October 16, 2017

CNN's Chris Cuomo introduced Yahoo News correspondent Michael Isikoff, who broke the story that Russian trolls were forced to watch "House of Cards" to learn about American politics.

Isikoff said an independent Russian TV station tracked the source down, a man identified as Maksim.

"What's interesting about him is, he was part of the English language department of the Internet Research Agency," he said.

"Now, that's the same St. Petersburg troll farm that has been suspected or believed to have placed those Facebook ads, the 3,000 ads, $100,000, that Facebook just recently disclosed that it discovered was on its platform. And the English language department was the sort of elite section of the Internet Research Agency.

"They were more polished, more studied. They spent -- what really leaps out is how meticulous their operations were. Maksim talks about how they -- you know, every comma was reviewed by his bosses to make sure it was in the right place, so it sounded like an American posting by Americans. primarily what he was doing was placing comments on the websites of major news organizations. The Washington Post, and others."

Then Isikoff showed that he really doesn't understand online media. He said he didn't know how many people actually read the comments, and he's skeptical about the potential impact.

"But it is interesting the lengths to which they went to try to post these comments, disguising themselves as Americans," he said. "They were not allowed -- they were chastised if they were ever found to have used a Russian IP address in placing the comments. It has to be done through VPNs, virtual private networks, to conceal where these were coming from. question."

Cuomo wanted to know their motivation, and why House of Cards.

"First of all, much of what he is saying is totally consistent with what the U.S. intelligence community has said was the purpose of the Russian meddling campaign, to denigrate hillary clinton. He talks here about how -- to place comments along the lines of, aren't you tired of the Clintons, haven't we had enough of them, talk about the Clintons' wealth, talk about her private e-mail server. All the criticisms that Hillary Clinton was getting during the last election. but the House of Cards element is new. we hadn't heard that before," Isikoff said.

"And, you know, in some ways, the vision of American politics on House of Cards probably more closely resembles Russian politics than American politics. We don't have evidence of major american politicians ordering the assassinations of political foes or journalists, which we do have in russia. so, you know, that part of it -- you know, the Russians may have -- you know, may have been a sort of weird projecting on their part. But also, House of Cards, although it's a caricature, does ring true to American audience. That's why it was so popular for many years.

Cuomo said he doesn't watch the show the same way he used to, because reality is now more absurd than fiction.

Isikoff in some respects, the Russian operations was "more sophisticated than we might have imagined. You know, the meticulous nature of the way Maksim, the troll, describes what he was instructed to do, how he was instructed to do it. you know, does -- you know, does seem pretty elaborate."

He said we still don't know what impact these efforts have had.

"I tell my colleagues, especially younger ones, not to bother reading comments on the web. they're often inane. They go off in wild directions and frankly it's a waste of time. So one can say a lot of what these trolls were doing was going off into empty cyberspace without much impact at all. So, you know, there's still a lot of questions, how much influence this really had at the end of the day."

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