CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - As if we need any help making our political discourse more cynical, and angry. The idea of Facebook and other social media platforms were to bring us together. Instead, they’re driving us apart.
It’s one thing to mix it up on local talk radio. When you listen to Mike Trivisonno afternoons on WTAM Newsradio you can at least be confident you’re listening to local people with real opinions no matter how angry they might make you.
“It’s the right against the left and letting them debate it becomes interesting talk radio,” Trivisonno said.
It’s a much different story, however, on Facebook and other social media sites where many of us turn these days to indulge our need to let everyone know just how we really feel about Washington, President Trump, Democrats, and Republicans.
A Cleveland 19 News investigation has uncovered, in many cases the person who’s raising your blood pressure online, even on our own Cleveland 19 News Facebook page, with their sometimes nasty political posts may not be the actual living, breathing human being you think they are.
“It’s a chat bot. it’s difficult to decipher today what’s real and what’s not real,” said Jeremy Samide of the cyber security firm Stealthcare.
For example, A recent post on the Cleveland 19 News Facebook page just after the government shutdown.
“Look at all you crying leftists. Keep Crying. It’s great!” Dave recently commented responding to comments criticizing President Trump.
But here’s the interesting thing about Dave. Click on his profile and you see Dave lives in Moldova. That’s in Eastern Europe. His profile claims he’s from Bunker Hill, West Virginia. The problem with that. According to our public record search, there’s no record of a Dave with that last name from Bunker Hill, which might explain why his Facebook profile shows he has no friends.
Jeremy Samide is the CEO Stealthcare and says “The fact he lives in Moldova and he’s from West Virginia is somewhat of a red flag. Posting to a local Cleveland CBS affiliate regarding his political sentiments. So that raises flags as to who this person is.”
It raises red flags with some of own followers too. Jennifer responding to Dave “Look at all the Russian troll accounts working overtime.”
We found more. Posts by people who don’t live in Cleveland or Ohio. Don’t follow CBS 19, and don’t exist according to our search of public records.
We asked Samide can he tell if the posts were written by real people. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Are they simple comments or more complex comments? Sometimes you’ll see spelling errors or text to speech,” Samide said.
The CIA, NSA, FBI say Russian interference in our politics wasn’t a one off in 2016. It’s continuing as we head into the next Presidential election. But now, it’s not limited to placing fake news stories on Facebook, which Samide’s sophisticated technology can trace.
“It looks like it’s coming from a Fox affiliate, but they actually have Russian extensions on them,” Samide said as he examines data using his company’s platform.
It’s Russians pretending to be Americans posting to our own local social media sites
“All that starts with the whole trolling of media outlets and the content they put out to counter act that with chat bots of fake identities of fake people who maybe have two followers who would respond to something in the media would put out in order to incite public opinion or influence it in a specific way,” Samide said.
Professor Andrew Geronimo, of Case Western School of Law says there might not be anything illegal about it. “I don’t believe they’re breaking any laws,” Geronimo says.
We asked Geronimo “So let’s say Victor in St. Petersburg has created a system where he’s deploying bots to leave comments on domestic U.S. media Facebook pages that inflame public opinion. Is Victor in St. Petersburg doing anything wrong?”
Geronimo responded, “I don’t think there would be any liability in the U.S. for something like that.”
Facebook and other social media sites have been under intense pressure from Congress to do something. But not legal pressure. Why?
“The ways the laws are set up Facebook or a private actor on Facebook with its own Facebook page is intended to have the ability to moderate its own content,” says Geronimo.
Just this month Facebook announced it removed 783 fake pages tied to Iran. And others from Russia.
But Jeremy Samide said the bad guys are just as quick and agile as the efforts to stop them.
“So, it’s like taking a drug dealer off the street. There are plenty more to take their place,” Samide said.
As for Facebook. We repeatedly reached out to the social media giant for comment. But didn’t even get an automated response from a bot pretending to be a real person at Facebook.