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Twitter Bots Drown Out Anti-Kremlin Tweets 125

Posted by timothy
from the more-of-the-same dept.
tsu doh nimh writes "It appears that thousands of Twitter accounts created in advance to blast automated messages are being used to drown out Tweets sent by bloggers and activists this week who are protesting the disputed presidential elections in Russia. Trend Micro first observed on Wednesday the bogus tweets flooding popular hashtags being used by Russians protesting the election and the arrests of hundreds of protesters, including prominent anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny. Today, blogger Brian Krebs posted evidence that thousands of accounts apparently auto-created in mid-2011 were being used to flood more than a dozen hashtags connected to the protests, and appear to be all following each other and one master account, presumably the botnet controller."
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Twitter Bots Drown Out Anti-Kremlin Tweets

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    But seriously, hashtags are ephemeral things. Change it up while someone works on knocking out the C&C and getting the bogus accounts blacklisted.
  • I wonder (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jpwilliams (2430348)
    Is Twitter going to be like Switzerland and stay neutral? Also, how well can this tactic work against a critical mass? And what is that critical mass? I can't read Russian, but I imagine it would be pretty easy to pull out fake comments from real comments.
    • Re:I wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

      by klingens (147173) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @06:01PM (#38308738)

      If it's really a Botnet, then Twitter can't be inactive, or they risk botwars for all kinds of controversial topics in the future. Twitter will then very soon become a wasteland of botnet #topic wars and real humans will leave in droves since they can't get any useful info anymore and Twitter, the company, will crater.
      As long as this presumable russian government botnet was not widely known, Twitter could have ignored it since the public didn't know that Twitter was gamed by special interests. Now however, they have to act or rather give the impression of acting. Acting in this case means to stop the Botnet of course, the other still existing botnets won't be affected since they've not been exposed (yet).

      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        and Twitter, the company, will crater

        And nothing of value will be lost. Serious journalists will just have to spend a few bucks a month hosting their own web sites. The horror!

    • by TheSpoom (715771)

      Twitter should identify accounts that are repeatedly Tweeting the same thing to public hashtags or accounts, then disable them and their previous tweets until a human operator completes a challenge of some kinda (like a ReCAPTCHA).

      I'm kinda surprised they're not doing this now.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There is something fundamentally wrong with any social media that does not autofilter, grade and weight posts based on a metric other than sum (#topic).

  • Twitter tells you what to think.
  • by Rich0 (548339) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @05:58PM (#38308698) Homepage

    Why have those accounts all follow each other? It would make exterminating them trivial assuming twitter can be bothered to do so. Just implement any communications on the back end, or using less-obvious forms of communications.

    Of course, with all the twitter spam out there it wouldn't surprise me if people just have these networks ready to go all the time and sell them to the highest bidder when the price gets high enough.

    Twitter is obsolete in any case.

    • Follower count for each would make each account look more popular. Follower count is used in some of the third party twitter searches to improve relevance... *fail*

    • The controller account is @master_boot. Take it down to score one for free speech.

      • How would that be "scoring one for free speech"? The very act of what this controller is doing is still free speech, regardless of how much you disagree with it. However, it is an internal matter for Twitter to deal with as an abuse of their system.

        • I thought someone might say this, but isn't astroturfing inherently anti-free-speech? It's impersonation. The IRL equivalent would be to form a protest with a mob of androids for the purpose of making an unpopular viewpoint seem more popular. I'd argue that one person deceptively impersonating a large group is damaging to free speech.

          • No, astroturfing isnt anti-free-speech at all - its not preventing anyone else from expressing their own views, its providing the view that someone has paid to be provided alongside others views, and while that may be unethical it isn't anti-free-speech.

            Remember, everyone has a right to their view, but no one has a right to be heard.

            Your "IRL" equivalent is a little off as well - the real life equivalent would be for Nike to pay 1,000 actors to mingle with the anti-Nike protesters and offer whatever public

            • I think you misunderstand how this particular scheme is working. This isn't a bunch of paid human astroturfers, this is a group of bots all repeating the same message, so my android analogy was spot on.

              Still I don't think a single person being able to drown out the voice of many using money or hacking skill is a good thing for free speech. That's pretty close to preventing others from expressing their own views. Let's say for the sake of argument, using the Android analogy that I think is well-supported, th

        • by tehcyder (746570)

          How would that be "scoring one for free speech"? The very act of what this controller is doing is still free speech, regardless of how much you disagree with it. However, it is an internal matter for Twitter to deal with as an abuse of their system.

          Right, so anyone who distributes malware is also just expressing their right to free speecj?

          Fucking Kremlin shill!

          • Who is distributing malware here? And what contortionist moves did you have to make to wring whatever tenacious link you did out of my post to support your comment?

            Yes, the posts may be being made with computers infected by malware - but thats a different issue to the one of free speech, and anyway what if they aren't? The issue of whether this has free speech issues still remains even if the astroturfing parties are using Amazon EC2 or their own servers.

            Oh, and give up with the "shill" accusations - its

  • Somewhere in here there is an angry birds joke.
  • Astroturfing (Score:5, Informative)

    by onyxruby (118189) <{onyxruby} {at} {comcast.net}> on Thursday December 08, 2011 @06:00PM (#38308732)

    This is just astroturfing. Pretty much any type of popular forum site is going to have large numbers for accounts that have been set up for astroturfing my third parties.

    I recall a while back fark all of sudden got crapflooded by pro-chavez bots. Admins simply need to find astroturfing accounts and delete them. Nothing new here.

    • The amazing thing is that Twitter became so dominant, despite providing extremely little new, and in no way solving the problems related to spam or DoS attacks like these. As if that wasn't enough, it has uptime unworthy of a top 100 site.

    • by mirix (1649853)

      I remember hearing recently that ER has been paying people 15 roubles per pro-ER astroturf post.

      Not sure if there is any truth to it, and my russian is too shitty to research.

      • by mirix (1649853)

        I guess I should have elaborated that ER = United Russia, Putin's party.

        sorry for self reply

      • by Luckyo (1726890)

        Doesn't really make sense, considering that most young people in the country who are politically active vote UR. Communists are for old people, Zhirinovski is for people who are as stupid as US far right or just plain entertained by him, and everyone else is deeply unpopular.

        So all they'd have to do is ask their own youths to troll those opposing. Wouldn't even have to pay.

        • by 21mhz (443080)

          We'll see on Saturday, but it looks as though they are running out of those willing to troll. Might have been easy to do with our normal 100-strong opposition meeting, but this time it promises to be different. Now they resort to desperate measures such as making this Saturday an exceptional mandatory school day.

    • by hitmark (640295)

      Yep, seen it regarding various topics on both Boingboing and Arstechnica. In both cases the accounts will appear, dump a crapload of text and then not be used again until the next time the topic shows up. No attempts at entering a dialog with the commenter will get a response.

  • ... of fame as a political force (in Iran).

  • After reading about HBGary Federal's own work in Astroturfing software [dailykos.com] when they were hacked by Anonymous earlier this year I figured that everyone would be getting in on that action. Now that mainstream media doesn't have their death grip on the spread of information (or disinformation), the G-men in black suits standing off camera need to come up with other ways to cloud things.

    Trying to cut off the internet completely would just result in the population going apeshit, so now they're utilizing shadier me

  • by iONiUM (530420) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @06:04PM (#38308774) Homepage Journal

    I thought they were getting more progressive in the recent years? Is this not the case? It seems like it's just getting closer and closer to another dictatorship and extreme socialism.

    Can someone more informed than me on the subject explain what's going on there? None of the sites seem to say more than "Putin is being an asshole."

    • by Nadaka (224565) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @06:09PM (#38308836)

      There is very little socialist about Russia. It is basically a capitalistic authoritarian kleptocracy with a surging nationalist police state agenda.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There is very little socialist about Russia. It is basically a capitalistic authoritarian kleptocracy with a surging nationalist police state agenda.

        Or in other words, converging to the same asymptote as the US...

        • by hitmark (640295)

          Given that post-soviet Russia was basically guided into much the same shock treatment that Iraq has been going thru in recent years by US economists sent over to "help" a former enemy become capitalist, it should not be a surprise. There is a religion masking as science out of Chicago called neo-classical/monetarist economics that is the source.

      • by roman_mir (125474)

        1. Russian mafia-government buys the votes with promises of the dole.

        2. The only thing 'capitalist' about it is that a limited number of people are making a capital for themselves alright.

        3. The mafia-bosses on the top of the political pyramid are making sure that nobody knows or hears about any viable alternatives, the 'Channel 1' is bought and paid for (and the rest of the channels are heavily monitored and censored, maybe even self-censored). Only a small percentage of the country is on the Internet, an

        • by Anonymous Coward

          2. The only thing 'capitalist' about it is that a limited number of people are making a capital for themselves alright.

          In case you haven't noticed, that's the exact same pattern happening in every capitalist country right now.

          Of course, you just handwave all of that pesky "reality" stuff aside, right? GO RON PAUL!!! GO 1%ERS!!!

          • by roman_mir (125474)

            Nonsense. Ron Paul is the exact opposite of what US government and Russian government represent today - lack of law. Lawlessness on the government level.

            The laws must apply to the government just as well as they apply to individuals and the government must not be allowed to do things that individuals cannot do by law.

            USA and Russia have similar problems, however what you call '1%' in USA consists of all sorts of people - mostly owners of businesses. Those are the people who actually run the economy. The MA

            • The problem in USA of-course is that a small number of the very rich (maybe 0.01%) found ways to subvert the law that applies to the government and they found a way to give themselves all sorts of privileges nobody should have.

              Useful hint: If there's a multi-trillion dollar pie to divide up, spending a few billion to get a piece of it is a no-brainer.

              Which is pretty much what's been happening in the USA for a long time now. All it takes is a look at how much it costs to be President (>$1 billion, in O

          • by khallow (566160)

            Of course, you just handwave all of that pesky "reality" stuff aside, right? GO RON PAUL!!! GO 1%ERS!!!

            I guess that's the burden of libertarians. They get to be a target for all the idiots out there. Well, we got the society you all wanted and it just so happens to be run by fools and scoundrels.

      • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @06:40PM (#38309172)

        So Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev are sitting in a bathtub . . .

        Putin: "Dmitry, which one of us is President today?"

        Medvedev: "Which day of the week is it today?"

        Putin: "Friday."

        Medvedev: "That means that you are President, Vladimir."

        Putin: "Ok, that means that you must get out of the tub to fetch us another bottle of vodka from the kitchen."

        • "So you'd like to know what party I gave my voice to? That's what I'd like to know, too."

          "The Central Elections Commission said in an official statement that it would not allow the voters to fake elections results."

          "Putin, accompanied by Gryzlov and Mironov, enters a restaurant.
          Waiter: Good day, Vladimir Vladimirovich! What would you like to eat?
          Putin: I will have some meat!
          Waiter: What about vegetables?
          Putin: The vegetables will have the same."
        • by Luckyo (1726890)

          That sounded like Bill and Hillary talking, only Bill telling Hillary that since she's the president today, he's going to boink his assistant.

      • There are competing definitions of socialism. The one I prefer is democratic management of the economy. By that definition, Russia has never been socialist, and only briefly had some localized experiments with socialism in a few places in 1905 and 1917.

      • by Hatta (162192)

        So it's about as socialist as Obama is then?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Putin is just going for tzar, nothing new.

    • by swb (14022) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @06:20PM (#38308940)

      My unvarnished take on it is that when the USSR dissolved, Russia went from a totalitarian socialism to a kind of weak Democratic capitalism, dominated by organized crime and "the oligarchs". Most of the "backbone" Russian institutions like the KGB and the military (in particular) were significantly weakened, and all manner of social ills began to rear their ugly head.

      Putin kind of stepped in and with something of an iron fist in a velvet glove began to kind of re-invigorate the institutions of Russia. A number of oligarchs who wouldn't toe his line (whether politically, financially, or both) were essentially stripped of their wealth, imprisoned and some even killed (cf. Kordokovsky, who ran Lukoil, is still in jail and Litvenenko was poisoned with Polonium, although he was ex-KGB/FSB, not an oligarch).

      Publicly, Putin sort of created a new "strong" Russian image and with high oil prices was sort of able to create an improved economic climate and tamp down the chaos of Russian civil life.

      That being said, Democracy took a back seat if not being reduced to a mere performance. Lots of suppression of the press, the opposition. He moved from President to Prime Minister, appointing a puppet President (they traded jobs in the most recent and probably rigged election).

      My guess is that the global economic downturn has taken the shine off of living in his dictatorship (along with the corruption and everyday difficulties).

      You would think he would either guide a more democratic transition and fade away to private life, but I think he's going to hold on to power until he gets clipped. I think too much of the top end of Russian politics is run like organized crime for anyone to get on top and stay on top to just say "game over, I'm done".

      • by petsounds (593538) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @06:52PM (#38309324)

        You're missing a bit there. "Organized crime" IS the KGB. When the KGB was disbanded, those guys no longer had jobs. Some now work for the Russian security forces, but most seem to have gone into the underworld in those chaotic post-USSR years. And let's not forget that Putin is ex-KGB. There's not much difference between the Russian mafia and the Russian government. Similar to America's corporatocracy, but more brutal.

        • by hitmark (640295)

          And this has been basically the status quo in Russia since day one. Russian communism basically replaced one despot with another, and even Yeltsin ran the place like some fiefdom.

      • The problem for people in power is that there is no viable democratic transition in sight. If they step down, the most likely replacement today would be some broad leftist/socialist coalition, since that's where popular support is. And one thing these guys have consistently brought up is reviewing Russian privatization of early 90s (which is well known to have had numerous severe process violations), and reviewing economic activities of consequent heads of state. Putin in particular has some recorded partic

        • by khallow (566160)

          And one thing these guys have consistently brought up is reviewing Russian privatization of early 90s (which is well known to have had numerous severe process violations)

          My understanding is that this was a theft of tens of billions of dollars in Russian assets by cronies of Yeltsin. When Putin took over, he seized those assets and transferred them to his cronies. I bet there's a good chance the next government whenever that comes will do much the same. Any relatively honest government is going to get some heat from all the dishonest politicians out there.

          • Yes, that would be a concise but broadly correct summary. The only thing worth noting is that the sets of "Yeltsin's cronies" and "Putin's cronies" partially intersect.

            The main hope is that, if the next government comes to power as a result of honest elections - and especially as a result of a vote recount demanded by citizens - they will have to play it more careful than the thugs currently in power, because the viability of kicking them out next elections would have been demonstrated. But then, that's als

      • by hitmark (640295)

        "Most of the "backbone" Russian institutions like the KGB and the military (in particular) were significantly weakened, and all manner of social ills began to rear their ugly head."

        This guided by US economists of the Chicago monetarist school, sent over to "help" turn Russia capitalist.

        The same shit was first tried in South America, and is now being applied in the middle east. In all places the overall effect have been very negative for the masses, but highly positive for a small percentage (that you are as

    • by wickerprints (1094741) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @06:24PM (#38308986)

      I thought they were getting more progressive in the recent years? Is this not the case? It seems like it's just getting closer and closer to another dictatorship and extreme socialism.

      Extreme socialism? No, that's not correct. Russia is what one would legitimately call a plutocratic oligopoly, where control of the government and economy is tightly confined to those who became extremely wealthy after the disbanding of the Soviet Union opened up economic markets. Once that happened, various well-connected individuals were able to profit immensely from the sale of natural resources (i.e., Russian oil and natural gas) to Europe, and political corruption increased in direct proportion as these individuals leveraged their wealth to gain political influence in a freshly post-Communist country. What happened, basically, was a period of unrestrained capitalism culminating in monopoly power infiltrating a weak political system and the subsequent disenfranchisement of the vast majority of Russian citizens from actual political power. That is not "extreme socialism."

      Some might argue that much the same will happen, is happening, or has already happened, in the United States--just with less flagrant violence and impunity, but that is a topic for another thread.

      This is why the Communist Party is seeing a revival in Russian politics. Not because the voters actually wish for a return to communism--after all, they know full well what it was like to live under that failed system--but because things have gotten so horrifically bad and obviously corrupt under Putin's effective dictatorship, that a vote for the Communists is basically like giving Putin's party the middle finger.

      • by Lotana (842533)

        where control of the government and economy is tightly confined to those who became extremely wealthy after the disbanding of the Soviet Union opened up economic markets. Once that happened, various well-connected individuals were able to profit immensely from the sale of natural resources (i.e., Russian oil and natural gas) to Europe, and political corruption increased in direct proportion as these individuals leveraged their wealth to gain political influence in a freshly post-Communist country.

        I am under an impression that the the massive division of wealth that happened after the dissolution of the Soviet Union happened in a much more quick and simple way. I don't have the in-depth story, but this is the gist of what my friend living in Russia told me. According to him the oligarchs have nearly instantly gained their wealth by gaming the voucher privatization system in the 90s.

        In essence, in order to privatize the assets of the former Soviet Union every single person (Including minors) were issu

        • by RCL (891376)
          I am Russian. Your guess is basically correct. It was perhaps not wise to distribute state property that way. Vouchers should have been tied to particular person (i.e. with his name and surname printed on it) and forbidden to be resold. But nobody knew back then, and everyone wanted to get out of economical crisis as fast as possible - instant privatization was supposed to turn unprofitable state enterprises into prospering businesses and make everyone rich (voucher was promised to be worth two luxury cars
    • by Mojo66 (1131579)
      The Twitter revolutions started off in totalitarian countries and are now slowly progressing towards more open countries. It's just a matter of time until so called 'democratic' countries like the US or Europe are affected.

      --

      "In the 1980s capitalism triumphed over communism. In the 1990s it triumphed over democracy." --David Korten

    • Classic Friedmannite failure. Post Soviet Union, the Free Marketeers went in and got them to follow the IMF/WTO playbook on "developing" a nation. That entails cutting taxes on the rich, eliminating social commitments, and selling off government assets. You end up with a wealth transfer to the top, and government with only one tool in its toolkit (the military) to deal with domestic strife, organized crime where government no longer can protect the people, and a whole lot of mega-rich bureaucrats who took

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      It's only given a surface impression of change. But essentially they changed socialism for capitalism but left in place all the cronies and the one-party system. Putin has always been an asshole, but he's been a popular asshole for a long time. He has a very large following who are only too happy to shout down the opposition. Corruption in the party is very evident but it seems to not stick so much to Putin until now, and even now not very much actually sticks. Almost all the media is state run media a

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mirix (1649853)

      Do you know what Socialism is? It's not what Putin is after, and it's not the boogeyman either.

      I'll give you dictatorship though. Seems some folk (particularly Americans) have some sort of mix-up between authoritarianism and socialism.

      Those poor Scandinavians, living under their evil totalitarian socialist regimes... better liberate them.

      • by hitmark (640295)

        Why liberate when one browbeat into obedience? Sadly a lot of the old guard on the Norwegian left considered it repaying a debt to dance to the US flute in international politics, a debt from WW2 and the Marshall plan.

        And now a rising right have some elements that are avowed Randian libertarians, pushing populist promises and islamic fearmongering for all it is worth. to paraphrase the supposed Chinese proverb, there be interesting times ahead...

      • In Europe socialist has a different meaning.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_republic [wikipedia.org]

  • Reverse Effect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kamiza Ikioi (893310) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @06:09PM (#38308832) Homepage

    This will ensure the hashtags make it to trending topics. If the hashtags in question are something like #FuckingLiarPutin, doesn't really matter what they add to it. Let's hope the hashtags themselves say enough, like Jeff Jarvis' #fuckyouwashington that went viral quickly.

  • Who can explain what this 632305222316434 thing is about? It tells: "Everyone who disagrees with criminal behaviour of Russian president, government and all those rascals, must do that." but what does it mean?

  • by El Fantasmo (1057616) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @06:23PM (#38308968)

    Aren't situations like this when Twitter should, at the very least, temporarily suspend the obvious, automated "spam" accounts? All they need to do is quote some vague line in their "terms of service," which I haven't seen (I don't have a twitter account) but I would be surprised if it doesn't exist.

  • This is a very strong bad sign for where Russia is heading, this is bad , too bad to be true, also means they were already expecting this, and they prepared, they prepared to hold the country to the Czars and not the people. Future does not look bright in Soviet Russia.
    • by Lotana (842533)

      Future does not look bright in Soviet Russia.

      Of course the future doesn't look bright. Because Soviet Russia doesn't exist and haven't existed since 1991!

      20 years is not such a short time. Try to keep up.

  • Looks like /. already covered [slashdot.org] that. Oh, wait, that was 4 years ago...

    This [lleo.me] is a good (albeit somewhat rudimentary) explanation of a clear indication of the elections being rigged. The first graph shows the histogram of the % of the votes for different parties vs. the number of the voting locations that registered that figure. Under standard circumstances the curves should be close to normal (Gaussian) distribution. Different curves correspond to different parties; the presidential party is brown. A
    • by Alex Belits (437) *

      When population sees the incumbent as the "default" choice that loses popularity and opposition is weak, incumbent's distribution will have an upside down "protest vote" component. The rest of parties closely reflect ideological relationships -- randroid extremist Yabloko (green line) is almost universally hated, clowns from Liberal-Democratic Party (black) and major Socialist opposition A Just Russia (blue) share relatively low popularity but not bad enough to be irrelevant, Communists (red) is a somewhat

    • Sorry, photonyx, /. did not cover this story before. This wasn't an article about Russian election fraud. TFA covers an instance of twitter-bombing by supporters of the Kremlin. The target of this article was something completely different.
  • Correction (Score:5, Informative)

    by slonik (108174) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @09:39PM (#38310778)
    ... Tweets sent by bloggers and activists this week who are protesting the disputed presidential elections in Russia.

    It was Russian parliament elections. Presidential elections are in March 2012.
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      technically I think that Putin the wrestler needs parliament to enable him to run for presidency though?
      which might explain the rabid cheating this time around.

      you know what's really sad about it? a lot of the people doing fraud in the voting process probably think they're doing Russia a favor since Putin is god.

      but yeah, the same article will run next year again.

  • I don't even have a twitter account lol @ a nation-state-sponsored-twitter-terrorism.
  • Regardless of whether it's twitter or some other medium, the point might be that not only is someone planning ahead for disrupting social networks when they're used to organize, but also for actively using it against the people.

    Predictably now other regimes might use similar tactics when social networking is used to organize for other situations ranging from occupy to outright rebellion and rioting.

    Maybe the only surprise is that we haven't seen this until now.

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