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Digital Deception Decoder 
August 3, 2018

MapLight and the Digital Intelligence (DigIntel) Lab at the Institute for the Future have teamed up on a free newsletter to help you track the most important news, research, and analysis of deceptive digital politics. Each week, we'll send you coverage of the webs of entities that seek to manipulate public opinion, their political spending ties, and the actors working to safeguard our democracy. Know someone who might be interested? Ask them to sign up!

  • Facebook revealed this week that it had detected and removed 32 deceptive pages and accounts that were coordinating to target the midterm elections, per The New York Times. The influence campaign (whose origin they can’t pinpoint with confidence) attempted to drive political division by seeking to capture a counterprotest to this year’s “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally and the “#AbolishICE” campaign.
  • The office of Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) published a white paper outlining policy proposals to three areas for regulating social media companies: combating disinformation, protecting user privacy, and promoting competition. Axios has the scoop. Proposals in the paper include requirements to label bots and identify fake accounts, increase political ad transparency, and change platforms’ immunity to liability for third-party content.
  • On Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committee held a hearing on foreign election interference online (recapped by The Verge), speaking to representatives from the Oxford Internet Institute, New Knowledge, the Alliance for Securing Democracy, Graphika, and RAND Corporation. Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) criticized inaction on the problem: "Some feel that we as a society are sitting in a burning room calmly drinking a cup of coffee, telling ourselves, 'This is fine'" (referencing this meme). A video of the hearing and the experts’ opening statements can be found here.
  • AP’s Steve Peoples and Christina A. Cassidy report that cybersecurity for political campaigns has largely been left up to individual efforts due to the political parties’ limited resources, despite evidence of attacks. The lack of resources and coordination suggests that many campaigns likely remain vulnerable to interference.
  • Troll tweets: As we continue to process Russian interference in the 2016 election, FiveThirtyEight has partnered with researchers at Clemson University to release nearly 3 million tweets from accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency—the most comprehensive data set so far, now available on GitHub. The researchers, Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren have also put out a working paper classifying the trolls.
  • Slate’s April Glaser and Will Oremus talk with Claire Wardle of First Draft on this week’s If/Then podcast, discussing, among other topics, how differences between “open ecosystem” social networks and “closed ecosystems” such as messaging service WhatsApp have shaped the spread of disinformation.
  • Bottom line: Ben Thompson at Stratechery decodes Facebook’s earnings report and stock drop from a variety of lenses, from finances to product growth, advertising ecosystem, and the anticipated impact of the GDPR. He concludes, “at the end of the day Facebook took a massive hit by choice; the company is not maximizing the short-term, it is spending the money and suppressing its revenue potential in favor of becoming more impenetrable than ever.”

We want to hear from you! If you have suggestions for items to include in this newsletter, email them to hamsini@maplight.org. - Hamsini Sridharan

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