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The Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk. With less than two months to the U.S. election, deceptive and misleading videos are beginning to circulate around the Internet once again.
Facebook announced this week that the same Russian group that had attempted to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is trying to target Americans again. Speaking to CNN's Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room on Wednesday, the attorney general, William Barr, played down the prospect of Russian interference in the forthcoming election. He feels that China is the greater threat.
I accept that there there's some preliminary activity that suggests that they might try again. Well, what does that mean? Well, that's all I'm saying. You think that Russia is the U.S. you've seen intelligence.
It wouldn't surprise it wouldn't surprise me if Russia tries something, again of the same general genre before.
I mean, this influence basically is two kinds of things. It's hack and you get into someone's mail system and then try to disclose embarrassing documents. Wouldn't surprise me if they try something like that or any other country tries it the other way is, you know, social media and putting things out on social.
Because the intelligence community says Russia, China and Iran are seeking to interfere in the U.S. presidential election for various reasons. But mostly they want to sow dissent in our country, exacerbate racial tensions, et cetera, like that of those three countries that the intelligence community has pointed to, Russia, China and Iran, which is the most assertive, the most aggressive in this area, I believe it's China. Why do you say that? Because I've seen the intelligence.
That's what I've concluded. It's interesting, I watched that entire interview with Wolf Blitzer and William Barr handled it extremely well.
He was very laid back, didn't offer things unless he was pressed. And his whole thing of China being the major threat, the major threat certainly to Donald Trump, because we know that Trump would be happy to get rid of or China would be happy to get rid of Trump. If that meant Biden, so be it. Whereas the Russians, it appears, want to keep Trump in place for their own good reasons. Well, to tell us more about all of this and the other misleading videos that are circulating already online, we have CNN reporter Donio OSullivan.
Tony, good morning. Hey, thanks for having me. Now tell us about the information that the FBI gave to Facebook and what its provenance was.
Yes, so Facebook on Tuesday announced that acting on a tip from the FBI, it had shut down a network of accounts that were all linked to a website called Piece Data. And piece by piece data was was a you know, if you were to visit it this morning, you would think that it looks like a online left wing independent magazine. But according to to Facebook, following information from the FBI, it wasn't independent at all. It was actually being run by the same group, the Internet Research Agency, which is known here in the US as the IRA, the same Russian troll group that's linked to the Kremlin that interfered in the 2016 election.
We're running this website now. You might wonder why would they do this? What's what's the value in having a left wing website online? It's basically it appears that the tactics that Russia are using here is it's it's their way of sort of sowing and pushing the most divisive talking points around the election, similar to what was happening in twenty sixteen. This website was attacking the Democratic candidates, but from the left. So, you know, seemingly trying to split the Democratic vote.
But one of the most fascinating parts of all of this part is that they were recruiting stated was recruiting real unwitting Americans to contribute to its website to make it appear more legitimate. What has Facebook's reaction been to this news from the FBI? Do they simply shut it down the website? Yeah, they shut it down.
And I mean, in you know, Facebook has made no shortage of mistakes over the years and currently and how it's handling misinformation. But it has hired a team that seems to take, you know, the sort of foreign backed of this very seriously. And they are working to try and sort of sort of root out the sort of foreign misinformation campaigns that are targeting the US. Of course, we have plenty of domestic misinformation here in the United States as well, which is more challenging for a company like Facebook to deal with because of of the First Amendment and protected speech and whatnot.
But yesterday, I actually met one of the unwitting Americans who was hired by this website. He's actually he's a 26 year old Irish American. In fact, he's an aspiring writer, an aspiring journalist. He lost his day job at the start of covid in a restaurant. His name is Jack Delaney. And, you know, he was delighted he got this message from this website. You know, he had a few pieces published online elsewhere and a lot of a lot of lefty sort of sites.
And they say to each out and they said, hey, we like your work. Would you come write for us? We'll pay you a few hundred dollars each article. And he started contributing them. He didn't know, of course, that he was part of a Russian disinformation operation. He only wrote stories that he would otherwise write for for another left wing site. But, you know, he was giving basically this operation the material that they couldn't sew and seed and promote elsewhere.
Now, how do these tactics have changed? A little bit is that four years ago, Russia was doing a lot of this stuff themselves. They were creating, you know, the content themselves, writing articles themselves, attacking U.S. foreign policy, sort of spreading conspiracy theories about some of the candidates. But we've all gotten a little bit more savvy, at least, that the intelligence community has to spotting sort of some of this. So using real Americans as fronts is a pretty smart tactic.
And, you know, it's one that's not new at all. I mean, this is really sort of if you go back to the to the Soviet war playbook of what Russia was doing by, you know, planting articles and pamphlets and newsletters and sympathetic newspapers around the world and, you know, trying to recruit activists in the peace movement or the American civil rights movement. It's the same tactic, but just applied to new platforms.
Now, back in 2016, there were people who had accounts, Facebook accounts.
And, you know, you saw an image of someone, a real person, even though that person might not necessarily be the source of the account. But the image was used. I think there was one Russian woman used on a major account, but she knew nothing about it at all. But she was a real person. Now they're using technology to create artificial people, people that actually look like real people but have never existed.
Yes, very dystopian for this hour of the morning, I mean, it's something that George Orwell could could hardly have dreamt up. You're right.
You know, when, when, when, when, whether it's Russia or any person who's trying to run a sort of covert online campaign or even online harassment campaigns, you know, they'll have to try and make their accounts look legitimate, like real people. You know, like there were so many accounts that we saw in 2016, which was often a picture of a beautiful woman or a good looking man that said, you know, I'm a Trump supporter, I love Trump, I'm so American.
And then you would dig a little bit into the account and you'd see, oh, actually, the profile photo isn't of a person of that name. It's of some it's of some stock image or sometimes of just a regular American who didn't know their image had been stolen. Now there's technology that makes it more difficult to detect. So there is new technology, artificial intelligence technology that basically creates these fake faces. And the faces look extremely realistic and it's only widely available for free on the Internet.
So now we're sort of seeing these trolls doing is they're using these fake faces on their accounts. And actually the editor, the commissioning editor from this sham website piece data, his name was purportedly Alex Lucasta and was Alex Lucasta, who who messaged Jack Delaney, the unwitting Irish American. And he said, you know, hey, we like your stuff, come right for us. It turns out this week we learned from experts to look into this, the Lucasta, the picture on Lucas's account.
If if your listeners can look it up, I think we have a picture in our CNN story. But like the picture of the Krusty's is this guy who's smiling. He's wearing glasses, does not look suspicious. It turns out experts in this area are telling us that that the person in that picture does not exist. That is a computer generated image.
Now, in terms of what is allowed to be posted online, Facebook recently changed tack in terms of interfering with things that might be posted on Twitter. Did, too. If you spread misinformation about covid, for example, tell people that drinking turpentine would be good for curing covid-19, you can't do that and they will stop you in your tracks. And they did stop one of President Trump's tweets in its tracks because it misrepresented health information.
But they've all taken the view that because of freedom of speech that the politicians can lie. And even if the people in Facebook or Twitter know it's a lie, they will leave it there. Yes, yeah, that's absolutely right. So, you know, Trump, who we know is tells a lot of lies, Facebook has basically given him license to not only just post posts, you know, unpaid posts on the platform that might contain lies about his political opponents, about Joe Biden or about any range of issues, really.
But also Facebook says and you know what? You can pay us as well. We'll let you run ads that have lies in them. And you can run ads, of course, on Facebook that target specific groups of Americans. So Facebook has been trying to defend this policy for a very long time. Twitter, Twitter has taken a sort of tougher stance on it to say that, look, no where we're going to crack down more on misinformation. They're no longer actually accepting political ads.
But for the most part, they will let you know Trump or any candidate post lies generally not the social media. Companies are trying to carve out some new rules to say, you know, if somebody posts false information about the day of the election, to say, oh, you actually vote on this day rather than that day, they said they'll take that down. Obviously, we saw Trump this week seeming to encourage people to vote twice and they said they'll take stuff like that down.
But ultimately, you know, in the broader sense of things, you know, it's a free for all in terms of how much they will allow candidates to lie. And I think the real the real troubling thing and I think that where, you know, the US could get particularly messy is actually the day after the election when, you know, we might start seeing people here in the US claiming that results aren't legitimate, trying to undermine the integrity of the election, even possibly circulating false results.
And that is, I think, going to be the huge challenge for companies like Facebook and if they're going to do anything about it.
One of the new things, I suppose, that we're observing is the editing of video footage to misdirect people, to lie about people.
There's one video that put together by Republican sources which allegedly shows Joe Biden asleep. This is trying to perpetuate the idea that he's a docile man who can't concentrate. And it turns out that he wasn't asleep at all. It was taken from, I think, a debate where he was listening to Hillary Clinton and had his eyes down in concentration, but not in sleep. And how is this sort of allowed to stand? I mean, yeah, it's it's it's it's beyond belief, really, but yes, what what happened there was they had they had spliced together two videos to make it look like the Joe Biden during a television interview was asleep.
That never actually happened. Of course, it was posted by one of Trump's top White House guys and it started circulating on Twitter because of that. And, you know, got hundreds of thousands of views, actually, I think more than two million views. Twitter eventually put a little tiny disclaimer label on it, saying, oh, this is manipulated media, but not really actually explaining, you know, why it was false. It eventually got taken down after was view two point four million times, not because it was false, but because Twitter got a copyright claim, I think possibly from the TV network that the footage had come from.
But, you know, again, it's another one of these examples of just how much sort of mock is out there in the online information ecosystem. And, you know, you know, a lot of times that the Trump campaign, for instance, will say, look, oh, that video was clearly the video is clearly Fox was clearly doctored. It was a joke. Everybody needs to lighten up. But, you know, I think when you see a lot of these videos, I don't think everybody realizes these are a joke, particularly when they play into these sort of existing narratives that campaigns are trying to push out their against their political opponents.
And they have, you know, will edit stuff to make it appear like someone says something they don't. Interesting. Facebook is investigating online activity around the Kenosha shootings.
If we recall that Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by a policeman, rioting followed. And then we have this 17 year old quasi militia man who comes in and kills two people and wounds a third and almost gets a free pass in advance of any trial from President Trump. Yeah, and, you know, last week and this, I guess, is really it highlights the major issue with Facebook and how they don't really seem to have a hand in what is happening with their platform.
Kenosha was the biggest story in the United States last week, you know, and Facebook said that they had teams working on it to monitor the situation, et cetera. But it turned out that, you know, in the aftermath of the initial shooting, we saw militia groups, self-styled militia groups taking to Facebook, encouraging people to to patrol the streets, to to arm themselves and to patrol the streets. Now, we saw that that ended in tragedy when two people died on Facebook.
The suspect there and the sort of militia suspect who is who's been charged with those killings, Facebook says, wasn't involved in these Facebook events or hadn't seen these Facebook posts that were promoting, you know, a militia coming out into the street. But that's beside the point, really. You know, I think it's really telling that even with Facebook's own users, Facebook's some of Facebook's own users saw these events, these calls to action calls to arms last week.
They reported it to Facebook. Facebook missed it. So, you know, like when it's the biggest story in the country and this stuff is just blatantly honest on Facebook's platform and blatantly against its rules, by the way. And Facebook can catch does it does not inspire a whole lot of confidence in how they're going to handle, you know, everything around the election?
Well, the tortoni begins to be flown and we've got two months more of it. By the way, I don't know whether you saw that story about William Barr going to see Rupert Murdoch in his penthouse to try and influence the appearance of Judge Napolitano on Fox News.
I don't know whether you heard that. I did not see that. I did not see that story. No, but, you know, it potentially sounds par for the course of that of quite what we're seeing here.
You know, Napolitano thought he might be a shoo in for a Supreme Court nomination, then decided that he didn't like what Trump was doing, et cetera, et cetera, changed his mind. So from being a regular columnist on FOX, the idea was that he was still appearing from time to time, but never asked any questions or given a topic brief on anything that might allow him to have a go at Donald.
And, you know, they allege that Rupert Murdoch took a hand in in influencing the producers and Fox News in this regard.
But, yeah, it's you know, the meeting took place. But what happened at the meeting? Of course, only the two people who were at the meeting, William Bar and Rupert Murdoch, can confirm.
So, Tony, it's a strange country you're living in at the moment. And, you know, interesting times for reporters, but dangerous times, too, I suspect.
Yeah. I mean, it's obviously surreal here at the moment. And thus, you know, given Ireland, this obviously sort of is back getting back on its face and with the country back opening, you know, a lot of the time I'm in Washington at the moment and I live in New York. Both cities here are essentially so closed down. And yes, of course, you know, we're seeing the protests out in the streets and around Trump events, of course, as well.
And, you know, we're sort of seeing these sort of dangerous conspiracy theory is like the Kuhnen conspiracy theories, which is the FBI warning now that, you know, that has the potential to to potentially and violence to radicalize people. So, yeah, I mean, absolutely fascinating. And time to be here as a reporter. But, yeah, I think you're right in that it's going to be a very long and busy few months ahead. And, you know, it's very possible that the real story of this election might only start the night of the election.
And the more worrying after it when we know the possibility now, I think is very real that you'll see the candidates here really questioning the results of the election.
CNN reporter Donio Sullivan, thank you very much for joining us this morning from Washington, D.C..