Pro-Kremlin Forces Don't Silence Dissent, They Drown It Out

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Bots drown out anti-government speech in Russia, portending the rise of speech-canceling noise bots

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The Internet's infrastructure makes stopping free speech slightly more difficult. People can post anonymously; people can post (or appear to post) from all over the globe; there are less central media hubs on which authority can be exerted. But it's not as if authoritarians are sitting by and letting speech resound. Instead, they're going to come up with ways to keep the messages of their opponents from getting out.

This week provided a great example of this. In Russia, charges of electoral fraud brought mass protests against the government. Some entity out there, directly aligned with the government or not, decided to drown out that dissent on Twitter. Here's Brian Krebs summing up the situation:

But according to several experts, it wasn't long before messages sent to that hashtag were drowned out by pro-Kremlin tweets that appear to have been sent by countless Twitter bots. Maxim Goncharov, a senior threat researcher at Trend Micro, observed that "if you currently check this hash tag on twitter you'll see a flood of 5-7 identical tweets from accounts that have been inactive for month and that only had 10-20 tweets before this day. To this point those hacked accounts have already posted 10-20 more tweets in just one hour."

"Whether the attack was supported officially or not is not relevant, but we can now see how social media has become the battlefield of a new war for freedom of speech," Goncharov wrote.

Trend to watch for 2012: speech-canceling noise bots.


Image: Vtldtlm/Shutterstock.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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