I’ve been writing this blog about a year and if you’ve been following along you know that I moderate all comments to be certain they are civil in nature. So far I’ve not rejected a single uncivil comment!
In recent months another good reason to moderate the comments has emerged; I get about ten spam comments each day generated by some computer program, and I’m really glad those don’t get posted automatically. Here is what’s interesting: In my unofficial estimate about 30% of these comments from non-subscribers are written in Russian, so somebody (or some bot) in Russia is trying to post comments to my blog.
This made me start paying closer attention to the accusation that Russia manipulated social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, in an attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election. As with many news stories these days I assumed this one was exaggerated by the media.
I don’t think it was.
Twitter has now admitted that upwards of 50,000 fake accounts were created by Russians to post automated content, and about 3,800 of those accounts were traced back directly to Russian state operatives. Tweets would, for example, attack Hillary Clinton’s performance during the debates. Some of these fake tweets were then re-tweeted by Trump campaign folks such as Kellyanne Conway and Donald Trump, Jr. who assumed they were legitimate.
Russians also created fake Facebook accounts that spread political propaganda, and they did so in such a way it appeared the post was being shared by real voters, especially in swing states that would determine the final outcome of the election. This political activity was verified by cybersecurity experts at George Washington University.
Here is one example:
Pretty subtle, huh?
Here is another post that received 13,000 Facebook “likes”:
Other fake Facebook posts did not specifically support a candidate but apparently were intended to further divide the American public.
And yes, a few even attacked Donald Trump, again presumably attempting to divide the country.
Click here to see a few other examples of fake posts traced to Russia.
In prepared testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last fall Facebook executives said that approximately 126 million American Facebook subscribers viewed Russian-generated content. Elliot Schrage, one of Facebook’s vice presidents, said “Most of the ads appear to focus on divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum, touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights,”
It appears that the Russian accounts were primarily supportive of Donald Trump’s bid for the Whitehouse but were also aimed at ultimately harming America’s already fractured society.
And using social media was not the only strategy employed by the Russians. As far back as October of 2016 the United States Intelligence Community accepted the conclusion that Russian operatives had hacked email accounts and stolen emails, later released by WikiLeaks and others, and that the theft was intended to influence and disrupt the American election. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded that it had “high confidence” that the hacked emails were shared with WikiLeaks and other organizations by Russia and that “Moscow will apply lessons learned from its campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts in the United States and worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes”.
On Monday of this week Mike Pompeo, President Trump’s CIA Director, said he believes Russia will again try to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections.
There is no way to determine whether Russia’s activities actually influenced the outcome of the 2016 election. As I’ve said before both presidential candidates in that election were deeply flawed. But likelihood of success should not matter. What should matter is that another nation is doing everything it can to influence our democratic processes.
Russia is America’s most dangerous enemy and our number one adversary on the world stage. It is possibly the number one threat to our security, so why is this issue seemingly on the back burner? Well, there is another Russian probe under way (I’ll write about it in another post) that has sort of diverted America’s attention, and I can also think of countless other issues that have led us to focus elsewhere. Examples: North Korea, accusations that President Trump paid a porn star to keep quiet about an affair, constant diversionary Tweets by our President, Charlottesville, moving the American embassy in Israel, DACA, the tax overhaul bill, hurricane damage to Puerto Rico, reports of the President’s disparaging comments regarding poor countries, the Paris climate accords, firing James Comey, firing Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Anthony Scaramucci, repealing Obamacare, Roy Moore, stalled infrastructure legislation, our President attacking his own appointees, the wall (not to be confused with Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”), attacks on the free press, the stock market, attacks on football players, controversy over President Trump’s frequent vacations and golf games (at his own resorts), attacks on our own intelligence community, repealing environmental policies, and much more.
It’s just hard to focus on our enemy’s attempt to control elections, but we should.