News & Politics

CNN's 'Information Warfare Expert' Duped by Twitter Bot Pushing Dubious MAGA Hat Teen Vid

CNN reports that Twitter account @2020fight, one of the primary outlets pushing the dubiously edited video of the encounter between the Covington Catholic High School students and Native American activist Nathan Phillips this past weekend, has been shut down for being a suspected bot account.

The account, which opened in December 2016, posted virulently anti-Trump and pro-Obama content. CNN reported that Twitter is unsure of where the account user is located. The Covington video that the account shared received more than 2.5 million views before the account was closed. The video has been widely criticized for presenting a deceptively decontextualized depiction of the incident.

Bizarrely, to provide commentary on the role of bot accounts in shaping trending topics, CNN chose to cite highly controversial, self-styled “information warfare expert” Molly McKew. Yet McKew herself had tweeted out the bot account’s video with her own highly inflammatory commentary.

In other words, she fell for information warfare while claiming to be an expert in the topic.

McKew is a former Podesta Group “specialist” and the CEO of Fianna Strategies. Up until the election of Donald Trump, she served as a registered foreign agent for opposition parties in Georgia and Moldova.

Having lost her foreign clients after the 2016 election, she has since refashioned herself as a Russian disinformation expert and a go-to source for media on Trump-Russia conspiracy theories. McKew has even testified before a congressional committee.

Yet like an amateur, she was just duped by a Twitter bot on a politically charged incident.

Here’s what she had to say to CNN:

Molly McKew, an information warfare researcher who saw the tweet and shared it herself on Saturday, said she later realized that a network of anonymous accounts were working to amplify the video.

First, here’s her tweet sharing the Twitter bot’s video:

We now know from extensive video of the incident that the description of the event by the Twitter bot — that the boys were bothering Nathan Phillips — is exactly the opposite of what occurred.

Second, McKew has provided no evidence for her statement that the bot tweet was being further amplified by a network of anonymous accounts. Note that McKew’s own tweet amplifying the video received 2,500 retweets and more than 7,400 likes.

After her initial outburst, and unwilling to wait for further facts on the incident, McKew continued her diatribe against the Catholic school group:

McKew then compared the group to a completely unrelated school group which took a group photo giving the Nazi salute last year.

How could McKew explain away having been so obviously played by a Twitter bot, when she herself claims expertise on this very topic? She explained to CNN:

Speaking about the nature of fake accounts on social media, McKew told CNN Business, “This is the new landscape: where bad actors monitor us and appropriate content that fits their needs. They know how to get it where they need to go so it amplifies naturally. And at this point, we are all conditioned to react and engage or deny in specific ways. And we all did.”

Point in fact, we are not all conditioned to react and engage in specific ways. Nor did we all do so in this instance, as she claims. But she did.

McKew’s rapid transformation from registered foreign agent to “information warfare expert,” and the perhaps undeserved media elevation she’s received, has been noted by her critics. They have also noticed her lack of actual credentials when it comes to information warfare.

In her published articles and in her tweets, McKew expounds a vision of vast Russian interference in American affairs. She darkly hints at our president being under the undue influence, whether wittingly or unwittingly, of Russian propaganda.

As for Western journalists and academics who are actual experts on Russian affairs and doctrine who don’t share her Red Scare worldview?

As she hinted during a Q&A session following her September 2017 Helsinki Commission testimony: They’re likely Russian pawns.

In the September/October 2017 edition of Politico Magazine, McKew elaborated on the “Gerasimov Doctrine,” named after the current chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia. She warns that it is a “vision of total warfare” that maximizes information operations supported by military/kinetic operations.

The problem is that such a thing doesn’t exist.

Even the expert who coined the term, Mark Galeotti of the Institute of International Relations Prague, has publicly apologized for the phrase because of its misuse and highly partisan application.

Galeotti has been critical of McKew’s use of the phrase:

Given these embarrassing failures, it’s no surprise that McKew is lecturing on these very topics at Georgetown University this term:

As McKew has proved, Red Scare grifting is good business. And getting owned by the very bots you are constantly warning about is not a detriment to accolades from the foreign policy “Smart Set,” or being sought out for comment by the media.

If history has taught us anything, it’s the ease with which you can be blinded by and become the very thing you hate.