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A foreign disinformation campaign is targeting Democrats ahead of 2020, report says

One image shows a blackface doll in Elizabeth Warren’s kitchen.

by Rex Santus
Feb 20 2019, 5:17pm

Democrats are already feeling the effects of information warfare in the 2020 cycle.

A calculated disinformation campaign is targeting the Twitter mentions of four prominent Democrats and 2020 contenders, and foreign actors are likely responsible for the attacks, according to a new report from Politico.

The four targets are Sens. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, all of whom are running for president, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, who's expected to run, the report said. The coordinated social-media attacks seem to exist to sow discord between Democrats by circulating fake images, with one example showing a blackface doll in Elizabeth Warren’s kitchen. Politico also reported that a tweet employed “racist and sexist stereotypes” to humiliate Harris, the most targeted of the four.

The analysis comes from Guardians.ai, a tech company that attempts to disrupt cyberattacks, which said that the cyber propaganda is targeting politicians on other platforms like Facebook as well. In total, Guardians.ai identified about 200 accounts that existed solely to attack Harris, Sanders, Warren, and O’Rourke. Specifically on Twitter, however, between 2 and 15 percent of all Twitter mentions for the four Democrats (altogether 6.8 million tweets) had a connection to the cluster of bots and accounts pushing propaganda since the beginning of 2019.

The researchers said that the social-media attacks have similar characteristics to the ones carried out against Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential and the Democratic National Committee.

“It looks like the 2020 presidential primary is going to be the next battleground to divide and confuse Americans,” Brett Horvath, a co-founder of Guardians.ai, told Politico. “As it relates to information warfare in the 2020 cycle, we’re not on the verge of it — we’re already in the third inning.”

Cover: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks at a Politics & Eggs campaign event, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)