing about looking at this campaign, all week, there had been sort of this discussion, was it Russian bots, was it authentic, organic Republican grassroots campaigns? Twitter sort of said one thing, other analysts said the other. And the truth is it's both. And the way that these --

JACKSON: So it's both bots and it's both legit?

MCKEW: It's sort of automated content and machine aspects. It is humans. It is Russian. It is American. There's probably other mixed in there. But the way they now fuse together in this information architecture within social media is incredibly interesting. And I would just note, because I get -- it'll be a criticism, but there's also a far-left architecture that is often manipulated in this as well. So it's not just the right. There is also sort of the Bernie bot contingent which still exists on social media. But the way that these now work together, they sort of feed and fuel each other, they drive these campaigns, and that's really the more important question. It's not is it a bot or not, but it's was it an automated and amplified campaign for the purpose of manipulative content, and what was the purpose of that campaign?

JACKSON: And that is called computational propaganda, you write.

MCKEW: Exactly.

JACKSON: And that's what that is sort of defined, right?

MCKEW: Yeah, and so there is this whole new field of computational propaganda that's sort of backed by data analytics and other technologies, some of it is AI. Some of it is very basic. On Twitter, a lot of it is automated Twitter software, sort of things that allow you to repost things very quickly, but the purpose of it is to change perceptions, to change the way that people make decisions in the way that they think, and, ultimately, to change behavior, and I think that's really what's been missing in some of these conversations in the last year about sort of fake news, which I think is a terrible term. Aspects of it are not just about disinformation, that they are information warfare, they are meant to achieve specific outcomes.


Politico: How Twitter bots and Trump fans made #ReleaseTheMemo go viral


#ReleaseTheMemo is the next phase in the anti-Mueller campaign

CNN highlights how Russian Twitter bots spread pro-Trump messages throughout the 2016 election

Report: FBI Investigating Russian Operatives Using Bots To Spread Stories From Breitbart, RT, Infowars