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Report: Social media manipulation affects even US senators – 570 News



BRUSSELS — The conversation taking place on the verified social media accounts of two U.S. senators remained vulnerable to manipulation, even amid heightened scrutiny in the run up to the U.S. presidential election, an investigation by the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence found.

Researchers from the centre, a NATO-accredited research group based in Riga, Latvia, paid three Russian companies 300 euros ($368) to buy 337,768 fake likes, views and shares of posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok, including content from verified accounts of Sens. Chuck Grassley and Chris Murphy.

Grassley’s office confirmed that the Republican from Iowa participated in the experiment. Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said in a statement that he agreed to participate because it’s important to understand how vulnerable even verified accounts are.

“We’ve seen how easy it is for foreign adversaries to use social media as a tool to manipulate election campaigns and stoke political unrest,” Murphy said. “It’s clear that social media companies are not doing enough to combat misinformation and paid manipulation on their own platforms and more needs to be done to prevent abuse.”

In an age when much public debate has moved online, widespread social media manipulation not only distorts commercial markets, it is also a threat to national security, NATO StratCom director Janis Sarts told The Associated Press.

“These kinds of inauthentic accounts are being hired to trick the algorithm into thinking this is very popular information and thus make divisive things seem more popular and get them to more people. That in turn deepens divisions and thus weakens us as a society,” he explained.

More than 98% of the fake engagements remained active after four weeks, researchers found, and 97% of the accounts they reported for inauthentic activity were still active five days later.

NATO StratCom did a similar exercise in 2019 with the accounts of European officials. They found that Twitter is now taking down inauthentic content faster and Facebook has made it harder to create fake accounts, pushing manipulators to use real people instead of bots, which is more costly and less scalable.

“We’ve spent years strengthening our detection systems against fake engagement with a focus on stopping the accounts that have the potential to cause the most harm,” a Facebook company spokesperson said in an email.

But YouTube and Facebook-owned Instagram remain vulnerable, researchers said, and TikTok appeared “defenceless.”

“The level of resources they spend matters a lot to how vulnerable they are,” said Sebastian Bay, the lead author of the report. “It means you are unequally protected across social media platforms. It makes the case for regulation stronger. It’s as if you had cars with and without seatbelts.”

Researchers said that for the purposes of this experiment they promoted apolitical content, including pictures of dogs and food, to avoid actual impact during the U.S. election season.

Ben Scott, executive director of, a London-based initiative that works to combat digital threats to democracy, said the investigation showed how easy it is to manipulate political communication and how little platforms have done to fix long-standing problems.

“What’s most galling is the simplicity of manipulation,” he said. “Basic democratic principles of how societies make decisions get corrupted if you have organized manipulation that is this widespread and this easy to do.”

Twitter said it proactively tackles platform manipulation and works to mitigate it at scale.

“This is an evolving challenge and this study reflects the immense effort that Twitter has made to improve the health of the public conversation,” Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of site integrity, said in an email.

YouTube said it has put in place safeguards to root out inauthentic activity on its site, and noted that more than 2 million videos were removed from the site in the third quarter of 2020 for violating its spam policies.

“We’ll continue to deal with attempts to abuse our systems and share relevant information with industry partners,” the company said in a statement.

TikTok said it has zero tolerance toward inauthentic behaviour on its platform and that it removes content or accounts that promote spam or fake engagement, impersonation or misleading information that may cause harm.

“We’re also investing in third-party testing, automated technology, and comprehensive policies to get ahead of the ever-evolving tactics of people and organizations who aim to mislead others,” a company spokesperson said in an email.


Associated Press writer David Klepper in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report.

Erika Kinetz, The Associated Press

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Social Media Buzz: Larry King Dies, Dr. Birx, Heathrow Crowds – BNN



(Bloomberg) — What’s buzzing on social media this morning:

Larry King, the interviewer whose schmoozy style attracted celebrities, politicians and other newsmakers as guests and made him the star of a top-rated U.S. cable talk show, has died. He was 87.

  • King died Saturday morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. The cause of death wasn’t provided. The cancer and stroke survivor had spent time recently undergoing treatment for Covid-19.

Pfizer Inc. is trending on Twitter. Senior doctors in the U.K. are urging the gap between first and second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine doses be halved to ensure efficacy. The U.K. extended the maximum wait from three to 12 weeks to get more people to take the first shot. France may also delay second doses to stretch supplies.

  • Large crowds at Heathrow Airport on Friday sparked concerns of virus spread. U.K. only allows residents to travel internationally for “legally-permitted reasons.”

Dr. Deborah Birx said she “always” considered quitting Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force as she worried she’d been viewed as a political person. “I mean, why would you want to put yourself through that, um, every day?” Birx told CBS in an interview that will air Sunday, according to an advance clip. Her term ended as Biden took office.

Protests broke out in cities across Russia as tens of thousands demanded the release of jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny. Police detained hundreds of people.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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Blockbuster Laine-Dubois deal draws mixed reviews on social media –



Sometimes, change happens fast.

Mere days after Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella benched Pierre-Luc Dubois, one of his team’s best players, in an overtime loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Dubois was packing his bags to go play in another country altogether.

The Blue Jackets traded the 22-year-old, who had requested to be dealt shortly after signing a two-year, $10-million bridge contract in the off-season, to the Winnipeg Jets for superstar winger Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic in a move that sent shockwaves through the NHL.

Not all blockbusters are universally well-received, of course. And while some on Twitter celebrated the move as a shuffling of high-profile talent, others were quick to wonder how the dynamic between Laine, an offensive-minded forward, and Tortorella will play out.

Here is some of the best reaction to the winter blockbuster:

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Social media's sea shanty trend scores well with musician-curator –



Southern Ontario folk musician Ian Bell says it makes sense that sea shanties are taking off on social media right now because they are participatory and easy to learn.

“It’s easier to learn Heave ‘Er Up and Bust ‘Er than it is to try and figure out all the bits for, say Bohemian Rhapsody or something,” Bell, who is also the former curator of the Port Dover Habour Museum, told CBC. 

“I think for a lot of people, singing shanties at this moment is like the musical equivalent of learning to bake your own bread.”

The social media platform Tik Tok is awash in videos of people performing the traditional work songs or altering others’ videos of them, and even talk show hosts such as Stephen Colbert have gotten in on the action.

The songs are appealing because of their communal nature, Bell said.

“There is nothing better than being in a large gang of people who are singing their faces off often in three or four part harmonies, and it’s one of those situations where it kind of goes beyond musical. You know the vibrations can go right through you,” he said.

One of the best shanty sings used to take place at the Mill Race Festival in Cambridge, he said, where 60 or 70 singers would pack into the Kiwi Pub and belt out the numbers.

Musician Ian Bell has been singing sea shanties for many years and says he loves shanties about the Great Lakes because of the local connection. (

Songs to make work easier

Shanties aren’t so much songs as they are templates of songs, Bell said.

The rhythm helped workers carry out tasks in unison such as pulling in sails on sailboats.

“Some of the jobs needed a bunch of short pulls, and some of the jobs needed longer pulls, and so there was a whole repertoire of songs that fitted those needs and that the sailors sang to make the work go a little more easily,” he said.

But the lyrics were fluid.

Each work crew might have a shantyman — possibly the person with the loudest voice — who might recall some of the original words to the number, but there was a lot of improvisation, Bell explained.

“If the job wasn’t over and he’d finished the song, ‘Well, we’ll add a verse about the cook,'” he added.

Great Lakes shanties name local spots

A number of sea shanties were written on or about the Great Lakes and they are particular to the types of ships on the lakes, he said. Specifically, they were schooners rather than clipper ships. 

There were lots of capstan shanties, or songs sung while rotating the capstan to pull in an anchor, he said. Some also specifically mention the lakes or the surrounding areas.

“They mention Buffalo and they mention Long Point and they mention Windsor and Sarnia,” Bell said. 

For those wanting to learn a shanty or two and get in on the social media activity, Bell recommended Bully in the Alley and It’s Me for the Inland Lakes.

“I love the way it’s happening on Tik Tok,” Bell said, “which I haven’t tried, because, let’s be frank; I’m an old guy.”

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