This is my last week of Social Engineering class at Webster University. The textbook we have been using is “Social Engineering: The Science of Human Hacking” by Christopher Hadnagy. This book is full of powerful personal ancedotes that help me understand Social Engineering better. They also resonate deeply because so many of the anecdotes are relatable to experiences from my own life.
An example of a story that really made me think is on page 260. Hadnagy tells of talking with a friend whose family had been personally affected by a common scam. The friend was angry with him for not warning him sooner and exclaimed “If you knew these things existed, why didn’t you warn your friends?”
I have had friends get angry with me and stop speaking with me for warning them about social media and other media scams and trying to explain media literacy concepts when I saw that they were being trolled. Part of good Social Engineering is to help the people you are trying to warn become more receptive to what you are trying to teach them so they can take in the information to protect themselves against harmful Social Engineering. If someone is your friend and you care about them, you want them to know these concepts. If my attempts are too clumsy and I arouse their defenses instead of concern and I fail to warn because of that, I need to do better. That’s one of the things I’m learning in this class and others. The more I learn about media and technology as I work on a Advertising and Marketing Communications Master’s degree, the more I feel the need to warn.
I’m going to be writing a LOT this week to finish the course, and some of it is going to end up on this blog immediately and farther in the future. Hadnagy advises us not to “assume that the knowledge about these attacks is just common sense”. There are techniques in Hadnagy’s book, in our class, and in lots of other course material I’m learning that is also in classic books, around for many decades, such as “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie and “The Hidden Persuaders” by Vance Packard. I have owned those books a long time and have read them several times and I still have to work to master the material in them.
As I learned on a podcast this morning, the concept and term “Social Engineering” has been around since the late 1800s. With every new technological advance that comes along, there are new skills to learn to avoid exploitation through Social Engineering combined with other types of attacks. In order to help people find information on this blog that I think everyone should know as a life skill, I’m going to apply the hashtag #whydidntyouwarnme/ to relevant past and future blog posts.
I have also started listening to a couple of excellent podcasts that are free to listen to if you want more information about the types of media and security issues I’m trying to warn about. I think every Internet user who has something to lose, whether for personal or business reasons, needs to be informed as well as possible.
The Social-Engineer Podcast – hosted by Christopher Hadnagy himself with a variety of co-hosts as they interview leaders in the Social Engineering field.
Hacking the Humans – information about “social engineering scams, phishing schemes, and criminal exploits that are making headlines and taking a heavy toll on organizations around the world”.
What types of scams are you the most concerned about?
Art journaling is an activity that helps me a lot with self care, artistic expression and just general management of life. Lately I’ve been experimenting with combining some artistic expression with material I’m learning in Social Engineering class. There are a lot of acronyms and concepts to remember – things that lend themselves well to bullet journals, art journals and chart and graph type graphics.
These pairs of pages you will see are in progress. I made them to have something to do adult coloring and other paper craft based activities on when I want to relax and be creative for a bit. As I work I can study and memorize the “bullet points”. I’m going to erase some of these pencil lines as I go. For a couple of the more complicated layouts I made drawings on tracing paper and chipboard templates to help cut the paper pieces to the right sizes and shapes.
Some of the stencils I used are commercial products I sell in my online Etsy shop. If you would like to see the selection, it’s at this link: Stencils and Stenciling Supplies.
I hope these pages in progress will give you some ideas for organizing information in a creative and fun way!
A little over two years ago, I was sick for quite awhile with an awful sinus problem. I didn’t have much energy, so to prevent too much boredom I looked for some simple tasks to do. First I sorted all my small fabric scraps by color and organized them into containers. While doing that, I thought it would be fun to challenge myself to see how small a fabric scrap could get before I couldn’t make something out of it. I wanted to upgrade my hand-sewing skills and learn the rudiments of piecing for quilt making.
I started sewing fabric pieces into strips to combine into a scrap quilt later, after seeing some beautiful examples on Pinterest. As I accumulated strips, I combined them with other leftover fabrics such as a jean pocket, a waistband from some corduroy pants, a seam from blue jeans, old clothing tags, ribbon, binding strips, selvage pieces and some rather primitive embroidered panels I made a long time ago for use on a tote bag which has since been retired.
Over the last couple of years, every once in awhile I’d add a little bit more on. Then I finished it with blanket seam binding from JoAnn Fabrics and Crafts where I taught classes in hand sewing, general crafts and jewelry making before the pandemic.
Following are some close-ups of sections of the quilt.
“Experimental Art Quilt #1” is for sale on Etsy. Here is a link to the listing:
For our Social Engineering class, we were asked to propose to work on behalf of a real cause or a fictional one. Using ISIS as an example, how could we use similar social engineering tactics to win converts over to our cause? I decided to create a fictional organization called “Artists for Media Literacy”.
Media literacy is something I was taught in both grade school and high school, although I didn’t know then what it was called. Ever since I’ve been old enough and aware enough to realize what it was, I’ve thought it had the potential to heal many of the ills of our culture if more people acquired the skills. I felt strongly enough about it in 1998 that my first solo art show included a group project in which I encouraged people to send me postcards in the mail based on the theme “Turn Off Your Television”. Here are photos showing this project on the wall at my show, and a graphic for a postcard I sent out to help promote it.
On the left is a view of the gallery showing the TV project on the wall, and on the right is a postcard I made to promote the project.
So this is where my inspiration comes from for “Artists for Media Literacy”. Artists are trained communicators and often have a lot to say about the media and consumerism.
What techniques successfully employed by ISIS would be suitable for our group?
Isis intimidates opponents via well-produced videos, mass executions and hashtag hijacking.
“Artists for Media Literacy” is a philanthropic organization, so there will obviously be no violence or threat of violence. We have no ambition to intimidate anyone to force them to participate – we believe in individual rights and freedom and want people to voluntarily choose to adopt the media literacy techniques we propose. We do want to raise the alarm about propaganda and abusive media – so we will try to influence people to fear the consequences of not using media in a healthy way. We can use well crafted videos to promote the positive benefits of media literacy as well as the dangers of being uninformed.
Hashtag hijacking would lend itself extremely well to our cause because there are trending media-related topics going on all the time that we could hitch an awareness piece too. For example, I can check Twitter right now to see what topics are trending at this url – twitter.com/explore/tabs/trending. #Antifa and #RIP Twitter are trending right now. Those would both be great hashtags to hijack for a media literacy campaign.
Documentaries: we would not have to coerce participation from hostages to produce documentaries touting the benefits of media literacy. The challenge would be making them engaging and accessible.
Press releases: our work would be of interest to many news outlets if we target the right ones.
Instagram: this is a social media platform particularly friendly to artists, so we’d benefit from heavy use. Here is the Instagram account for the Back To Our Roots Art Show last year promoted by Webster University students – www.instagram.com/back.to.our.roots.art/. As a participant in the show, I can vouch for it’s usefulness in helping me keep track of deadlines, inspiring my vision for the work I was producing, and helping me promote the show to my social networks via attractive, branded and shareable content.
Civic forum boards: unlike ISIS, our boards would not need to be encrypted necessarily, but they should be secure to protect us from hackers.
Secure messaging: normal consumer level communications platforms should be adequate.
Battlefield drones: We won’t have battlefields in the sense that ISIS would, but if we ever have any outdoor events we could use drones to get interesting footage for videos. I’ve seen drones used that way at historic preservation events to attract interest by showing how well attended the event was and the extent of support for our cause, preserving the Gasconade River Bridge in Hazelgreen, Missouri. The organizers have succeeded in attracting large crowds in multiple years, including international Route 66 fans.
P.W. Singer, and Emerson Brooking, “How ISIS Is Taking War to Social Media”, Popular Science Magazine, 2015. Accessed through course module, 16 April 2021.
In my Social Engineering class we have been studying Russian and other foreign cyber attacks on the USA, Germany, France, Great Britain, Ukraine, and elsewhere. One of our recent assignments was to read the following reports:
“So, what should the United States do about it? Think about the political, economic, and military weapons of war (Clausewitz) and share your thoughts about how to combat the Russian SE attacks.”
“I considered Clausewitz’s lessons of war (summarized by Pietersen) to see how they could help me create a strategy that makes sense.
Just the first step, Identify, I see as a huge challenge. I’m under the impression that most people who are angry about attempted Russian interference in recent elections are angry because their preferred candidate didn’t win, not because our Constitution and the Republic are under attack and hanging by a thread. A lot of people accept the premise that unethical and illegal acts are permissible if it helps your side. They may not be informed about the seriousness of the threat, or are informed and are rooting for the Constitution and the Republic to fall. This would be a good way for intelligence to precede operations. Do enough people even want the Republic saved to make it worth the effort to fight for it? The goal will have to be changed if there aren’t enough people on board. I’m going to write the rest of this assuming that there is enough support.
The decisive point: “Save the Constitution” would be my mission statement, at least internally. I’m not sure how to frame the campaign to get the support of enough of the public for success. It used to be considered self-evident in our culture that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were good things, but there are a lot of people who have been conditioned and trained to deny those rights to others that they think are beneath them and sometimes even to themselves – they don’t think they deserve it.
Concentrate: This includes physical resources as well as hearts and minds. I understand that the reports we read were based on a subset of all the existing information. The tech companies didn’t give everything they had to the Senate, and we don’t know if the Senate gave all of what they had to the analysts who wrote the reports. Nevertheless, the reports do contain enough information to have some idea of what might help on the technology side.
I would like consumers to have more choices of viable communications platforms so that they freely choose the ones they feel protect their rights and reflect their values the best. That probably means breaking up monopolies and holding corporations accountable for tortious business practices or unfair competition practices such as collusion or violations of the immunity clause in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. As others have pointed out in our discussion, communications companies sometimes have an incentive to allow content that harms their users but helps them financially. They’d be able to get away with this less if there were more choices.
I advocate re-instating the media based consumer protections that have been removed from our body of law such as the Fairness Doctrine, the personal attack rule and the political editorial rule, and I’d like to see them extended to online publishing and social media companies as well as broadcast and print. As I’ve stated before, I think it’s a human rights abuse to restrict information from people in order to control them. Can a “Right to Information” be added to our Constitution? I don’t know but that’s how important I think it is.
I would like to see all media companies compelled to run media literacy education content as a consumer protection measure.
I advocate media literacy training as a vital life skill in all levels of education.
Devote as least as many resources to the promotion of the Constitution and Democratic self-rule as the enemies do to undermining it.
US Consumers should have the choice to purchase physical products, software, and have access to technology platforms that are manufactured in the US and accountable to US consumers.
Resources that are vital to the security of the United States, such as medical supplies and media companies, should not be owned or controlled by foreigners.
Hold all levels of government to high standards of transparency and accountability to their constituents.
Remove: I would not want to see a repeat of excesses from the past such as McCarthy-style witch hunts or loyalty tests. I believe the most rational ideas will prevail if people are allowed to hear them and exercise their constitutional rights to assembly, free speech, freedom of the press and others. I also think internment camps for re-education or any other purpose should be off the table.
Ignore: I believe it’s important not to over-react to all the distractions that will be tried.”
I don’t consider my above suggestions as complete or comprehensive, but I think they’d be a good start. I welcome comments on this blog, pro and con, I think this is a discussion we need to have, openly and rationally, because, after all, this is war.
DiResta, Renee, Kris Shaffer, Becky Ruppel, David Sullivan, Robert Matney, Ryan Fox, Jonathan Albright, Ben Johnson. “The Tactics & Tropes of the Internet Research Agency”, New Knowledge, 2019, digitalcommons.unl.edu/senatedocs/2/. Accessed 11 April 2021.
Howard, Phillip N., Bharath Ganesh, Dimitria Liotsiou, John Kelly, Camille François. “The IRA, Social Media and Political Polarization in the United States, 2012-2018”, Computational Propaganda Research Project, University of Oxford, 2019, digitalcommons.unl.edu/senatedocs/1/. Accessed 11 April 2021.
Select Committee on Intelligence, United States Senate. “Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence United States Senate on Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election: Volume 2: Russia’s Use of Social Media, with Additional Views”, 2019, digitalcommons.unl.edu/senatedocs/4/. Accessed 11 April 2021.
My current class in graduate school and other projects are pretty demanding right now, so I don’t have a lot of time to make new art. I do still enjoy looking at some of my old art from time to time. Here is a collage I made for my old ‘zine the Lime Green News #16, circa 1996-1997. It’s a tribute to the Beatles Anthology album covers, designed by Klaus Voorman. I was inspired by the use of torn images and how they can strategically reveal what’s underneath. On the Anthology 1 album cover, Voorman ripped out the head of Pete Best to reveal Ringo’s face underneath to “replace” him. This was a mean but clever technique so I did the same thing in my collage in approximately the same spot to enhance my “homage”, only I replaced John with John. If you want to see the Anthology 1 cover and the clever use of the torn out part on a Pete Best album cover, here is a link to an analysis – “The Beatles Anthology 1 Album Cover Cropped Out Original Drummer Pete Best”.
I made the above collage in the year between getting a computer with a black and white laser printer that would print up to 300 ppi, and taking my first class in Adobe Photoshop. At the time I was enjoying the novelty of being able to print out pictures to use in collages instead of just finding images. I printed out pictures of the Beatles that I found online, and printed out a bunch of clip art that I liked, and used those printouts to build the collage. A lot of the clip art came from my Corel Draw clip art library. How I used to love to pore over the printed book that came with it to get ideas!
The black and white laser printer was a major step forward in the production quality of my ‘zine, even though by today’s standards it was still very primitive. It wasn’t until much later than I learned software like Publisher and InDesign to help me produce professional quality booklets. At the time of this image I was still following my old practice of printing out text on a printer and cutting and pasting the text among collaged elements. With the text coming from a laser printer instead of a Commodore 64 with a dot-matrix printer, it looked better and was a lot easier to read.
With access to what seemed like unlimited clip art and display fonts, I had tons of fun transitioning from low to high tech. For my ‘zine and collages, I printed elements for headers and body text along with images. Then in 1997, I learned Photoshop and how to make web pages, and that changed everything! But I still enjoy the old methods too and I like to make collages out of whatever is there, whenever I get a chance.
(There was some kind of web hosting problem and this post got erased the day after I posted it so I’m recreating it here. Lesson, which I have learned to heed from past experience – always write your article in a text file on a hard drive first so you can quickly re-create it!)
There is a possibility that during my current Social Engineering class I might want to cite in a paper or project some of the old content that I produced for a Beatles fanzine in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I was a member of the St. Louis Beatles Fan Club and we published a fanzine called “What Goes On”. I’ve been meaning for a long time to re-publish some of these old articles on my blog, but to make them fully indexable I would need to find a way to access some of the floppy and zip discs I have to get typed-out copies of these articles. For now it’s a lot quicker to scan the pages I might want to use and put them in a PDF file. In order for the PDF to be somewhat searchable, I’m leaving the introductory text and index as text and not rasterizing it. I will also include a list of keywords for each excerpt so that researchers online can at least get a hint of where to access some of this information if they want it for study. I’m going to reproduce the searchable text in the PDF in the remainder of this blog post also. Believe it or not, there is scholarly interest in not only the Beatles, but also Beatles fandom, fandom in general, and ‘zine culture.
I kind of made up my own format, very loosely based on MLA, so I don’t claim that this document adheres to a standard way of cataloging this type of material. I might revise the format later. Enjoy!
Excerpts from “What Goes On”: A Beatles Fanzine Originally published by the St. Louis Beatles Fan Club, 1999-2003 Copyright 1999-2003 the original authors
Winkelmann, Carolyn Hasenfratz. “‘Across the Internet’ #1”. What Goes On, Vol. VI, No 3, October 1999, pp. 11-13. Keywords: fandom and VCRs, home video recordings, history of media formats, Across the Internet, internet use by fandom in 1999, early days of the World Wide Web.
— “Revolution #9: The Art of Play and the Joys of Noise.” What Goes On, vol. VII, no. 1, January 2000, pp. 6-9. Keywords: sound collages, music concrete, experimental music, sound experiments, conceptual art, performance art, home taping, cassette tape culture, Beatles 1968 Christmas message, Beatles fandom in the 1980s, history of media formats, noise tapes, White Album, playing records backwards, backwards sound experiments, St. Louis Steamers, Checkerdome, Revolution 9, soundtrack for art gallery, low-fi sound experiments, homemade sound recordings, prank calls, Commodore 64 computer, found sounds.
— “Across the Internet” #2. What Goes On, vol. VII, no. 1, January 2000, pp. 12-13. Keywords: history of media formats, Across the Internet, internet use by fandom in 2000, early days of the World Wide Web, RealPlayer, Windows Media Player.
— “Joe Davis Takes Us Back To ‘Meet The Beatles’.” What Goes On, vol. VII, no. 2, April 2000, pp. 1, 9. Aricle by Rich Reese, Carolyn’s contribution is the collages of Valentine cards on page 9. Keywords: Joe Davis, listening party, “Meet the Beatles…Again!” radio show, 97.7 KSD FM, Nick Baycott, Les Aaron, Bears Who Care, St. Louis Veteran’s Hospital, Brentwood Community Center, “The Beatles are more popular than Jesus” controversy, 101 the Fox, FM radio in St. Louis, Missouri.
— “Happiness is a Warm…Picnic.” What Goes On, vol. VII, no. 4, October 2000, pp. 4. Photos by Carolyn. Keywords: PepperLand, Creve Couer Lake park, Beatle Bob, Rich Reese.
— “I Wanna Be Santa Claus.” What Goes On, vol. VII, no. 4, October 2000, pp. 5, 11. Keywords: John Lennon tribute, Peace Tree, Christmas, Holiday party, Christmas ornaments, conceptual art, group art project, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Bagism, performance art, peace activism, peace movement.
— “Pop! Goes The Beatles: the beatles and pop art.” What Goes On, vol. IX, no. 3, September 2001, pp. 13. Keywords: Pop Art, St. Louis Art Museum, Pop Impressions Europe, art show review, Richard Hamilton, mass media criticism, consumer culture criticism, printmaking, Peter Blake, swinging London, Eduardo Paolozzi, album cover design, Dieter Roth, illustration, fan art, interpretation of song lyrics.
— “‘Across The Internet’ #3” What Goes On, vol. IX, no. 3, September 2001, pp. 13. Keywords: Liverpool Sound Collage, Peter Blake, history of media formats, Across the Internet, internet use by fandom in 2001, early days of the World Wide Web.
— “Fans and Friends Remember George.” What Goes On, Special Commemorative George Harrison Issue, February 2002, pp. 5. Carolyn’s contribution is the George Harrison themed Pop Art ornament. Keywords: Pop Art, handmade ornament, Christmas ornament, fan tributes to George Harrison, Dave Grohl, Louise Harrison, Jools Holland, Eric Idle, Anthony Kiedis, Mark Klose, Jeff Lynne, Gerry Marsden, George Martin, fan art, celebrity tributes to George Harrison, Louise Harrison Caldwell.
— “McCartney Drives Into Chicago With Full Tank: The Sights.” What Goes On, vol. IX, no. 1, June 2002, pp. 1, 6. Keywords: Paul McCartney concert review, Chicago, United Center, Driving USA Tour, concert lighting, concert video screens, special effects, performance art, live actors, Surrealist performance, Dadaist performance, rock concert production, arena rock, mulimedia, conceptual art, Pop art, Psychedelic art, art history.
— “‘Across The Internet’ #4.” What Goes On, vol. IX, no. 2, October 2002, pp. 5. Keywords: history of media formats, Across the Internet, internet use by fandom in 2002, early days of the World Wide Web, Linda McCartney photography exhibit, Sheldon Art Galleries, Nine/One One + One art show, Art St. Louis, 9/11 art show.
Note: For the 9/11 art show referenced just above, I made two collages to submit for judging. There are some differences between them that I deliberately put in to test a theory about which one had a chance of getting in the show and which did not. My prediction was accurate, and is interesting to think about in light of the social engineering I’m currently studying. Here are the links to the two collages, if you want to guess which one got in and what didn’t.
— “New Paul Live CD = Permanent Grin.” What Goes On, vol. IX, no. 3, 2003, pp. 4. Keywords: CD review, record review, Paul McCartney Back in the U.S., concert recording, concert CD, live album, live CD, rock concert.
— “Scrapbook Scraps.” What Goes On, vol. IX, no. 3, 2003, pp. 13. Keywords: scrapbooking, digital scrapbooking, Seattle, Seattle Kingdome, record breaking rock concernts, legendary concert venues, rock concert history, Hollywood, Capitol Records building, Hollywood and Vine, Yellow Submarine, John Lennon, Hollywood Walk of Fame, gold records, travel photos, Beatles impact on culture.
I just turned this in as an assignment for my Social Engineering class. It has not been graded yet. Enjoy!
For the last several years, it has been alleged and believed by some that President Trump would not have been elected in 2016 if the Russians had not bought ads on Facebook on behalf of fake clients. Understandably these allegations caused a lot of Facebook users to reconsider whether or not they should continue to support Facebook. In order to safely use Facebook or any social media platform, it is important to develop skills to help determine the credibility and reputation of any individual or organization.
As a Facebook user of many years duration, to help me decide the truth of the 2016 election influence claims, I sought answers to the following questions.
Are there examples of who made the allegations?
Here are a couple. Donald Trump’s opponent Hilary Clinton, named Facebook as one of the causes of her loss and declared that CEO Mark Zuckerberg should “pay a price” (Cadwalladr). It’s interesting that Mark Elias, counsel for Hilary Clinton’s campaign, helped Facebook to avoid putting disclaimers on ads back in 2011 (O’Sullivan).
In October 2020, Senator Mark Warner (D., Va.) wrote to Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, to urge Twitter to allow political ads after Twitter had banned them (Warner), even though in 2018 he had criticized Facebook for selling ads to what he identified only as “Russians” (Crookston). He also criticized YouTube for allowing radicalizing content by “Chinese, Iranian and others”. In Warner’s 2020 letter, he decries “Russians” use of ads even as he tries to persuade Twitter to accept ads. Referring to 2016, the 2020 letter states: “Russia took advantage of our openness and communications technologies, including exploiting American-bred social media platforms to spread disinformation, divide the public, and undermine our democracy.”
Has anyone attempted to refute the allegations against Facebook?
Here is the opinion of Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth. “So was Facebook responsible for Donald Trump getting elected? I think the answer is yes, but not for the reasons anyone thinks. He didn’t get elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica. He got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser. Period.” (“Lord of the Rings…”). This opinion by Bosworth and subsequent opinions I attribute to him are taken from text purported to be from an internal memo that was published on the New York Times web site. I accessed what claims to be this memo on the web site TechyLawyer because the NYT article is behind a paywall and the Webster University online library doesn’t have the article. Since I’ve seen quotes from this memo on other web sites that match the TechyLawyer site, unless I come across information that the content been misrepresented, I’m accepting for now that this is what the memo actually did say.
It was reported by the Washington Free Beacon in the context of the 2018 midterm elections, that Senator Mark Warner was of the opinion that while Facebook is a concern, YouTube and Google hosted far more misinformation than Facebook and were less transparent and less cooperative than Facebook was in trying to fight the trend (Crookston). There was a video accompanying this article, formerly hosted by YouTube, which has since been taken down, I don’t know by whom. The senator’s remarks were quoted on many other web sites that I looked at so barring information to the contrary I find the reporting credible.
Did Russians in fact buy ads?
Bosworth weighs in. “Russian Interference was real but it was mostly not done through advertising. Instead, the Russians worked to exploit existing divisions in the American public for example by hosting Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter protest events in the same city on the same day” (“Lord of the Rings…”).
What is meant by “Russians”? Do they mean the Russian government, Russian citizens, Russian-Americans, who exactly?
NPR reported that 3,000 Facebook ads were purchased on behalf of a Russian agency (Folkenflik). NPR did not say what kind of agency. An ad agency? A spy agency? That was not made clear. CNN referred to the ad buyers in question as a “Russian troll farm” (O’Sullivan). I kept clicking links to see what the actual identity of the “Russian troll farm”/”agency” is and ultimately came up against the New York Times paywall.
The Baltimore Sun alleges that the ads were placed by a Kremlin-influenced agency but the article includes no citation or source for Kremlin involvement (Fritze). The Politico article names the agency in question as “Internet Research Agency” and says it is Kremlin-linked but attributes no source for this information other than unnamed members of the House Intelligence Panel and provides no quotes or links to help verify (Politico Staff). The Washington Post refers to them as “Russian Operatives” without clarifying what that means (Keating, et al).
What are some examples of the fake Facebook clients?
According to NPR, the Russian ads were turned over to Congress by Facebook (Folkenflik). Names of the alleged fake organizations that I was able to find include “Black Matters”, “Native Americans United”, “LGBT United”, “Being Patriotic”, “Army of Jesus”, “United Muslims of America”, “Secured Borders”, “BM (does this stand for Black Matters, Bowel Movement, or something else?)”, “Born Liberal”, “_american.made”, “Heart of Texas” and “american.veterans”.
What was the content of the fake ads?
I think it’s interesting that Bosworth claimed in his memo that this Russian agency bought ads pitting Black Lives Matter against Blue Lives matter, but NPR reported that Russia was trying to inflame divisions between Muslims and Black Lives Matter (Folkenflik). Is it the position of NPR that Blue Lives Matter and Muslims are allies? That is unclear. It was also disclosed in the article that there is a financial relationship between NPR and Facebook.
In order to see which candidate the ads seem to favor, and to see whether the Russians desired Blue Lives Matter vs Black Lives Matter, or Muslims vs Black Lives Matter, I tried to find out what the ad content was. Despite hearing about the Russians and their ads for years, I could not recall seeing any images of the alleged ads so I did an image search and found alleged samples published by The Baltimore Sun, Politico and the Washington Post.
Here is a survey of the messages in the ads I could find: Pro Black Lives Matter Pro Native American rights Pro Bernie Sanders Anti Hillary Clinton Anti Islamaphobia Pro secure borders Pro Blue Lives Matter Anti Black Lives Matter Anti Donald Trump Pro 2nd Amendment Pro Texas secession Pro military veterans
How much was spent on fake ads?
Facebook vice president Andrew Bosworth stated that “$100,000 in ads on Facebook can be a powerful tool but it can’t buy you an American election, especially when the candidates themselves are putting up several orders of magnitude more money on the same platform (not to mention other platforms) (“Lord of the Rings…”). I’ve heard the $100,000 figure quoted on many other web sites so for now I find the amount credible.
How does the amount of money spent by the Russian fake clients compare to real clients?
As of December 31, 2016, Hilary Clinton had raised 1.4 Billion and spent 98% of it, and Donald Trump had raised 957.6 million and had spent 99% of it (“Election 2016…”).
With the above questions answered to the best of my ability, how credible do I find the claims that Russian ads by fake clients determined the results of the 2016 election?
I find myself agreeing with Bosworth that $100,000 isn’t going to buy an election when the opponent has spent nearly 1.4 billion. There would be no need to spend nearly 1.4 billion if that was the case, they would have just spent $100,000. That sounds like a better deal to me!
If you only have $100,000 to spend on ads to try to win the U.S. Presidency, I think it’s reasonable to assume your message has to be better targeted than these examples in order to be effective.
I do find accusations credible that an ad agency in Russia created fake organizations for the purpose of running fake ads to run marketing tests, and I agree that the ads are examples of trolling. Trolling has been used in ads and ad tests before. I’ve done it. I wrote about my experiment and the Elizabeth Warren campaign running such a test on Facebook in an assignment for Media and Culture class in 2019 (Winkelmann).
The subject matter of the Russian ads is bizarre and inconsistent. Their overall effect seems more like it would be confusion rather than favoring any one party or issue. Actually, if I hadn’t researched these ads and just looked at them with no background, I would probably have assumed they were part of a Dadaist or Fluxus influenced performance art project. If these are indeed the same ads everyone has been talking about, I don’t think the controversy they generated is justified.
I have this Pinterest board to help me keep track of sources. I started it when I started this degree. I’m in favor of transparency so I want people who read my articles and papers to see what sources I collected, and what I used and didn’t use. That tells you something about a piece, what was selected for use out of what was available. And if you are interested I hope you read the sources too!
In my social engineering class, I’m studying Russian social media advertising more and might write about the topic more on this blog. This week we have been assigned to read these three papers among other material:
As I read and work on my assignments, I may or may not find that some of what I wrote above is incomplete. This is a complex topic and if I run across anything I think I need to add or change, I’ll do that and make a note of it. In the meantime, I recommend that everyone read the same three papers I’m reading so you have more background on the issues. Media reporting on this topic is very poor and very confusing and seems mostly designed to obfuscate what happened instead of attempting to help people understand. Your understanding is likely to improve after reading and like me you might have a lot more questions as well. Enjoy!
Here is a version of an assignment I did for my Social Engineering class at Webster University, CSSS 5280 that I modified for the blog. The version I submitted has not been graded yet.
A couple of years ago a co-worker excitedly told me about an interesting man she met on Facebook. As she continued to add details to her story, I recognized what she was dealing with – a common romance scam that I’ve seen many times. I felt sad having to explain to her that she was being groomed for some kind of exploitation, because she seemed so excited.
I’ve been a Facebook user for a long time, since 2008. I use my personal Facebook page for marketing as well as networking. It’s the nature of a lot of work that I do that it has been useful to allow people get to know aspects of the public-facing me – I’m not the most skilled at networking in person. I have most content on my Facebook account set to the security setting “Public” and I sometimes accept friend requests from people I don’t know unless they seem threatening.
I don’t remember exactly when I started noticing this, but every once in awhile I’d get a Facebook friend request from a man who claimed to be either in the military or working overseas in a civilian field like engineering, or the oil industry, or something like that. The first few times I went ahead and accepted these types of friend requests, because I’m generally disposed to be friendly and supportive to people unless I have reason not to be. I soon started noticing some patterns. The men in the profiles were generally above average in attractiveness, but looked like real people, not models. They were often photographed in an “action” pose or setting. Often their first and last names were two of what we would usually consider first names, put together. They sounded like what a foreigner’s idea of a generic American name would sound like rather than genuine selection of random American names. They usually claimed to be originally from the US or Europe but currently doing some kind of work in the Middle East. Their Facebook profiles were generally not very well populated with friends or content, so seemed like they had a short-lived social media presence. I could tell they hadn’t looked at my profile to learn basic facts about me, but claimed to have a burning desire to be my “boyfriend”. At first I gently turned away “romantic” conversation by saying I don’t do long distance relationships and I don’t “sext”. True statements, but irrelevant when I noticed the patterns of personal disinterest in me and constant boundary pushing. I decided they were all scammers seeking money, passwords, green cards, nude photos or all of the above and stopped accepting those requests. You would think that the word would get out about these scams enough for people to avoid them but from 2015 to 2019 the amount of money lost in online romance scams rose six times, from $33 million to $201 million (“What You Need…”).
I was able to recognize that type of scam earlier than some unfortunate other victims, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never been played. I’ve known for decades to avoid online dating and long-distance “relationships”. Before I was married I only dated men that I met in real-life situations. I was looking for suitors to court me for marriage, not hookups. I knew I would need to meet their friends, family and work colleagues and observe how they dealt with a variety of life situations over a period of time to learn their character and intentions. As a result, I was not in much demand for dates and for my age I was not very experienced. Men mostly preferred easier targets. What I didn’t realize until I experienced it is that there are people who have trained themselves to groom people like me for the purpose of perpetrating a long con. I believe I was being set up by a former “boyfriend” to be financially exploited, but was able to get out before I actually handed over any money. I had some medical bills to pay from therapy that I needed to be functional again after the emotional abuse that was gradually applied to me without me noticing for awhile, and that was pretty humiliating.
Pick Up Artists, or PUAs, are people who feign romantic interest in order to get a quick sexual conquest (Kale). Pick Up Artist techniques have been around a long time, but the Internet and the popularity of books on the topic changed the culture of dating a lot, so that by the end of the first decade of the 2000s, there was a noticeable difference in dating culture (Kale). PUA techniques are emotionally abusive and are designed to break down the resistance and push the boundaries of the target for the gratification of the abuser (Kale).
Right after reading what our first assignment for this class was, I got a typical romance scam Facebook request so I accepted it for the purpose of getting a few screen shots to show an example in action.
This example is a little unusual because this scammer is not claiming to have an “American” sounding name, but otherwise it’s pretty representative. I kept the initial conversation going for a few minutes with some generic responses on my part so I could get screen shots to show how these grooming sessions usually start. If it seems predictable like it’s a formula, that’s because it is! Romance scammers and PUAs use actual playbooks and rehearse lines in increase their proficiency (Panikian). Some even pay money to attend classes and workshops (Panikian, Dixon).
Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence are time-tested manipulation techniques (Changingminds.org) that we are studying in Social Engineering class. I’m going to compare Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence with some Pick Up Artist tactics to find out how and why some of the PUA techniques work.
“Reciprocity: Obligation to repay.” Giving you a lot of compliments in the beginning is called “love bombing”. They can be generous in the beginning but stingy later (Bancroft 68).
“Consistency and Commitment: Need for personal alignment.” Victimizers use your integrity and need to make your actions match your beliefs as a weapon against you. PUAs take advantage of the tendency of women to have been socialized to be polite to men (Kale).
“Social Proof: The power of what others do.” PUAs play up their attractiveness to others by talking about exes, flirting with other people in front of you, etc. to make themselves seem in demand (Dixon).
“Liking: The obligations of friendship.” People are flattered when a very attractive person, who could be a fake persona, seems to like them (Paul). PUAs like to make you feel special by paying a lot of attention to you, but it could be love-bombing or distracting you from noticing what they are really like (Dixon).
“Authority: We obey those in charge.” PUAs are instructed to exude a lot of confidence (Panikian, Dixon) and think and act as if they are the actual prize (Kale).
“Scarcity: We want what may not be available.” One PUA technique is to pretend that they are getting ready to leave a social situation so you feel pressured to talk to them because they might be gone soon. Also to give you the impression that the PUA is leaving soon and you don’t think you’ll be stuck with them long so there isn’t much downside to allowing a little conversation (Dixon).
Please protect yourself out there, on or offline!
AlphaWolf & Co. “Pick Up Artist (PUA).” PUA Lingo, 2008-2021, www.pualingo.com/. Accessed 25 February 2021. — “Neg Hit/Negging (Negs).” PUA Lingo, 2008-2021, www.pualingo.com/. Accessed 25 February 2021.
Bancroft, Lundy. Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. Berkeley Books. 2002.
ChangingMinds.org. “Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence”. Changing Works, 2002-2021,changingminds.org/. Accessed 16 March 2021.
I work part-time at a hardware store. We have a lawn and garden department, and within it we sell vegetable, herb and flower seeds. Last spring and summer, the demand for seeds was higher than normal while at the same time supply chains for many retail products were disrupted. As a result we ran out of many seeds. As a St. Louis Master Gardener, it’s part of my personal mandate to help people garden. Sometimes I try to help with information, sometimes with my labor, sometimes I distribute my extra seeds and plants for people to try out.
Last summer’s growing season was an unfortunate time to experience a shortage of seeds, because the COVID-19 pandemic has put extra pressure on some sources of food. There is not only the economic effect of many people losing their normal sources of income, but the disruption in the labor pool and supply chain, as thankfully brief as much of it was, forced us to think about the security of our food supply more than many of us normally have to. At a time when there was less ability to buy food, the opportunity for volunteer efforts to help people get the food they need was also diminished. Some food pantries had to temporarily close or reduce their hours of operation. In-person St. Louis Master Gardener efforts were halted, so I could not go to help at a Community Garden site. Besides donating a modest amount of money to a food pantry, my husband and I tried to distribute extra seeds and plants to anyone we could get them to.
It’s beneficial for the security of the food supply, for everyone who has the means and the time, to learn how to grow plants and food. Although anyone can jump in and start at any time, growing serious amounts of food is not easy and takes a lot of time and effort to learn to do well. Growing serious amounts of food requires learning how to maintain healthy soil. Growing serious amounts of food requires learning how to maintain a sustainable amount of beneficial organisms such as invertebrates and fungi in the ecosystem. All of these activities are fascinating hobbies that can be pressed into service any time there is a food crisis. And the health benefits of gardening, both mental and physical, create a more resilient population for any challenge we might face in life. For those reasons and more, I think home or community gardening is one of the best pursuits anyone can undertake, regardless of current financial status. You never know when you’ll be extra thankful for the opportunity to go to your own backyard to get some fresh food, or when you’ll have the opportunity to pass on plants, seeds or knowledge on to someone in need.
Tom and I were grateful to have the opportunity to start volunteering in person again. Recently we volunteered at the Fresh Starts Community Garden in St. Louis at a volunteer session sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council. It was satisfying to share our labor and knowledge while learning about the needs of community gardeners as well.
In our most recent church bulletin, there was an article about food security with a helpful graph that I’ll share here. Food security is defined in the article as “…the lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. Food-insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time. Food insecurity may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medicine, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods”.
The graph helps show how much potential there is for gardens of all kinds to have positive impacts on human life and health. Even when people have the money to buy food, and healthy food available to buy, there are a lot of people who could use some encouragement and training in the life skills of choosing and preparing the food. The satisfaction of growing and harvesting for the table naturally leads to exploring ways to cook and store the delicious, life giving produce. If you are seeking health, a sense of community, solace, purpose, independence and agency in your life, I think growing plants is one of the very best things you can do for yourself and for humankind.