Tags: Media Bias | Russia | Russia Probe | meddling | campaign | 2016 | election

WSJ: '16 Meddling Campaigns Stressed Doctoring Photos

Image: WSJ: '16 Meddling Campaigns Stressed Doctoring Photos
(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Thursday, 22 Feb 2018 10:25 PM

A review of some of the misinformation campaigns of Russia-backed accounts often relied on images that were doctored or taken out of context, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Distorted pictures have become unusually effective weapons in misinformation campaigns because people are less likely to doubt the legitimacy of images, Claire Wardle, a research fellow and expert in social media and user-generated content at Harvard University's Shorenstein Center, told the Journal.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's indictment last week described how Russian organization, Internet Research Agency, even issued guidance to its workers on ratios of texts in their posts and how to use graphics and videos.

"I created all these pictures and posts, and the Americans believed that it was written by their people," one of the co-conspirators emailed a relative in September, the indictment said, the Journal reported.

The Russian entities also often added small icons known as watermarks to the corners of their doctored photos, which lent an air of authenticity, the Journal reported.

"In a world where we're kind of scrolling through on these small smartphone screens, images are incredibly powerful because we're a lot less likely to stop and think, 'does this look real?'" Wardle told the Journal.

During three months around the presidential election, tweets that included photos were nearly twice as likely to be retweeted than text-only tweets, according to researchers at Syracuse University studying how information spreads on social networks, the Journal reported.

Among doctored picture incidents reviewed by the Journal was one taken April 17, when University of Southern California student Tiana Lowe spotted a racist sign hanging in front of a student housing complex near campus.

On a piece of cardboard, the words "No Black People Allowed" appeared next to a drawing of the Confederate flag and the hashtag #MAGA, for President Donald Trump's campaign slogan.

Lowe snapped a photo on her iPhone. In a story that day for the campus news site, she questioned whether the incident was a hoax, writing the sign had been hung by a black neighbor who was unaffiliated with the university following a dispute with the housing complex's residents.

USC's Department of Public Safety said the man admitted to placing the sign.

The following day, however, a modified version of the photo appeared on a popular Facebook page, Blacktivist. The image was cropped, altered, and watermarked with a Blacktivist logo, and the #MAGA hashtag was digitally removed. Information that could be used to identify the house, such as the phone number for the property's leasing office, was cut out.

The Blacktivist page, which the Mueller indictment said was controlled by Russian entities, cast the significance of the photo in a different light, the Journal noted. The caption next to the photo made no mention of a hoax, instead portraying it as a racist act, the Journal reported.

And at a pro-immigration march on the steps of the Capitol building in Little Rock, Arkansas, a decade ago, community organizer Randi Romo saw a woman carrying a sign that read "no human being is illegal," the Journal reported.

She took a photograph and sent it to an activist group, which uploaded it to photo-sharing site Flickr.

Last August, the same image — digitally altered so the sign read "give me more free s**t — appeared on a Facebook page, Secured Borders, which called for the deportation of undocumented immigrants.

"We are living in the greatest era of information access," she told the Journal. "People will watch cat videos endlessly, but they won't take a minute to ascertain whether what they are being told is true or not."

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The misinformation campaigns of Russia-backed accounts relied on images that were doctored or taken out of context, according to studies, as The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
meddling, campaign, 2016, election
Thursday, 22 Feb 2018 10:25 PM
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