Twitter Files 15: Russian disinfo service fueling media reports was ‘a scam’

by Jacob Fuller

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News

Journalist Matt Taibbi, the journalist best associated with aiding Twitter in its monthslong self-report, revealed last week that Twitter knew a service that numerous online media outlets relied upon to identify Russian propaganda, disinformation, and meddling was among the least reliable sources on the internet. However, the social media giant opted to do little to expose the truth.

As is the custom for journalists posting “Twitter files” report, Taibbi shared his article via a lengthy string of tweets.

“Move over, Jayson Blair: Twitter Files expose next great media fraud,” Taibbi’s all-caps headline reads.

At issue was “Hamilton 68,” a service that, its owners claimed, had cracked the code on tracking Russian disinformation bots.

“It was a scam,” Taibbi wrote. “Instead of tracking how ‘Russia’ influenced American attitudes, Hamilton 68 simply collected a handful of mostly real, mostly American accounts, and described their organic conversations as Russian scheming.”

Hamilton 68, it turns out, was the creation of former FBI special agent and MSNBC contributor Clint Watts. The service was meant to be a “dashboard” operated under the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a think-tank founded in 2017.

The alliance boasts an advisory council that includes numerous Clinton- and Obama-era intelligence and diplomatic figures as well as former conservative commentator Bill Kristol.

“Hamilton 68 was the source for stories claiming Russian bots pushed terms like ‘deep state’ or hashtags like #FireMcMaster, #SchumerShutdown, #WalkAway, #ReleaseTheMemo, #AlabamaSenateRace, and #ParklandShooting, among many others,” Taibbi wrote.

The “dashboard” drew its authority by claiming to have compiled a list of 600 accounts that were influenced by Russia. It was a list the service never made public.

And if the previous two sentences sound familiar, it’s because claiming to possess a secret-though-authoritative list of Russian sympathizers is how the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy drummed up the Red Scare of the 1940s and 50s.

Owing to Hamilton 68’s immense popularity among media outlets, Twitter appears to have looked into how the dashboard was making its determinations.

According to Taibbi, Twitter employees used Hamilton 68’s activity on the site to work out the 600 accounts to which the service so often pointed.

In a series of internal Twitter messages shared by Taibbi, employees observed “These accounts are neither strongly Russian nor strongly bots” and that there was “No evidence to support the statement that the dashboard is a finger on the pulse of Russian information ops.”

“In layman’s terms, the Hamilton 68 barely had any Russians,” Taibbi wrote. “In fact, apart from a few RT accounts, it’s mostly full of ordinary Americans, Canadians, and British.”

And a choice group of misidentified Russians the group turns out to have been. Among the people tabbed by Hamilton 68 as Russian bots were a Chicago attorney who wrote a book about the Constitution, a woman who survived a civil war in Lebanon, and conservative media figure and former Marine David Michael Lynch.

The people on Hamilton 68’s list never knew they were being tracked nor were they given the chance to defend themselves from the charge of being in league with Russia.

“Organizations like Hamilton 68 are in business to enforce an official narrative, which means excising inconvenient facts, which they call ‘misinformation,’” author Joe Lauria, another unknowing member of the list, told Taibbi.

Perhaps most galling, the left-leaning media never questioned the veracity of Hamilton 68’s claims and the service wound up being treated as authoritative.

Indeed, Taibbi found that not only did media outlets cite Hamilton 68 in countless articles, the service was the “fact” on which many of the “fact checks” that dominated the online news space were based in the run-up to the 2020 election.

“These stories raised fears in the population, and most insidious of all, were used to smear people like Tulsi Gabbard as foreign ‘assets,’ and drum up sympathy for political causes like Joe Biden’s campaign by describing critics as Russian-aligned,” Taibbi reported.

Twitter, which has been the butt of most of the stories penned as part of the Twitter Files, had the opportunity to be altruistic and even-handed in its handling of Hamilton 68.

Yoel Roth, the oft-lambasted former head of Twitter Trust and Safety, was a strong voice in favor of outing Hamilton 68, writing “My recommendation at this stage is an ultimatum: you release the list or we do.”

Instead, the company talked its way into going along to get along with the well-placed think tank behind Hamilton 68.

It’s a strange decision made far less complicated when one takes into account the political leanings of Twitter and the fact that two of the leading voices in favor of not revealing Hamilton 68’s sources were Carlos Munje and Emily Horne, both of whom went on to work for the Biden administration.

The Alliance for Securing Democracy now boasts the “Hamilton 2.0 Dashboard,” which the group’s website says “provides a summary analysis of the narratives and topics promoted by Russian, Chinese, and Iranian government officials and state-funded media on Twitter, YouTube, state-sponsored news websites, and via official press releases and transcripts published by their respective ministries of foreign affairs.”