By Matt Taibbi / Racket
Hamilton 68 responded to a #TwitterFiles thread Friday with a series of claims, including that their site was always intended to be understood as “nuanced,” that they always maintained that “witting or unwitting” accounts could be on their list, and that “some accounts we track are automated bots, some are trolls, and some are real users.”
They could also have inserted the disclaimer added to the new Hamilton 2.0 page, which as a helpful reader noted this morning, includes in red font a blaring warning to all that it would INCORRECT to label anyone or anything that appears on their dashboard “as being connected to state-backed propaganda”:
Thank heaven for the Wayback Machine. Here’s what was written on the original Hamilton page:
These accounts were selected for their relationship to Russian-sponsored influence and disinformation campaigns, and not because of any domestic political content.
We have monitored these datasets for months in order to verify their relevance to Russian disinformation programs targeting the United States.
…this will provide a resource for journalists to appropriately identify Russian-sponsored information campaigns.
High on that original page, the Hamilton founders explained they monitored two types of accounts:
There are two components to the dashboard featured here.
The first section, “Overt Promotion of Content,” highlights trending content from Twitter accounts for media outlets known to be controlled by the Russian government.
The second section, “Content Tweeted by Bots and Trolls,” highlights themes being pushed by Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence campaigns.
The Hamilton list tracked overt Russian media on the one hand, and “bots and trolls” on the other. Note the difference between that language and the language Friday: “Some accounts we track are automated bots, some are trolls, and some are real users.” That Hamilton Friday was also trying to distance itself from headlines about “bots” is particularly grotesque, given that it was so overt in identifying the composition of its list this way at the start.
Finally I want to note a passage from the Friday “fact sheet” I somehow overlooked:
Individual accounts were algorithmically selected based on analytic techniques developed by J.M. Berger that were used to identify the most influential accounts within those networks. The Hamilton 68 team did not individually review or verify all accounts because the focus of the dashboard was to analyze behavior in aggregate networks, not specific accounts.
Translating: individual accounts were chosen through a method developed by J.M. Berger, a writer and think-tanker whose usual specialty is extremism (he’s written about ISIS and domestic white nationalism in the U.S.). Still, it wasn’t even Berger’s fault that ordinary Americans ended up in the list, since said people were chosen “algorithmically.” The Hamilton 68 team also “did not individually review or verify” all the names, because their “focus” was “aggregate networks,” not “specific accounts.”
So, nobody looked at the list.
The list that was “the fruit of more than three years of observation and monitoring.”’