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Warning: ‘Quit Facebook’ profile pics also planted by Russia


Beware of funny dog videos on Facebook with Russian architecture in the background.


Mark Rutledge

Saturday, March 24, 2018

How in the world did the Russians use funny dog videos to influence America’s presidential election? Fifty million Facebook users want to know.

The big story last week was that Facebook lost control of personal data belonging to 50 million Americans — information apparently used nefariously by “data harvesters” to influence the 2016 election.

Some members of Congress want answers. With two Facebook accounts — one personal and another for promoting this weekly column — I have questions, too.

I would feel terrible if it were revealed that content from silly columns like this one had been used to sway the election. Might Russian “bots” — automated have turned one of my columns into “fake news,” helping to elect Donald Trump?


So exactly how does an unprincipled data-mining operation determine which Facebook dwellers are susceptible to its evil influence? To find out, I went underground searching for data harvesters, only to learn they are hiding in plain sight.

Nefarious collectors of Facebook data, I was told by a trusted political operative, prefer working in the shadows of public computers. My friend arranged a meeting with a veteran data digger who calls himself, “Anton Vodkanovich.”

I found him toiling away in the lobby of a Best Western, where he was posing as a traveling compressed-air salesman.

(Note to hotel desk clerks: If a man with dark sunglasses and a Russian accent offers to blow the dust from the complimentary computers, politely decline.)

A veteran picker of juicy data, “Vodkanovich” used my personal profile page to illustrate his malicious technique for harvesting the fruits of previous plantings. He did not have to scroll far to locate a comment I left on a post titled, “Kill Fire Ants Using Club Soda.”

“Here it is,” he giggled. “You typed, ‘I will try this for sure!’”

The story about killing fire ants without harming pets or grass was not true. It was cultivated by “Son of Smirnoff’s” bosses.

“So I commented. So what?” I asked.

“Fire ants do not even exist in East Tennessee,” he laughed.

“I know that,” I insisted. “I meant that I would try it in eastern North Carolina, where I previously lived among millions of fire ants.”

“Go ahead!” our Boris Badenov wannabe exclaimed. “Soda water will not drown even one fire ant, much less destroy an entire colony!”

Scrolling onward, he soon landed at another perniciously planted post: The inspirational story of how Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” served in Vietnam as a Navy SEAL before going into children’s television.

“Who knew?” I had commented.

“Leonid” really got a kick out of that one.

“Even in Siberia it is known Mister Rogers was not in military,” he howled.

I was afraid “Svedka’s brother” was about to tell me that my personal hero, Don Knotts — Deputy Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show” — never performed brain surgery in his spare time, licensed as “Dr. Ernest T. Pendyke.” So I left.

This Facebook shakeup has me shaken, but logging off for good seems extreme. Maybe we should all just relax and play one of those Facebook-hosted social network games until this whole thing blows over.

I’m fairly certain there are no fire ants living in the farming simulation game, “Farmville.” But if old man Krupnik’s boy plants a colony, it will not stand a chance against club soda.

Contact Mark Rutledge at mrutledge@reflector.com or like him on Facebook (if you dare) at Mark Rutledge Columns.