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Yes Virginia, it was and is the Russians

January 9, 2017 - blog -

from a minnow among the sharks.

Over the last week, I’ve been completing year end traffic reports for my clients. Some are maintained monthly by me, some are not. In my career, I’ve built and or maintained over 75 websites. Not bad for a little fish – but in the overall scheme of things, it’s a really really really big pond.

While creating these year end reports, I noticed that almost all of my sites have Russian based spam/ghosts in the traffic. This isn’t unusual. The images in this article are related to three sites that I’m connected to. Of these images, one is from a site (one of two – with the same code) that was hacked the day after the election. You can see, prior to the election, the amount of traffic from Russia based on this map. This is a ridiculous amount of traffic for a site that is related to a local organization that doesn’t not sell anything and is of little interest to anyone outside of the five state area.

russia-1In cleaning up this hack I found a lot of other designers dealing with the same problem. New Code added to files that are loaded on every page view. Some of this code ended with “Vote for Trump.” All of it is considered malware, and a bitch to get rid of. (think: flesh eating staph)

spam1As you can see in this PDF, most sites get a lot of spam referral traffic. The image show above is the “description” of #99 in the pdf. Usually someone benefits from these referrals. Whether it’s to increase hits, redirect you to an affiliate website, get a commission for sales/clicks, get your email address, OR just a means to get the site owner or webmaster to “google” or “follow” a link to try to find out who the referrer is. This then results in a visit to the referring site – which probably contains malware, fake news or other undesirable material. This ghost traffic also benefits the referral site by increasing their traffic and then raising them in the search rankings, making it more likely that a google search for “pizzagate” will bring the false/fake news site up higher in the rankings, and as a side effect increase the “legitimacy” of the site contents to searchers. Garbage in, garbage out.

“REFERRAL SITE: When someone clicks on a hyperlink to go to a new page on a different website, Analytics tracks the click as a referral visit to the second site. The originating site is called a “referrer” because it refers traffic from one place to the next.” NOTE: The “clicker” may never end up going to that site, but data reads that they do, and it counts as a hit/visit.

russia2
Does your site have referral / spam traffic? YES. Will it “hurt” your site? Probably not. Has your site been hacked? I don’t know. Is that bad for your site? YES.

Show Your Work
Did hacking effect the 2016 election? Of course it did. The DNC leaked material and the concern that there was more to come was more than enough to lose 90,000 votes. Why the Access Hollywood tape didn’t have the same affect is beyond my minnow sized brain. But what about spam/ghost and referral traffic? Did that influence voters? I think so and here is why.

Okay, we all know I suck at math, but I’m going to try. I have 75 sites, three were hacked in October and early November: less than 1%, all had referral traffic from Russia. If you do the math there were 231,556,622 possible voters. Out of these, 138,884,643 people voted: 60%. Additionally, you have the 90,000,000 non-voters: 38%. You also have non top ticket voters, like former President Bush and his wife, but I can’t find that number.

So basically, in three key states the vote margin was 90,000 that is less than .0003% of the people who could have or did vote. Even less if take into consideration that Harambe the Gorilla got 11,000 votes. Is it reasonable that .0003% Americans followed a link that lead them to fake news, inaccurate reporting or other spam that influenced their votes? Did they judge the accuracy of what they were reading based on the number of hits it had, the number of times it was retweeted? Did they trust the source of the tweet, Facebook or fake google, as legitimate without considering if the content originally started from a malicious source or from someone who was trying to influence the election or make a profit?

Now I know that a lot of people will say…but IF California wasn’t a state (but it is) or if Gary Johnson dropped out (which he should have, but mostly because he’s not a bright guy) that would have changed things. And that’s true, but it doesn’t answer the question of whether Russia influenced American voters with their hacked and leaked material, spam, fake news and trolls. Because if they did only .0003% of voters were needed to change who is going to be running things starting January 20.

I find it disconcerting that people will believe the Pope endorsed Mr. Trump (he didn’t) but not believe that a foreign power meddled in our business. Or why people believed that Ms. Clinton paid protesters (she didn’t), or my favorite that “Tens of thousands of fraudulent ballots, apparently marked for Hillary Clinton, had been found in a warehouse in Ohio” this was shared with over 6 million people! When you consider that all of these “news” items were forwarded/liked and retweeted millions of times, that 90,000 votes doesn’t sound like very many does it.

Look, I’m no expert, just a little fish, but I’ve seen enough to know, that we’ve been had. Whatever your political leaning, take the time to find out where you are really getting your news. Because cats can’t drive, Elvis really is dead and there is a reason The National Enquirer has never won a Pulitzer.

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