Daily Bread for 2.18.18

Good morning.

Sunday in Whitewater will be mostly sunny with a high of forty. Sunrise is 6:46 AM and sunset 5:31 PM, for 10h 45m 09s of daytime. The moon is a waxing crescent, with 7.3% of its visible disk illuminated. Today is the four hundred sixty-fifth day.Days since Trump’s election, with 11.9.16 as the first day.

On this day in 1930, a Clyde Tombaugh discovers Pluto: “Tombaugh’s task [at the Lowell Observatory] was to systematically image the night sky in pairs of photographs, then examine each pair and determine whether any objects had shifted position. Using a blink comparator, he rapidly shifted back and forth between views of each of the plates to create the illusion of movement of any objects that had changed position or appearance between photographs. On February 18, 1930, after nearly a year of searching, Tombaugh discovered a possible moving object on photographic plates taken on January 23 and 29. A lesser-quality photograph taken on January 21 helped confirm the movement.[19] After the observatory obtained further confirmatory photographs, news of the discovery was telegraphed to the Harvard College Observatory on March 13, 1930.[15]”

Recommended for reading in full —

➤ Molly McKew asks Did Russia Affect the 2016 Election? It’s Now Undeniable:

We’re only at the beginning of having an answer to this question because we’ve only just begun to ask some of the right questions. But Mueller’s indictment shows that Russian accounts and agents accomplished more than just stoking divisions and tensions with sloppy propaganda memes. The messaging was more sophisticated, and some Americans took action. For example, the indictment recounts a number of instances where events and demonstrations were organized by Russians posing as Americans on social media. These accounts aimed to get people to do specific things. And it turns out—some people did.

Changing or activating behavior in this way is difficult; it’s easier to create awareness of a narrative. Consistent exposure over a period of time has a complex impact on a person’s cognitive environment. If groups were activated, then certainly the narrative being pushed by the IRA penetrated people’s minds. And sure enough, The themes identified in the indictment were topics frequently raised during the election, and they were frequently echoed and promoted across social media and by conservative outlets. A key goal of these campaigns was “mainstreaming” an idea—moving it from the fringe to the mainstream and thus making it appear to be a more widely held than it actually is.

This points to another impact that can be extracted from the indictment: It is now much more difficult to separate what is “Russian” or “American” information architecture in the US information environment. This will make it far harder to assess where stories and narratives are coming from, whether they are real or propaganda, whether they represent the views of our neighbors or not.

This corrosive effect is real and significant. Which part of the fear of “sharia law in America” came from Russian accounts versus readers of InfoWars? How much did the Russian campaigns targeting black voters impact the low turnout, versus the character attacks run against Clinton by the Trump campaign itself? For now, all we can know is that there is shared narrative, and shared responsibility. But if, as the indictment says, Russian information warriors were instructed to support “Sanders and Trump,” and those two campaigns appeared to have the most aggressive and effective online outreach, what piece of that is us, and what is them.

➤ Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti look Inside a 3-Year Russian Campaign to Influence U.S. Voters:

The Russians overseeing the operation, which they named the Translator Project, had a goal to “spread distrust toward the candidates and the political system in general.” They used a cluster of companies linked to one called the Internet Research Agency, and called their campaign “information warfare.”

The field research to guide the attack appears to have begun in earnest in June 2014. Two Russian women, Aleksandra Y. Krylova and Anna V. Bogacheva, obtained visas for what turned out to be a three-week reconnaissance tour of the United States, including to key electoral states like Colorado, Michigan, Nevada and New Mexico. The visa application of a third Russian, Robert S. Bovda, was rejected.

The two women bought cameras, SIM cards and disposable cellphones for the trip and devised “evacuation scenarios” in case their real purpose was detected. In all, they visited nine states — California, Illinois, Louisiana, New York and Texas, in addition to the others — “to gather intelligence” on American politics, the indictment says. Ms. Krylova sent a report about their findings to one of her bosses in St. Petersburg.

Another Russian operative visited Atlanta in November 2014 on a similar mission, the indictment says. It does not name that operative, a possible indication that he or she is cooperating with the investigation, legal experts said.

The operation also included the creation of hundreds of email, PayPal and bank accounts and even fraudulent drivers’ licenses issued to fictitious Americans. The Russians also used the identities of real Americans from stolen Social Security numbers.

➤ Anton Troianovski reports A former Russian troll speaks: ‘It was like being in Orwell’s world’:

43-year-old Marat Mindiyarov, a teacher by training, spoke by phone with The Washington Post on Saturday from the village outside St. Petersburg where he lives. Mindiyarov worked in a department for Russian domestic consumption. When he took a test in December 2014 to move to the factory’s “Facebook department” targeting the U.S. market, Mindiyarov recalled, he was asked to write an essay about Hillary Clinton. Here are lightly edited excerpts of the conversation.

What was your first reaction when you heard about the Mueller indictment?

I congratulate America that they achieved something — that they put forward an indictment rather than just writing about this. I congratulate Robert Mueller.

What was the working environment like — was it really like a factory?

There were two shifts of 12 hours, day and night. You had to arrive exactly on time, that is, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. There were production norms, for example, 135 comments of 200 characters each. … You come in and spend all day in a room with the blinds closed and 20 computers. There were multiple such rooms spread over four floors. It was like a production line, everyone was busy, everyone was writing something. You had the feeling that you had arrived in a factory rather than a creative place.

How did the trolling work?

You got a list of topics to write about. Every piece of news was taken care of by three trolls each, and the three of us would make up an act. We had to make it look like we were not trolls but real people. One of the three trolls would write something negative about the news, the other two would respond, “You are wrong,” and post links and such. And the negative one would eventually act convinced. Those are the kinds of plays we had to act out.

Did you know that the factory was also targeting the United States?

We didn’t visit other departments, but I knew there was a “Facebook department.” … It wasn’t a secret. We all had essentially the same topics, they were focused on American readers and we were focused on Russians.

➤ Sheera Frenkel and Katie Benner report To Stir Discord in 2016, Russians Turned Most Often to Facebook:

While the indictment does not accuse Facebook of any wrongdoing, it provided the first comprehensive account from the authorities of how critical the company’s platforms had been to the Russian campaign to disrupt the 2016 election. Facebook and Instagram were mentioned 41 times, while other technology that the Russians used was featured far less. Twitter was referred to nine times, YouTube once and the electronic payments company PayPal 11 times.

It is unprecedented for an American technology company to be so central to what the authorities say was a foreign scheme to commit election fraud in the United States. The indictment further batters Facebook’s image after it has spent months grappling with questions about how it was misused and why it did not act earlier to prevent that activity.

Jonathan Albright, research director at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, said the indictment laid bare how effectively Facebook could be turned against the country.

“Facebook built incredibly effective tools which let Russia profile citizens here in the U.S. and figure out how to manipulate us,” Mr. Albright said. “Facebook, essentially, gave them everything they needed.” He added that many of the tools that the Russians used, including those that allow ads to be targeted and that show how widespread an ad becomes, still pervade Facebook.

➤ Turns out Japanese Tempura Isn’t Japanese: