February 26, 2017 — Sharyl: As a Donald Trump supporter, Andrew Torba felt like odd man out in California’s Silicon Valley—home of prominent tech firms like Apple, Facebook and Google.
Last year he was outraged when he attended this campaign rally in San Jose and saw violent anti-Trump protesters attacking Trump supporters.
Sharyl Attkisson: Did you post these feelings online?
Andrew Torba: Yes
Attkisson: On what?
Torba: On Facebook, on Twitter, I wrote a blog about it. And immediately without getting into any of the issues or anything I was automatically labeled a racist, a bigot, etcetera. Venture capitalists, people that I respected and had worked with on a very close level, that just wrote me off completely and blacklisted me completely.
Torba is now living in self-imposed exile in Texas fighting what he sees as growing control of information online. He’s started his own version of Twitter called “Gab.”
Attkisson: What was the idea behind it?
Torba: The idea behind it is that news, information and communication is really monopolized on the Internet by a select group of people. About four or five leaders in one of the most progressive cities in the world with some of the most progressive workers in the world. And what I saw happening as a conservative in Silicon Valley was an agenda being pushed and the conservative side and conservative ideas being suppressed.
It’s not only conservatives like Torba who believe there’s an epic struggle underway to control information. Liberals and nonpartisans also complain of censorship, bias and fake news. We’re steeped in the most intense propaganda wars since World War Two.
British propaganda film: The sign of a great fighter in the ring is, can he get up from the floor after being knocked down. London does this every morning.
That’s when the Nazis and the Allies fought for their citizens’ hearts and mindsdevising propaganda campaigns to demoralize the enemy.
Nazi propaganda film:
Today’s battleground in the information wars - TV and the Web. Islamic extremist terrorists openly recruit online.
Isis Propaganda video: We are men honored with Islam who climbed its peaks to Jihad answering the call to unite under one flag.
And U.S. officials say Russian President Vladimir Putin exploited state-controlled TV news to discredit Hillary Clinton.
Russian TV: Polls nationwide show that the majority of Americans don’t trust Hillary Clinton.
Covert warfare is also widely being waged by US political and corporate actors.
Attkisson: When people get online every day and take part in social media or do searches for news, what is it you think they don't know?
Matthew Brown: I don't think they know they're being manipulated.
Matthew Brown is a data analyst who pierces the secrecy behind paid efforts to influence online.
Attkisson: What areas of the Internet are used to shape and manipulate opinion?
Matthew Brown: Everywhere social. Everywhere social means specific Facebook pages, but it also means the comment sections in every major newspaper.
Brown began investigating after his health insurance costs tripled and he commented about it on the Obamacare Facebook page. He got bombarded, he says, by digital activists disguised as ordinary people.
Brown: Digital activists are paid employees; their purpose is to attack anyone who's posting something contrary to the view the page owner wants expressed.
Brown decided to use analysis software to crunch the numbers. He evaluated 226,000 pro-Obamacare posts made by 40,000 Facebook profiles. What he found was remarkable.
Brown: 60 percent of all the posts were made from 100 profiles, posting between the hours of 9 and 5 Pacific Time.
Attkisson: Which means what?
Matthew Brown: They were paid to post.
Brown says it’s rampant on social media. One popular tool: “zombie profiles” that make automated “robo” posts.
Brown: A zombie post is a fake, purchased, or rented Facebook profile that's expressing the views of an organization as if it was his or her own. But, when in reality, the comment being expressed is done on software and written by generally one or two people. So, the zombie posts will go out on a schedule and then they are supported by zombie likes.
Attkisson: Is there any reason to believe Republicans don't do the same thing, and corporations as well?
Brown: There’s no reason to believe that everybody’s not doing it.
Even the government is in the game. Leaked emails show the feds seeking “persona management” software to “allow 10 personas per user.” They talk of creating an “army” of fake social media profiles maintained by actors “gaming” to hide their true location, and using “tricks” to “add a level of realnessto all fictitious personas.”
Campaign 2016 brought higher stakes and a new name to internet efforts to manipulate public opinion: Fake News. Unsubstantiated rumors about both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton went viral.
There was Pizzagate, which claimed Clinton associates were running a child sex ring from a pizza parlor. Trump was accused in a case of child rape.
In October, President Obama unveiled a push to “curate” the news.
President Obama: We are going to have to rebuild within this wild-wild-west-of-information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to.
The news media quickly joined the President’s call. After a man motivated by Pizzagate rumors fired a gun in the pizza parlor, Clinton added her voice to the cause.
Hillary Clinton: It is now clear that so-called fake news can have real words consequences. This is not about politics or partisanship. Lives are at risk, lives of ordinary people just trying to go about their days to do their jobs, contribute to their communities. It's a danger that must be addressed and addressed quickly.
Facebook announced an initiative to stop fake news. The head of the left wing group Media Matters told donors the group played a “critical role” “in forcing Facebook’s hand. But the fix involved using fact checkers that many conservatives see as biased.
Conservatives point to fake news in the mainstream media like the false report claiming Trump had removed a bust of civil rights leader Martin Luther King from the White House.
President Trump: Zeke, from Time magazine, writes a story about, I took down — I would never do that, because I have great respect for Dr. Martin Luther King. But this is how dishonest the media is.