As Colorado steadily advanced it’COVID-19 reopening plan over the recent holiday weekend, more protests demanded that Governor Polis hasten that plan. In fact, the Governor’s Office did hasten or modify the reopening of many Colorado Counties, including Chaffee, by issuing variances to 29 of Colorado’s 64 counties.
But some social media protesters were still not satisfied. Even as some Coloradans joined reopen protesters in other states across the country, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) released a study warning about the origins of social media campaigns surrounding those reopen protests.
CMU researchers have analyzed over 200 million tweets “discussing coronavirus or COVID-19” since January and found nearly half were bots*. More importantly, tweets focusing on stay-at-home and “reopen America” protests showed that 66 percent “were possibly humans with bot assistants.”
“We do know that it looks like it’s a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks…” said professor Kathleen Carley.
Carly, who is also the director of the Center for Computational Analysis of Social and Organizational Systems and Center for Informed Democracy & Social – Cybersecurity, tempered that conclusion by saying, “but it would take a tremendous amount of resources to substantiate that.”
Though it lacked a definitive conclusion of foreign interference, the study only highlights a social media manipulation war that has raged in the United States since June 2014. Surprisingly, Coloradans have been involved in that war as the subjects of foreign propaganda, social media manipulation, and even active human intelligence-gathering operations, even if unwittingly.
The Senate Select Committee’s report on Russian Interference in the 2016 election, revealed that two Russian intelligence agents visited Colorado among several other western and southern states throughout 2014. Their goal; an effort to gather intelligence about the many cultural and political divisions in rural America. The intelligence and first-hand experience gained by those intelligence agents were subsequently used to great effect the following year.
The year 2015 saw one of the first well known and most successful social media manipulation campaigns waged in this influence war. The campaign’s success culminated when hundreds of Americans and Texans gathered in Bastrop, Texas in opposition to a preplanned, multi-state Army Special Warfare training exercise, called Jade Helm.
Operation Jade Helm was a three-month-long military training operation to be conducted in seven different states, including Texas. According to an April 20, 2015, Fort Bragg official press release, “The diverse terrain in these states replicates areas Special Operations Soldiers regularly find themselves operating in overseas.”
As the planned start of the training operation approached, the Russian backed Internet Research Agency (IRA) began to use social media, primarily Facebook, to create and amplify conspiracies. Those conspiracies stoked Americans’ and Texans’ fears of government takeover and martial law, causing hysteria among citizens who called on the military to reveal their true intentions.
The Army and local government officials conducted town hall meetings in order to calm the fervor. These meetings were then nullified when Texas Governor Greg Abbott appeared to buy into the conspiracies and sent the Texas State Guard to monitor the operation.
On the same date as Governor Abbott’s decision, a follow-up Russian operation manipulating Facebook users into organizing a protest and its counter-protest in Texas, verifying the Russian’s domination of “the information space”. Furthermore, it gave them the confidence to then wholly and systematically wage a social media manipulation war on the United States in the 2016 presidential election.
Ultimately Americans discovered, through the Senate Intelligence Report and subsequent analysis, including the Mueller Report, that Russian agents and their proxies engaged with and manipulated hundreds of millions of Americans across nearly every social media platform.
The Russian agents not only exposed cultural issues in rural America they also animated long-simmering racial and social problems. This social media manipulation war was so skillfully and effectively began by the Russians, that it continues to rage today. It has become the influence blueprint for all of America’s enemies to use.
Ark Valley Voice previously reported how many unsuspecting Coloradans have unknowingly supported hate groups through their engagement in stay-at-home protests. Given the most recent CMU study and the clear advantage America’s enemies have gained in “the information space”, the factual evidence points to the caution that Coloradans should be wary of unknowingly supporting America’s enemies through their social media interactions.
* According to Wikipedia, an Internet bot, web robot, robot or simply bot, is a software application that runs automated tasks over the Internet. Typically, bots perform tasks that are simple and repetitive, much faster than a person could.