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

By Alexis C. Madrigal

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/12/pro-kremlin-forces-dont-silence-dissent-they-drown-it-out/249744/