Disinformation

Follow-up: hearings on the digital threat to US veterans

We don’t just follow stories, we follow up. Here, our journalist Katia Patin checks in with US Iraq Veteran Kristofer Goldsmith, who is fighting foreign disinformation affecting veterans. 

As White House watchers tuned into the latest impeachment proceedings this week, I was watching a live stream from a different hearing called Hijacking Our Heroes: Exploiting Veterans Through Disinformation on Social Media. In the room was Kristofer Goldsmith, an 34-year-old Iraq veteran, who I interviewed for my recent reporting about how veterans, U.S. servicemen and their families are systematically targeted on social media. Goldsmith was testifying before the House Committee on Veteran Affairs on November 13 alongside Twitter’s Public Policy Manager Kevin Kane, and the Head of Security Policy at Facebook, Nathaniel Gleicher.

For more than two years Goldsmith, a full-time student at Columbia University and a vocal advocate for veterans, has been calling on social media companies and U.S. government agencies to address the targeting of vets online. In his research he discovered an entire ecosystem of foreign actors microtargeting veterans in order to influence elections and destabilize democracy. The combined following of the pages he reported to Facebook was over 24 million users. 

From the two tech giant representatives, a series of all-too-familiar non-answers were the order of the day: I heard versions of “I’ll have to get back to you with that,” and “we have a clear policy for that” (which never turned out to be all that clear). Goldsmith said he sympathizes with the companies who have to “balance security and every good thing about the platforms.” His goal now is to “keep the momentum up” and get the attention of other committees in the House and Senate.

Goldsmith also urged congressmen to require Veterans Affairs and other government agencies to “shield veterans” from online threats and make cyber hygiene a “critical aspect of veterans’ overall health needs in the 21st Century.”

The last time I spoke to Goldsmith I asked him about his plans for the upcoming Veterans Day weekend. Goldsmith told me he was using the day to finish writing his congressional testimony. He had no plans to participate in any parades. “I’m more than tired of marching,” he said. “ I’m not going to be doing that.”

This is a story I’ll continue tracking: be sure to stay on the story with us and follow along here @katia_patin

Katerina Patin

Katerina Patin is a multimedia producer at Coda Story.

Get in touch via [email protected]

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