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Winning the Messaging Battle, Part I
Tipsheet

Latest Twitter Files Reveal Particularly Damning Revelations on How Russia Narrative Was Weaponized

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

On Friday afternoon, Matt Taibbi released another edition of the Twitter Files, the latest being "MOVE OVER, JAYSON BLAIR: TWITTER FILES EXPOSE NEXT GREAT MEDIA FRAUD." As other editions have also done a deep dive into, this one shows how tied up in the Russia narrative that the media was, along with the FBI, and a group known as Hamilton 68. 

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This time, the thread begins with a brief video segment introducing Clint Watts, who led a team to create a website known as Hamilton 68 in August 2017 under the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD) at The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). As Watts described it, he and his team "tracked Russian accounts," and said it was "right" to say that "Russian bots" were putting out disinformation. 

As the thread shows from the very beginning, though, even Twitter's Yoel Roth thought that what Hamilton 68 was doing was "bulls**t," and pointed out that the Hamilton dashboard "falsely accused a bunch of legitimate right-leaning accounts of being Russian bots."

Another email from Roth about Hamilton 68 doubled down on this concern, pointing to how "findings were generally that these accounts are neither strongly Russian nor strongly bots; they're just generally right-leaning users. Virtually any conclusion drawn from it will take conversations in conservative circles on Twitter and accuse them of being Russian."

This becomes an apparent theme expressed throughout the thread, though that rightful hesitation ultimately did not win the day as much as it should have. 

Taibbi gets to explaining more about the ASD, including who its advisory council is composed of. Among the members include neocon Bill Kristol, former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, John Podesta, and former heads or deputies of the CIA, NSA, or Department of Homeland Security. In other words, the kind of people you don't want handling these issues given their reputations or the reputations of their agencies. 

This is also when Taibbi gets into how the mainstream media got to boosting and hiding behind Hamilton 68 when it comes to "claiming Russian bots were 'amplifying' an endless parade of social media causes."

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Taibbi provides plenty of screenshots in this regard too, including NBC News' "One tiny corner of the U.S. government pushes back against Russian disinformation" from April 15, 2018; The Washington Post's "Russia-linked accounts are tweeting their support of embattled Fox News host Laura Ingraham" from April 2, 2018; POLITICO's "The Russian Bots Are Coming. This Bipartisan Duo Is On It" from February 26, 2018; Fast Company's "#FireMcMaster, Not Damore: Twitter Bots Are Thriving, And They’re More Lethal Than Ever" from August 10, 2017; CNN's "Russian bots are using #WalkAway to try to wound Dems in midterms" from July 17, 2018; another POLITICO article on how "Russia pushes more 'deep state' hashtags" from February 6, 2018; and Mother Jones' "Russian Propagandists Are Pushing for Roy Moore to Win" from December 11, 2017. 

Also revealed is how Hamilton 68 had a list of "600 Twitter accounts to Russian influence activities online," which they refused to release. "All those reporters and TV personalities making claims about 'Russian bots' never really knew what they were describing," Taibbi adds. 

Where Twitter's role comes in is that they tried to recreate Hamilton's list, which Taibbi describes as being done in a way that involved "reverse-engineering it from the site's requests for Twitter data."

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And again, Twitter doubled down on how they weren't buying it. More emails show findings such as how these accounts are "hardly illuminating a massive influence operation" and that "there is no evidence to support their statements that the dashboard is a finger on the pulse of Russian information ops." That last point is made in an email from Roth who began by writing to his colleagues that the "key point for pushback here is the Russia dimension."

Taibbi doubles down against Hamilton 68 in subsequent tweets in the thread and mentions that they "barely had any Russians," and that "apart from a few RT accounts, it's mostly full of ordinary Americans, Canadians, and British." He also refers to how it "was a scam." 

Roth and others at Twitter discussed outing Hamilton 68, with one wondering "Why can't we say we investigated... and citing Hamilton 68 is being wrong, irresponsible, and biased?"

Ultimately, though, Twitter caved, and didn't go for confrontation. Among those executives mentioned now work for Democrats. 

Twitter Files "contain the list," leading to how those accounts on it have "begun finding out." Subsequent tweets include reactions from those accounts. 

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Further down in the thread, Taibbi mentions the term "digital McCarthyism" to describe how these accounts were targeted. 

When it comes to once more describing the media angle, Taibbi notes that "Hamilton 68 was used as a source to assert Russian influence in an astonishing array of news stories."

Taibbi has even more screenshots of news stories too. Among them include CNBC's "Russia is attempting to influence Mueller investigation in an ‘ongoing attack,’ Democrats say" from January 23, 2018; the Observer's "Russian Propagandists Seize Kavanaugh Controversy to Sow Division Online" from September 9, 2018; The New York Times' "After Florida School Shooting, Russian ‘Bot’ Army Pounced" from February 19, 2018; NBC News' "Russian web trolls boo Biden, often boost Gabbard, report finds" from November 19, 2018 and their piece on how "Russia's propaganda machine discovers 2020 Democratic candidate Tulsi Gabbard" from February 2, 2019. 

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A particular repeat offender, Mother Jones, is also included, with their piece on how "Trump Supporters Spread the Majority of Phony News on Social Media" from February 6, 2018. 

Fact-checkers are also included, such as PolitiFact's "Russia's social media efforts in 2016 were not just false but inflammatory," from December 21, 2017. 

Taibbi does not hold back in calling these outlets out. "Incredibly, and ironically, these stories were also frequently used as evidence of the spread of 'fake news' on sites like Twitter," he writes when including a screenshot of that Mother Jones article. 

"It was a lie," Taibbi also wrote when including screenshots from so-called fact-checkers. "The illusion of Russian support was created by tracking people like Joe Lauria, Sonia Monsour, and Dave Shestokas." He also charges that "Virtually every major American news organization cited these fake tales--even fact-checking sites like Snopes and Politifact."

While Twitter did continue to speak out about Hamilton 68 amongst themselves and "did try to speak to reporters off the record," Taibbi points out, he also aptly mentions that "Twitter didn't have the guts to out Hamilton 68 publicly." Taibbi even later emphasizes how these Twitter executives count as "ardent Democratic partian[s]."

Given how much power Twitter had, and what they knew, in reality this adds insult to injury. 

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It wasn't just the media that was duped, but academia as well, as Taibbi briefly mentions. 

At the conclusion of his thread, Taibbi once again brings up "digital McCarthyism."

"The mix of digital McCarthyism and fraud did great damage to American politics and culture," Taibbi aptly wrote, as he also called out how the media outlets that won't disavow or even still pay those from Hamilton as analysts "shouldn't be trusted."

While there's often more to expect from these threads, Taibbi was even more clear on that note, as the last tweet in his thread thanked Matt Orfalea for putting the video segment together that began the thread and teased there is "much more to come."

Other subsequent tweets from Taibbi also called out Mother Jones in its own tweet for falling for Hamilton 68, with another tweet not only having mentioned Mother Jones, but The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and NBC News. He called out MSNBC's Rachel Maddow in another tweet as well. 

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There was also bipartisan criticism for senators who Taibbi called out for having "promoted Hamilton 68's work," including Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA), James Lankford (R-OK), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), with Taibbi declaring they "should explain themselves." Warner's name has come up in previous editions of the Twitter Files as well. 

Taibbi subsequently tweeted another preview, of a list of news stories and segments to do with Hamilton 68, which he says he'll have "hopefully this weekend," adding "I think people will be shocked by the scale of this."

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