What Russia Did on Social Media Was Not Illegal

What the Russians did on social media during the 2016 election was not illegal.  It may have been mean-spirited or morally dishonest, but it did not violate the law.  It’s not illegal to create bots on social media, and it’s not illegal to spread fake news, unless it violates an old, somewhat irrelevant law, such as libel.  See

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/01/27/technology/social-media-bots.html

This article reports on the creation of millions of Twitter bots, many based on real people, which are sold to minor celebrities and others to increase the number of their Twitter followers.  The article implies in passing that fake users may also be a problem for Facebook, but it only reports on Twitter.  Facebook has somewhat more stringent controls on who can open a Facebook account, while Twitter has almost no controls.  It does, however, claim that it does not want fraudulent users and removes them when they are called to its attention.

The Twitter bots in the article are mostly used for advertising, but some are political; usually there are bots that espouse both sides of controversial issues, some leftist bots, some conservative bots.  However, the article does not claim that this activity violates any laws, although it may violate Twitter policies.

If it’s not illegal for a company in Miami to do this, it doesn’t seem like it is illegal for a business (or government) in Moscow to do so.  Fake news is a problem, but so far not illegal.  The bigger problem is that Americans are so gullible that they fall for it.  I don’t see how the government is going to limit fake news without getting into censorship.  Alreeady I think some of the procedures instituted by Twitter and Facebook border on censorship, although as private entities they do not have same high bar that the government does.

Another consideration is that through the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe the US has directed news at the old Soviet Union, and now at Russia for many years. Although it was not fake, it was intended to bring down the Soviet Union, and it did.  I would guess, although I do not know of an example, that the CIA has planted fake news over the years.

In a brief web search, I found this article about the CIA deceiving not only the Soviet Union, but the American people as well.

http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v09/v09p305_Marchetti.html

What’s going on now with fake news is bad, but it’s not new.

 

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