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Jigsaw, the public service company owned by the parent company of Google, purchased a commercial social media trolling service to study its actions last year, Wired reports.

Why it matters: The campaign, which Jigsaw had conducted in Russia around the least consequential issue they could find, netted some interesting results. But it also raises a question of the ethics of purchasing such a campaign.

Details: The Jigsaw campaign centered on a decades-old Russian debate about whether Joseph Stalin was a hero or an embarrassment.

  • Jigsaw first set up a legitimate looking website called "Down With Stalin," then hired the firm SEOTweet to run a disinformation campaign to discredit the site.
  • SEOTweet offered to take down the site using fraudulent complaints for $500. Jigsaw chose a cheaper option, a 2-week disinformation campaign for $250.
  • The campaign resulted in 730 tweets from 25 different accounts, and 100 forum posts.
  • SEOTweet, "without any guidance from Jigsaw," appeared to assume the campaign was really about Russian politics. Many of the tweets took a pro-Putin stand.

The fallout: The campaign was deliberately small. But the optics of even a small campaign could have consequences, both in terms of U.S.-Russian relations and Russian national politics.

  • Ultimately, this was a U.S. firm interfering in Russia's affairs, something the U.S. claims to be against.

Meanwhile, Twitter released a summary of inauthentic account removals Thursday, including nearly 5,000 accounts from Iran, 4 from Russia and 33 from Venezuela. Perhaps most unexpected, Twitter downed 130 accounts from the Catalan independence movement in Spain.

Go deeper: Russian trolls shift tactics

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Large coronavirus outbreaks leading to high death rates — Coronavirus cases are at an all-time high ahead of Election Day — U.S. tops 88,000 COVID-19 cases, setting new single-day record.
  2. Politics: States beg for Warp Speed billions.
  3. World: Taiwan reaches a record 200 days with no local coronavirus cases.
  4. 🎧Podcast: The vaccine race turns toward nationalism.

Technical glitch in Facebook's ad tools creates political firestorm

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: SOPA Images / Contributor

Facebook said late Thursday that a mix of "technical problems" and confusion among advertisers around its new political ad ban rules caused issues affecting ad campaigns of both parties.

Why it matters: A report out Thursday morning suggested the ad tools were causing campaign ads, even those that adhered to Facebook's new rules, to be paused. Very quickly, political campaigners began asserting the tech giant was enforcing policies in a way that was biased against their campaigns.

3 hours ago - Health

States beg for Warp Speed billions

A COVID-19 drive-thru testing center yesterday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. Photo: David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP

Operation Warp Speed has an Achilles' heel: States need billions to distribute vaccines — and many say they don't have the cash.

Why it matters: The first emergency use authorization could come as soon as next month, but vaccines require funding for workers, shipping and handling, and for reserving spaces for vaccination sites.