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Here’s What You Need to Know About the Russian Hackers

In the past few weeks, Russian hackers have been posting fake information on American social media networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Earlier this month, Twitter deactivated thousands of ‘bot’ accounts because of automated activity.

The automated activity was centered around the hashtag #ParklandShooting, and these bots were spamming the platforms with pro-gun propaganda posts. These bots, once deactivated, left huge holes in the follower count of many right-wing Twitter influencers.

Not only were posts put out on social media, but some hackers went as far as to steal American bank accounts, open Paypal accounts with them and buy advertising space online.

The way that Facebook’s advertising works is that any account can purchase ad space for selected demographics and psychographics. They can also exclude certain audiences. What this means is that the Russian trolls could make a Facebook post like the one below:

 

These posts are designed to create buzz about Hillary Clinton and other political figureheads and be shown only to people who listed their Republican political beliefs on Facebook and exclude Democrats.

This is pretty dangerous because the Russian hackers are working to create a divide in the American nation by spreading lies. We saw this during the 2016 political election and it is returning now with the rise of gun control reform activism.

A site called Hamilton68 tracks accounts linked to Russian bots. Bret Schafer is an analyst for Hamilton68 and he believes “[The Russian Government] doesn’t care about gun control in America, they have no skin in this game.”

Instead, they aim to turn the American political parties against one another and against the government, which weakens the power of the country and makes America an easier target for attack, according to Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence.

Reports stated that fake pages like “@TEN_GOP” on Twitter had messages retweeted by Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump’s sons, and Michael Flynn. This page was proved to be Russian account posing to be a Tennessee Government page, and the President’s advisor and national security advisor were retweeting the information.

Another big issue is that the Russian hackers have the capability of organizing events in the United States. A Russian Twitter account organized both pro-Trump and anti-Clinton marches during 2016 — without even physically being in America.

 

Professor Karen North at University of Southern California claimed “the bots are ‘going to find any contentious issue, and instead of making it an opportunity for compromise and negotiation, they turn it into an unsolvable issue bubbling with frustration’”.

To sum it all up, the Russian government and hackers are trying to use social media to divide America by spreading false propaganda and organizing fake events. They mostly aim to appeal to conservative audiences but some accounts favor both political agendas.

There is evidence that these accounts are linked to Russian hackers and they are so easily camouflaged with American political pages that government officials believe the post content.

As a social media user, you should try to be skeptical of all things political and take all news without bias as to not fall victim to the  untrue propaganda that Twitter and Facebook can’t seem to keep up with.

 

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Chelsea is a senior undergraduate at the University of Connecticut. She is pursuing a degree in Digital Media & Design with a concentration in business strategies, as well as a minor in Communications. She holds one of the Marketing & Design chairs for her school's chapter of Her Campus. 
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