The EU parliament recently endured several weeks of being bombarded by tweets, calls, emails, and letters opposing Article 13 of the Copyright Directive, which would have forced major tech companies like Google to more tightly regulate copyright on their platforms. This "movement" was the result of a small group of anti-copyright ideologues from Vancouver, writes David Lowery.
Guest post by David C. Lowery of The Trichordist
Who Hacked the EU Copyright Directive Deliberations?
The EU parliament just went through a couple of contentious weeks in which they were overwhelmed with tweets, letters, emails and phone calls opposing Article 13 a section of the Copyright Directive that would have forced companies like Google to police their platforms better for copyright infringement. Last week we published a guest post by Volker Rieck in which he described in detail how a small group of anti-copyright ideologues apparently created a fake grassroots uprising against the EU copyright directive by essentially multiplying their numbers with bots.
Today I introduce you to the Google funded group that appears to have been behind virtually every single one of these fake grassroots political attacks. Including the #DeleteArt13 campaign.
Meet OpenMedia.org. What a wholesome looking bunch of progressive-ish political activists! They’re based in Vancouver BC. A friendly town. A clean, modern, Pacific rim high tech banking city. Very multicultural, sort of like Seattle except without the crazy drug addicts with super-human-Chinese-research-chemical strength swinging shopping carts over their heads. No Vancouver is a nice place to raise your children and start an astroturf group that supports the regressive interests of Silicon Valley cyber-libertarians.
OpenMedia.org counts Google as a “platinum supporter” whatever that means. Mozilla Foundation which receives $300 million annually from Google is another “platinum supporter.” Then there is the super weird and mysterious Private Internet Access. Ostensibly PIA (legal name London Trust Media) is a commercial VPN. But when you dig beneath the surface it’s ownership and corporate structure is to put it mildly opaque.
There are many other Google connections but one above all should be noted: board member Jacob Glick is the former head of the Public Policy and Government Relations for Google Canada. You think they still talk?
So what does OpenMedia do? They fight aggressively against any sort of regulation that would harm Google and Silicon Valley’s bottom line. SOPA, Net Neutrality, DMCA Takedown Staydown and the EU copyright directive.
But doesn’t Google have like a zillion academics, think tanks and astroturf groups already doing that for them? Yes. That is true. So what is so interesting about OpenMedia.org? It’s how they go about supporting Google and other silicon valley companies. They specialize in creating “grassroots” campaigns. Only these aren’t really grassroots campaigns. They are pure astroturf. Their campaigns make heavy use of automated tools that allow a single person to repeatedly spam targets with tweets, emails, robo-calls, robo-faxes and even automated letters! How do they do that?
Meet New/Mode Purveyors of the Finest Democracy Hacking Tools.
Meet NewMode.net. New/Mode is some kind of arms-length commercial subsidiary of OpenMedia.org. Which in turn is funded and directed at many levels by Google and Google associated groups. Not sure how non-profits work in Canada, but the ownership structure as described on their home page seems odd.
Here’s what they do. One-click calling. One-click email. One-click faxing. Fairly predictable. Storm social? hmm like the sock puppet tweet storm we saw directed at the MEPs last month? Letters to the editor? WTF? Automated letters to editors? (more on that in a minute).
Let’s look at one click calling. Pure clicktivist nonsense. I tested this out a while back. A user can put in any postal code. No one checks. I put in a postal code for a rural city in the northern plains of the US and I was connected to the office of someone who was not my congressman. I was scripted to behave as if I was a constituent.
Even better. If you stay on the line, the service keeps connecting you to additional “targets.” So one person can easily call 20-40 “targets” in an hour.
Democracy Hacking Tools in Action
During the #DeleteArticle13 campaign I was able to dial UK MEPs using New/Modes tool. Even though I was using a US phone number! NewMode and OpenMedia didn’t seem to care. Why should they? Any cybermob is a good mob right?
They helpfully gave me talking points. This is your democracy. This is your democracy on bots.
(Since I originally posted this piece I checked the calling feature again. It still works. Even with US number. See screenshot above)
Microtargeting a Tweet Storm
New/Mode isn’t just about spam email and robo-calling. They do so much more. Want a tweet storm? Just like the one directed at Euro MEPs on article 13? I wonder how all these sock puppet tweets were generated? They were coming out at about 3 to 5 a minute in the wee hours of the morning Brussels time. A lot of sleepless constituents! Is meth still popular in EU?
Oh look! Those aren’t sleepless constituents. New/Mode provides exactly the tool you need to create your own middle of the night tweet storm. No Meth required!
And New/Mode lets you target exactly who you want to target. Just direct the information warfare firehose at a single wavering MP somewhere. More effective.
As we reported in an earlier blog, we observed the “grassroots” tweet storm behaved as if someone was in command and control. The tweets focused on certain countries MEPs for long periods of this time, then suddenly shifted to a different country. This is not organic grassroots behavior.
Google Command and Control
Tweet storm targets were the same as those MEPs highlighted on the SaveYourInternet.eu website. SaveYourInternet.eu used the New/Mode web tools for tweets, email and robo calls.
SaveYourInternet.eu website is operated by Google’s lobbyist in Brussels N-Square. Get the picture? MEPs were cyber bullied by fake mobs under the command and control of a Google lobbyist. How is this even legal?
In the US command and control has been effectively run by Marvin Ammori via Fight For The Future. Fight for the Future employs the same New/Mode tools to mount it’s fake grassroots campaigns. Ammori is/was outside counsel to Google, and is currently associated with at least three other Google funded institutions including the Center for Internet and Society.
I Love the Smell of Hacked Democracy in the Morning: Past Targets
The US Federal Communications Commission was targeted by New/Mode tools last year:
The Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement was derailed largely due to disinformation spread with this Open Media New Mode enabled tool. Here is the OpenMedia.org “cloned” website that first deployed the tools:
Original opposition was based on intellectual property provisions, but Trump (and to a lesser extent Sanders) hijacked the movement and turned it into a jobs issue. (You see what happens Larry when you find a stranger in the Alps?)
In 2016 the US Copyright Office “consultation” was similarly bombed with identical comments using a similar tool.
Also 2014 a similar use of automated commenting tools targeted and crashed the FCC website. Freedom of Information requests later revealed that FCC staffers with close ties to Google helped the group that generated the bot comments post the comments anyway. See emails here
These are all DDoS attacks that seek to overwhelm the voices of real constituents by drowning them out with a flood of corporate sponsored spam. There is no other way to describe this other than a hack of the Democratic processes.
New/Mode also brags that it can create “clone” websites to make it appear as if there are a broad range of groups supporting the same action. In screenshot above they brag about creating 60 “cloned” environmental group websites in Canada to put pressure on the Trudeau government. While the end goal of this environmental campaign may be laudable, ends never justify means. Especially if it means you hand Canadian democracy over to astroturf groups controlled by Silicon Valley interests. Maybe Canada’s federal government in Ottawa ought to have a look at what’s going on all the way down at the other end of the country in Vancouver. Seems sketchy to me.
And it is Fake Grassroots
As we have noted repeatedly on the Trichordist, when Google funded/directed astroturf groups that use the New/Mode tools then try to turn their cyber-brownshirts into boots on the ground very few (if any) people show up.
In 2016 Fight For The Future launched a campaign against the US Copyright Office consultations on copyright reform. Fight or the Future claimed to have crashed the Regulations.gov website with New/Mode tool. (Is this something to brag about?) Fight for the Future claimed it was because tens of thousands of folks responded to their online campaign and overwhelmed the regulations.gov portal to comment on US Copyright Office consultations. At the same time Fight For The Future organized a rally. However only 4 people showed up to protest in person. Judging by signs all four were pro-copyright. Apparently they showed up to oppose the non-existent Fight For The Future protestors. Doesn’t make sense. A group that can get tens of thousands of folks to leave comments on wonky federal regulations but they can’t get anyone show up for a protest?
Similarly there are only 37 individuals in the photo of the “huge” white house rally to keep title two net neutrality at FCC. This was also organized by Fight For The Future. So the online campaign generated millions of comments, emails and phone calls and 37 people show up to protest at the White House? This does not pass the smell test.
Over in Europe reports indicate something similar happened. The biggest #DeleteArt13 rally in Berlin had less than 150 participants. Where are all the millions of folks who sent tweets, emails and phone calls to EU parliamentarians?
The simplest explanation is that most of the online protestors don’t really exist.
Fake, fake fake. Pure fakery.
It Gets Worse: New/Mode Hacks Print Media
But forget the EU and Canada for now. The thing that stopped me in my tracks was this tool that allows a small team of individuals to write a “letter to the editor” to every local newspaper in the US.
Clearly these folks at Open Media know that they are up to no good. “Randomize subject lines and content to deliver an original authentic story to editors.” This is pure shillery. No I take that back. This is pure fuckery. And they are fucking with our democracy at a very local level. Turns out Canadians aren’t nice at all.
They even bragged about it and linked to robo letters that were published in small town newspapers. What is wrong with these people?
Hack Me? HACK YOU!
Just to demonstrate how fucked up this is, I repurposed the Net Neutrality letter to the editor. I replaced their text with my own and sent the following letter to every small town newspaper in Oregon. It took maybe five minutes? The joke in the letter is that Sen Ron Wyden of Oregon has proposed a bill to prevent hacking of federal elections by mandating paper ballots. The problem is that Wyden clearly does not have a clue as to how our democracies will be hacked. Our democracies will be hacked by hybrid information warfare techniques. NOT ballot tampering. The creation of fake grassroot movements and disinformation is what will kill our democracy. OpenMedia.org and New/Mode are already deploying the tools that will kill our democracy. But given the fact Wyden is sometimes referred to as “The Senator from Google” don’t expect him to do anything about it. (Also Google and Oregon? See here)
Oh and Krist Novoselic is the former bass player of Nirvana. And he does have political aspirations. See his book
Can’t be any worse than Senator Ron “Hedge Fund In My Basement” Wyden.