The Twitter Files – manufacturing misinformation

The latest tranche of Twitter Files revelations focuses on a tool extensively used by the media as proof of coordinated Russian disinformation campaigns.

As anyone who read our summary of all the Twitter Files reporting thus far will have noted, the journalistic opportunity offered by Elon Musk, following his acquisition of Twitter, was most enthusiastically taken up by independent reporter Matt Taibbi. It is he who has provided the latest scoop, this time focused on an online ‘dashboard’ that positioned itself as a tool to track Russian disinformation on Twitter.

The dashboard was named ‘Hamilton 68’ after a US Founding Father who warned of foreign influence in the country’s electoral process. The first version of Hamilton 68 was available in 2017-2018 and, Taibbi shows, was the source of multiple news reports claiming clandestine Russian shenanigans in all sorts of things.

But the content moderation team at Twitter understandably decided to investigate this dashboard itself and was able to use its own tools to reverse engineer the list of 600 or so accounts Hamilton 68 used as the basis for its claims. Internal discussions revealed in this reporting show Twitter concluded there was little evidence of most of the list being either Russian or bot accounts.

Taibbi says he reached out to the people behind Hamilton 68 (the Alliance for Securing Democracy) before publishing but got no response. However, after soon after publication the ASD published a ‘fact sheet’ claiming to debunk false or misleading claims about the dashboard. Taibbi responded to that fact sheet with a counter of his own on his website.

It seems Taibbi and the ASD are going to have to agree to differ on the claims made about the original version of the dashboard, which has since evolved to version 2.0. But, thanks to the Wayback Machine, those original claims can be examined by anyone keen to get to the bottom of the matter. Some of those supposedly misleading claims also seem to be supported by historical on-the-record comments from ASD representatives, while some media smelt a rat even then.

The vast majority of the media, however, seemed content to take Hamilton 68 at face value and use it as the sole basis for reporting claims of Russian Twitter meddling as fact. The previous Twitter Files reporting painted a picture of clandestine state censorship on an epic scale but his latest chapter takes the story towards the active creation of false narratives, apparently to inflate the problem of Russian interference in the public conversation.

In 1988 the book ‘Manufacturing Consent’ was published, which analysed how state propaganda can be disseminated through the mass media. The internet, especially in the form of social media, massively distributed the public conversation, much to the alarm of those who seek to control it. This has given rise to vague, subjective terms like ‘misinformation’, which are liberally used to soft-censor, but as this latest iteration of the Twitter Files shows, the ubiquity of misinformation renders the term meaningless.


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