Election hacking

Ag3ma

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No I'm perfectly aware. There's been no serious evidence that bot farms of any kind, from cheapo shell companies to state sponsored programs, have had any significant sway on an election.
Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

I accept this is likely to be very difficult to measure. However, there's research going on which suggests well targetted bot campaigns and the like can be capable of shifting substantial opinion. Some of this goes outside politics and into things like conventional product advertising. There is surely a difference between voting and sales, but I think we would be extraordinarily complacent to think they are sufficiently different that the principles don't carry across at all.

Complacency is I think a big issue here. I am well aware that at least one study suggested that attempted Russian influence in the 2016 election had little effect. But that cannot be assumed as a proxy for all such campaigns: it might just mean that the Russian interference campaign in 2016 was poorly orchestrated.
 

crimson5pheonix

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Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

I accept this is likely to be very difficult to measure. However, there's research going on which suggests well targetted bot campaigns and the like can be capable of shifting substantial opinion. Some of this goes outside politics and into things like conventional product advertising. There is surely a difference between voting and sales, but I think we would be extraordinarily complacent to think they are sufficiently different that the principles don't carry across at all.

Complacency is I think a big issue here. I am well aware that at least one study suggested that attempted Russian influence in the 2016 election had little effect. But that cannot be assumed as a proxy for all such campaigns: it might just mean that the Russian interference campaign in 2016 was poorly orchestrated.
You do recognize the study of the 2016 election, which is good because that's the only published research I know about. If there's more than sure, but this is not a case of absence of evidence. There is evidence, albeit a relative dearth of it. It's just the evidence is that bot farms aren't that successful and it's easy to see why it's not successful even without a trained eye. A trained eye might come up with something that seems counterintuitive at first glance, but the biggest and highest profile case of a bot farm being used in a major election has come out a dud, it's pretty damning to the concept.
 

Ag3ma

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You do recognize the study of the 2016 election, which is good because that's the only published research I know about. If there's more than sure, but this is not a case of absence of evidence. There is evidence, albeit a relative dearth of it. It's just the evidence is that bot farms aren't that successful and it's easy to see why it's not successful even without a trained eye. A trained eye might come up with something that seems counterintuitive at first glance, but the biggest and highest profile case of a bot farm being used in a major election has come out a dud, it's pretty damning to the concept.
A dearth of evidence is just an absence of evidence differently phrased. Or as one of my past colleagues succinctly put it: "An n of one is an n of none."
 

crimson5pheonix

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A dearth of evidence is just an absence of evidence differently phrased. Or as one of my past colleagues succinctly put it: "An n of one is an n of none."
The alternative view is a literal n of none. I can grasp why bot farms don't work, there's no evidence that they do work, and there is at least one major and highly publicized instance of them not working. Why should I care that this company has a bot farm? I care that they can hack sensitive information, I wonder if there's an even bigger story of them stealing and selling state secrets sent through these avenues. I might care about their media outreach, presuming it's meaningful and impactful outreach. But bot farms are boogeymen. Crutches for failed politicians who had far more relevant issues.
 

Gordon_4

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The alternative view is a literal n of none. I can grasp why bot farms don't work, there's no evidence that they do work, and there is at least one major and highly publicized instance of them not working. Why should I care that this company has a bot farm? I care that they can hack sensitive information, I wonder if there's an even bigger story of them stealing and selling state secrets sent through these avenues. I might care about their media outreach, presuming it's meaningful and impactful outreach. But bot farms are boogeymen. Crutches for failed politicians who had far more relevant issues.
State secrets, proper ones, aren’t kept on networks that are externally accessible. If they’re digitised at all.
 

Silvanus

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No I'm perfectly aware. There's been no serious evidence that bot farms of any kind, from cheapo shell companies to state sponsored programs, have had any significant sway on an election. Of the three broad services this company offers (hacking, media outreach, and the bot farms), the bots are the least interesting. The media outreach I'm skeptical of, but the article breezes over that and could be interesting. Hacking private accounts to set up scandals is easily the most interesting and impactful aspect of what this company offers.

As for how "good and different" these bots are, remember that all of that spinup is by the head of the company itself, this whole report was made by going in as potential buyers, they got the sales pitch. Not to say it's not damning, but the efficacy of the service is being embellished by definition, and the article itself is somewhat light on details.
Not really sure what evidence could be presented of demonstrable, direct impact-- its not as if its possible to quantify how many people shifted their votes.

What is known is that people with deep pockets considered them worth paying hundreds of thousands to influence elections in a large number of countries around the world. I doubt that kind of thing is done on a whim and without research.
 
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crimson5pheonix

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Not really sure what evidence could be presented of demonstrable, direct impact-- its not as if its possible to quantity how many people shifted their votes.

What is known is that people with deep pockets considered them worth paying hundreds of thousands to influence elections in a large number of countries around the world. I doubt that kind of thing is done on a whim and without research.
Counterpoint, Elon and Twitter
Middle Eastern sheiks and weird desert cities
Weird western billionaires and weird desert cities
 

Ag3ma

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The alternative view is a literal n of none. I can grasp why bot farms don't work, there's no evidence that they do work, and there is at least one major and highly publicized instance of them not working.
Sure, and up until 1903, people could say there was no evidence man would ever be able to fly in a heavier-than-air vehicle.

The interesting thing is that if a bot farm ever does swing an election (or may have done so already), there's a fair chance we probably won't even know. But their use by such firms is interesting.

Undoubtedly, no-one wants to waste money, so why run a useless bot farm? An obvious reason could be because clients think they are useful: this makes one worthwhile as a selling point even if the company knows them to be useless. However, the very real risk remains that these companies run bot farms because they have information we do not that they can work. Bot farms may not be "brute forcing" a message to the wider electorate, of course. They could be used for more limited, targetted signal-boosting - for instance to raise the profile of real spokespeople or stories to a threshold where they are picked up by conventional media.

With respect to this, you also have to bear in mind that companies can be well ahead of academia, regulators, etc. A detergents or pharmaceutical firm will know more about cleaning things and designing drugs respectively than a university Chemistry or Pharmacy department will. Exxon appears to have been keenly aware of global warming most environmental scientists. The global financial crash was partly due to financial innovations that central banks and other finance regulators clearly did not comprehend (although the banks themselves didn't grasp the problems, either).
 

crimson5pheonix

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Sure, and up until 1903, people could say there was no evidence man would ever be able to fly in a heavier-than-air vehicle.

The interesting thing is that if a bot farm ever does swing an election (or may have done so already), there's a fair chance we probably won't even know. But their use by such firms is interesting.

Undoubtedly, no-one wants to waste money, so why run a useless bot farm? An obvious reason could be because clients think they are useful: this makes one worthwhile as a selling point even if the company knows them to be useless. However, the very real risk remains that these companies run bot farms because they have information we do not that they can work. Bot farms may not be "brute forcing" a message to the wider electorate, of course. They could be used for more limited, targetted signal-boosting - for instance to raise the profile of real spokespeople or stories to a threshold where they are picked up by conventional media.

With respect to this, you also have to bear in mind that companies can be well ahead of academia, regulators, etc. A detergents or pharmaceutical firm will know more about cleaning things and designing drugs respectively than a university Chemistry or Pharmacy department will. Exxon appears to have been keenly aware of global warming most environmental scientists. The global financial crash was partly due to financial innovations that central banks and other finance regulators clearly did not comprehend (although the banks themselves didn't grasp the problems, either).
I'm more on the idea that they're hawking a bum idea for money. It's not like rich people are known for being good with money (actually unironically, they are at the point where they can't be poor anymore when they're swinging this kind of money around).

That being said this company in particular is offering a way more effective and tangible product than the bots. Being able to create a scandal on demand that will have to get picked up by regular media is a way way way better product than any botfarm is ever going to hope to be.
 

Ag3ma

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That being said this company in particular is offering a way more effective and tangible product than the bots. Being able to create a scandal on demand that will have to get picked up by regular media is a way way way better product than any botfarm is ever going to hope to be.
Sure. But you appreciate what I am saying that the bot farm could be integral to getting their scandal out there quickly, effectively and noisily?
 

crimson5pheonix

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Sure. But you appreciate what I am saying that the bot farm could be integral to getting their scandal out there quickly, effectively and noisily?
No. As has been pointed out, bot farms already only reach the fringe loons who believe anything that agrees with their preconceived notions anyway. There's a million stories from that sector that never make it anywhere, even if there are grains of truth to it.
 

immortalfrieza

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I mean its reprehensible but is it strictly hacking? To me that would involve a direct and targeted attempt at altering the results by changing them in the machines. This is more blasting voters with bullshit that's plausible enough that they'll believe it without checking, and alter their decision accordingly.
That is effectively a description of what propaganda is and propaganda has never been illegal so... yeah. It's more the method of spreading said propaganda that is the problem here.


How to fix the process? Remove the innate right to vote and replace it with an application process. Prove that you know what they hell you're voting on and what the hell you're talking about for your ballot to be counted. Granted, the voting pool will be reduced to about 13 people nationwide, but at least we'll be confident, for better or worse, the qualified voters were actually informed and not misled by bots telling them Democrats eat children for breakfast.
Sounds good in theory until you get to the part of who gets to decide what's on these applications and what constitutes a right and wrong answer. It would be easy for whoever that is to manipulate the results so that votes that only support their side are counted and thus always that side wins, whether that side deserves to or not. Plus the application would have to be altered to conform to every single election and that's a whole other can of worms that only makes the previous problem worse.

The system can't be fixed by any means that doesn't address the central causes. One of said causes is tribal mentality, people vote for a party once for whatever reason and then continue to vote for and support said party in further elections regardless of what the party actually does or promises out of sheer habit. It's because choosing a side and supporting it against any other side is engrained in our DNA.

The rest of the voters try to stay informed and vote for who they believe will actually support their interests. That's what campaigning is really about, trying to convince those people that their party will support the voter's interests and the other will not. Said campaigns lie and manipulate so that even this group of people will support their side.

Then there's the thankfully gradually growing number of people who are smart enough to recognize what a joke the political system is and thus refuse to participate in it because they know for a fact no party will support their interests due to the continuing examples that they haven't and probably never will.

Results on IQ tests have supposedly been going up and up since the test was invented, but humanity really is just as stupid now as we were 10,000 years ago or more. Our decisions have been decided almost entirely by our base impulses both before and after civilization became a thing. The only thing that's really changed is the context under which those base impulses get presented.
 
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Thaluikhain

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I'm of the purely subjective opinion that "fake news," pushed by bots or otherwise, only affects the opinions of those whose opinions the election process would be better off without. That said, we live in a day and age where everyone from brilliant billionaires to the poverty-stricken ignorant think they know better than everyone else, and since voting is a right, well, we'll never be greater than the sum of our parts, and last I saw, there's a lot more ignorance than brilliance roaming the streets these days.

How to fix the process? Remove the innate right to vote and replace it with an application process. Prove that you know what they hell you're voting on and what the hell you're talking about for your ballot to be counted. Granted, the voting pool will be reduced to about 13 people nationwide, but at least we'll be confident, for better or worse, the qualified voters were actually informed and not misled by bots telling them Democrats eat children for breakfast.
The US, of course, had that for black voters when they first got the vote, to make sure as many of them as possible didn't.

One wonders who would administer such tests, whose truths are you testing people about. And even if all went when, you've got lots of people excluded from the decision making process. Which, ok, that was the intent, but the voters don't have to consider what's best for the non-voters because they have no power.

OTOH, you could argue that those terrible flaws aren't as bad as the terrible flaws we currently see, I guess.
 
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Ag3ma

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No. As has been pointed out, bot farms already only reach the fringe loons who believe anything that agrees with their preconceived notions anyway. There's a million stories from that sector that never make it anywhere, even if there are grains of truth to it.
No. This is misreading the study.

The study found that a specific instance of a bot farm campaign was likely ineffective at changing views within the relatively narrow field of what the researchers examined:

"Importantly, the scope of our research is limited to the Russian foreign influence campaign on Twitter. We also restrict our analysis to social media posts and thus cannot examine relationships from any potential sharing of other media content (e.g., images and videos) more generally. This research thus does not speak to the impact of similar campaigns on other social media platforms, nor to the possibility of foreign election interference via other channels, such as hacking or phishing schemes that were allegedly designed to surface information unfavorable to political opponents at opportune moments."

Whilst I accept that the study offers hope that bot farms may be less worrying than we fear, it absolutely should not be taken as a comprehensive assessment of bot farm capabilities generally. A lot more research is necessary to establish that.
 

Silvanus

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No. This is misreading the study.

The study found that a specific instance of a bot farm campaign was likely ineffective at changing views within the relatively narrow field of what the researchers examined:

"Importantly, the scope of our research is limited to the Russian foreign influence campaign on Twitter. We also restrict our analysis to social media posts and thus cannot examine relationships from any potential sharing of other media content (e.g., images and videos) more generally. This research thus does not speak to the impact of similar campaigns on other social media platforms, nor to the possibility of foreign election interference via other channels, such as hacking or phishing schemes that were allegedly designed to surface information unfavorable to political opponents at opportune moments."

Whilst I accept that the study offers hope that bot farms may be less worrying than we fear, it absolutely should not be taken as a comprehensive assessment of bot farm capabilities generally. A lot more research is necessary to establish that.
Plus, of course, the fact that as soon as you have a demonstrable, definite case of an election being swung (as near-impossible as that would be to establish), then it's too late to prevent that damage.

Regulation is not about waiting for shit to be broken and then setting up some cameras. Regulation is about recognising what shit people are trying to break, and then setting up structures to stop it happening.

Look at the electronically-controlled pneumatic brake thing. Before the first massive toxic derailment, would it have been the appropriate response to say "eh we've got an N of zero, lots of trains haven't derailed, that's enough evidence that this ain't a problem"? Fuck no. And in this case we know we have wealthy, secretive assholes actively trying to derail the train.

Regulation is caution. And you can't complain after a disaster that regulations weren't in place, if you also preach complacency when you're shown warning signs.
 
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Ag3ma

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Plus, of course, the fact that as soon as you have a demonstrable, definite case of an election being swung (as near-impossible as that would be to establish), then it's too late to prevent that damage.

Regulation is not about waiting for shit to be broken and then setting up some cameras. Regulation is about recognising what shit people are trying to break, and then setting up structures to stop it happening.

Look at the electronically-controlled pneumatic brake thing. Before the first massive toxic derailment, would it have been the appropriate response to say "eh we've got an N of zero, lots of trains haven't derailed, that's enough evidence that this ain't a problem"? Fuck no. And in this case we know we have wealthy, secretive assholes actively trying to derail the train.

Regulation is caution. And you can't complain after a disaster that regulations weren't in place, if you also preach complacency when you're shown warning signs.
To an extent I suspect that there are other factors involved.

Specifically, that a lot of people heavily opposed to Clinton (left or right) are extremely averse to the notion that there was dodgy dealing, because it's hugely beneficial for them to believe that she lost just because she was a bad candidate, thus vindicating Sanders or Trump as appropriate. And to be fair, she was in ways not a great candidate, being heavily out of step with the electoral zeitgeist.
 

Xprimentyl

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Sounds good in theory until you get to the part of who gets to decide what's on these applications and what constitutes a right and wrong answer. It would be easy for whoever that is to manipulate the results so that votes that only support their side are counted and thus always that side wins, whether that side deserves to or not. Plus the application would have to be altered to conform to every single election and that's a whole other can of worms that only makes the previous problem worse.

The system can't be fixed by any means that doesn't address the central causes. One of said causes is tribal mentality, people vote for a party once for whatever reason and then continue to vote for and support said party in further elections regardless of what the party actually does or promises out of sheer habit. It's because choosing a side and supporting it against any other side is engrained in our DNA.

The rest of the voters try to stay informed and vote for who they believe will actually support their interests. That's what campaigning is really about, trying to convince those people that their party will support the voter's interests and the other will not. Said campaigns lie and manipulate so that even this group of people will support their side.

Then there's the thankfully gradually growing number of people who are smart enough to recognize what a joke the political system is and thus refuse to participate in it because they know for a fact no party will support their interests due to the continuing examples that they haven't and probably never will.

Results on IQ tests have supposedly been going up and up since the test was invented, but humanity really is just as stupid now as we were 10,000 years ago or more. Our decisions have been decided almost entirely by our base impulses both before and after civilization became a thing. The only thing that's really changed is the context under which those base impulses get presented.
The US, of course, had that for black voters when they first got the vote, to make sure as many of them as possible didn't.

One wonders who would administer such tests, whose truths are you testing people about. And even if all went when, you've got lots of people excluded from the decision making process. Which, ok, that was the intent, but the voters don't have to consider what's best for the non-voters because they have no power.

OTOH, you could argue that those terrible flaws aren't as bad as the terrible flaws we currently see, I guess.
I was being hyperbolic with my sentiments, but you are both correct; our election process is fundamentally flawed as long as "we the people" have a say in it. We need a socialist tyrant to remove "our" ideals from the process and simply mandate that everyone pull their weight for a fair share of the larger gain. #MoreHyperbole
 

Phoenixmgs

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How to fix the process? Remove the innate right to vote and replace it with an application process. Prove that you know what they hell you're voting on and what the hell you're talking about for your ballot to be counted. Granted, the voting pool will be reduced to about 13 people nationwide, but at least we'll be confident, for better or worse, the qualified voters were actually informed and not misled by bots telling them Democrats eat children for breakfast.
Observing American democracy, I'm not too much a fan of it. However, I can't really think of a better way either that isn't full of easier exploitation either. Also, other countries that have democracies seem to be doing a lot better than the US so maybe it's a culture/values issue more than inherent to democracy like how other countries can be pretty pro gun and not have all the shootings the US has.
 
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Thaluikhain

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I was being hyperbolic with my sentiments, but you are both correct; our election process is fundamentally flawed as long as "we the people" have a say in it. We need a socialist tyrant to remove "our" ideals from the process and simply mandate that everyone pull their weight for a fair share of the larger gain. #MoreHyperbole
Ah, ok, sometimes it's hard to tell, especially as that's been tried for reals, and there's reasons why it seems desirable.

But yeah, the problem is "we the people", though how big a problem that is varies.