- A draft report seen by The Washington Post shows how effectively Russia twisted Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to influence the right voters and achieve its reported goal — the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.
- The goldmine of posts and comments provided by the big tech firms for the Senate allowed researchers the first major data dive into responses to Russian influence and is “the most sweeping analysis yet of Russia’s disinformation campaign” The Post reported on Sunday.
The Washington Post reported that it has seen the very first deep data analysis that covers post-by-post the social media behaviors across the known Russian accounts for a period spanning several years until the middle of 2017 when they were effectively unmasked.
It is the first study of the millions of posts provided by major technology firms to the Senate Intelligence Committee, and it provides a new window into the many ways that Russia grasped the power of social media, built their understanding of it, and then manipulated it for the political purposes to help elect Donald Trump president.
According to The Post, citing the Senate-bound report co-authored by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and network analysis firm Graphika, the soon-to-be president was most often glowingly mentioned in campaigns that energized conservatives and right-wing voters, while left-wing grioups were confused, infuriated and deflated.
“What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party — and specifically Donald Trump,” the report stated. “(While) the main groups that could challenge Trump were then provided messaging that sought to confuse, distract and ultimately discourage members from voting.”
But how did they do it?
“The Russians aimed particular energy at activating conservatives on issues such as gun rights and immigration, while sapping the political clout of left-leaning African American voters by undermining their faith in elections and spreading misleading information about how to vote,” The Post reported.
Sifting through the data, researchers were struck by evidence of sloppiness on the part of the Russians — so much so that they thought the Russians probably should have been found out early on in their campaign.
These slip-ups included included buying ads with Russian rubles and leaving Russian phone numbers for contact information.
The report reveals both a little history and strategy:
- They started out on Twitter, then added YouTube and Instagram before finally diving into Facebook, the report said.
- A Twitter campaign targeting the US began as early as 2013, but it appears the Internet Research Agency (IRA) got the hang of it around 12 months later when the mission sprang to life and grew annually as the ideas spread with more demographic accuracy via better targeted platforms.
- Facebook was particularly effective — 99% of all likes, shares and other social media reactions came from only 20 pages with names including “Heart of Texas” and “Blacktivist.”
- On Instagram, the Russians ran 133 accounts on the photo-sharing tool owned by Facebook, dividing and agitating based on “race, ethnicity or other forms of personal identity,” the report concluded.
- The Russians’ fake “Black Matters US” account had followers across the social media map, from YouTube to Tumblr to PayPal, and by linking them up, they created a snowballing influence that even spilled out into the real world, agitating across sites for donations, organizing real-world political rallies, and funneling all the online traffic to its Russia-controlled home site.
- The use of YouTube, like the other platforms, appears to have grown after Trump’s election victory. Twitter links to YouTube videos grew by 84% in the six months after the election, the report claims.
- IRA operatives created Google ads that made statements like “Cops kill black kids. Are you sure that your son won’t be the next?” to sow fear, discord and division while promoting the “BlackMatters US” site. The sister Twitter account, meanwhile, ranted about Facebook “supporting white supremacy” for shutting its page down.
- The Russian Facebook campaign reached 126 million people on Facebook and 20 million more on Instagram, Congress has been told by company officials. Russian Instagram posts generated 185 million likes and 4 million user comments.
While the report touches on the role played by YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, and Instagram, owned by Facebook, in the Russian campaign, for the first time it sheds further light on where Google+, Tumblr and Pinterest fit into the plan, not to mention the email accounts of Yahoo, Microsoft’s Hotmail and Google’s Gmail.
Perhaps the most damning insight from the report, which The Post says will be released to the public later this week, is the difficulties researchers said they faced in accessing the tech giants’ data.
The authors noted the “belated and uncoordinated response” to the disinformation campaign. They criticized the companies for not sharing more data faster and finally urged the companies in the future to be a little more “meaningful and constructive.”
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.