/* */ Rosa Rubicondior: US Christians Targeted by Eastern European Troll Farms

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

US Christians Targeted by Eastern European Troll Farms

White Evangelical Christians at the Capitol, 6 Jan, 2021
Targets of Eastern European troll farms.
Troll farms reached 140 million Americans a month on Facebook before 2020 election | MIT Technology Review

According to an internal Facebook report, leaked by a former employee to MIT Technology Review, in the run-up to the 2020 elections in the USA, Christians were amongst those specially targeted by Eastern European troll farms intent on interfering with the elections, to the extent that 19 of the 20 most popular Christian groups on Facebook were run by these troll farms.

The report found that, after the 2016 election, Facebook:
…"failed to prioritize fundamental changes to how its platform promotes and distributes information. The company instead pursued a whack-a-mole strategy that involved monitoring and quashing the activity of bad actors when they engaged in political discourse, and adding some guardrails that prevented “the worst of the worst.”
But this approach did little to control the basic failure and troll farms were able to coordinate their efforts to build massive social media networks and target provocative content to some 140 million US Facebook users per month, not because they had subscribed to these groups but because Facebooks content-recommendation algorithm was pushing the content into their news feeds.

The report also found that the troll farms were reaching the same demographic as those targeted by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency (IRA) during the 2016 election, which had targeted Christians, Black Americans, and Native Americans.

According to MIT Technology Review, the main revelations in the leaked report were:
  • As of October 2019, around 15,000 Facebook pages with a majority US audience were being run out of Kosovo and Macedonia, known bad actors during the 2016 election.
  • Collectively, those troll-farm pages—which the report treats as a single page for comparison purposes—reached 140 million US users monthly and 360 million global users weekly. Walmart’s page reached the second-largest US audience at 100 million.
  • The troll farm pages also combined to form:
    • the largest Christian American page on Facebook, 20 times larger than the next largest—reaching 75 million US users monthly, 95% of whom had never followed any of the pages.
    • the largest African-American page on Facebook, three times larger than the next largest—reaching 30 million US users monthly, 85% of whom had never followed any of the pages.
    • the second-largest Native American page on Facebook, reaching 400,000 users monthly, 90% of whom had never followed any of the pages. the fifth-largest women’s page on Facebook, reaching 60 million US users monthly, 90% of whom had never followed any of the pages.
  • Troll farms primarily affect the US but also target the UK, Australia, India, and Central and South American countries.
  • Facebook has conducted multiple studies confirming that content more likely to receive user engagement (likes, comments, and shares) is more likely of a type known to be bad. Still, the company has continued to rank content in user’s newsfeeds according to what will receive the highest engagement.
  • Facebook forbids pages from posting content merely copied and pasted from other parts of the platform but does not enforce the policy against known bad actors. This makes it easy for foreign actors who do not speak the local language to post entirely copied content and still reach a massive audience. At one point, as many as 40% of page views on US pages went to those featuring primarily unoriginal content or material of limited originality.
  • Troll farms previously made their way into Facebook’s Instant Articles and Ad Breaks partnership programs, which are designed to help news organizations and other publishers monetize their articles and videos. At one point, thanks to a lack of basic quality checks, as many as 60% of Instant Article reads were going to content that had been plagiarized from elsewhere. This made it easy for troll farms to mix in unnoticed, and even receive payments from Facebook.
It's easy to understand why African-American and Native Americans would be targeted by agencies seeking to capitalise on their discontent as the underclass in American society, and thus vulnerable to anti-establishment propaganda, but why Christians, which were massively targeted?

The answer is probably to be found in the desire for martyrdom than seems to pervade even the moderate forms of Christianity in the USA but which is especially prevalent in the fundamentalist, evangelical churches, as evidenced by the paranoia of pastors like Greg Locke of Global Vision Bible Church, Tennessee, Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church of Central City, Louisiana, Shane Vaughn, co-founder of First Harvest Ministries in Waveland, Mississippi, Mat Staver, of Liberty Counsel and a long list of other covidiot fundamentalist preachers who feed their followers with disinformation, claiming the coronavirus pandemic is an anti-Christian hoax intended to close churches.

It's also easy to see how people conditioned to believe the absurd and to accept cult-think without question would also be seen as ideal targets for the kind of subtle propaganda these professional disinformation groups wish to spread. By posting deliberately provocative disinformation which appeals to the often semi-literate and uneducated members of these fundamentalist cults with their desire for martyrdom as persecuted minorities and insular world view, the troll farms ensure they get retweeted and discussed endlessly and favourably, all the while expanding their reach, until lies gain the status of endlessly cited, established fact, even being cited in support of changes in legislation.

In short, the same characteristics that make fundamentalist Christians vulnerable to scamvangelists and Trumpanzee disinformation, also makes them ideal targets for sinister agencies looking to undermine democracy and promote division and paranoia. Fundamentalist Christianity simply fulfils its historical role of shepherding the flock and preparing the lambs for the slaughter.

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