Cyber trolls work to undercut democracy


February 22, 2018 - 12:00 AM

Hours after a gunman killed 17 students and teachers at a Parkland, Fla., high school, social media posts surged.
Unfortunately, many  were not out of sympathy or encouraging of constructive debate,  but an effort to sow further discord over gun control.
We now know the source of the posts was the Russian government, whose goal is to erode democracy.
The fact that we have free speech drives Russia and other dictatorships nuts.
The same internet frenzy occurred on Friday when special counsel Robert Mueller issued 13 indictments against Russia-based social media trolls and their role in our  2016 election.
Again, because Russia also lacks legitimate elections, it’s working to sabotage those here in the United States as well as other democracies.
The Russians have devised a very sophisticated system that uses computer programs to latch on to certain words, which, when triggered, spew out millions of messages across YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. In the case of Florida, the words “gun control,” “Parkland,” and the name of the suspect was all it took for this “troll factory” to start churning out controversial messages, quickly making the focus hyper-political.
Russia also employs what are termed “false amplifiers,” real people who pose as Americans whose goal, again, is to make us foam at the mouth at one another.
U.S. researchers have determined that Russia spends $1 million a month on such operations. And yes, there’s no reason to think this year’s mid-term elections won’t be susceptible to such subterfuge.
Russia’s endgame is to weaken democracies around the world in order for it to regain its status as a superpower.
To ensure Russia and its ilk fall short of this nefarious scheme, the United States needs to take cyber security more seriously and everyday Americans need to become more suspect of what comes across social media.

— Susan Lynn