Back in the 1950s, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev boasted that “We will bury you.” Vladimir Putin figured out that if he just gave us the right tools, we’d bury ourselves.
A spate of news stories explores how Russian misinformation (fake news) combined with Americans’ own rage and with our addiction to social media to affect the 2016 election. One article demolishes the myth that Democrats are way ahead on social media and that the Trump campaign was clueless online.
The New York Times reported (“How Russia Harvested American Rage to Reshape U.S. Politics”):
“…one of the most powerful weapons that Russian agents used to reshape American politics was the anger, passion and misinformation that real Americans were broadcasting across social media platforms.”
The Guardian (“How Russia used social media to divide Americans”) said:
“What has now been made clear is that Russian trolls and automated bots not only promoted explicitly pro-Donald Trump messaging, but also used social media to sow social divisions in America by stoking disagreement and division around a plethora of controversial topics such as immigration and Islamophobia.”
Black members of Congress have their own beef (“Black Lawmakers Hold a Particular Grievance With Facebook: Racial Exploitation”):
“As black activists tried last year to focus attention on police brutality, unfair treatment before the law, inequality and white supremacy, social media giants like Facebook were being commandeered by Russian intelligence agents to turn white voters against them.”
The most sweeping article ran in The Atlantic (“What Facebook Did to American Democracy – And why it was so hard to see it coming”). Alexis C. Madrigal pulls together all the threads about Facebook’s electoral impact, including the Russian role, and adds a new one:
“Before Trump’s election, the impact of internet technology generally and Facebook specifically was seen as favoring Democrats….Democrats were light-years ahead of Republicans when it came to digital strategy and tactics, and Republicans had serious work to do on the technology front if they ever hoped to win back the White House….
“University of North Carolina journalism professor Daniel Kreiss wrote a whole (good) book, ‘Prototype Politics,’ showing that Democrats had an incredible personnel advantage….”
Not so fast. As it turns out, the Trump campaign had a digital front. And it was, in every sense of the word, dark.
“The Trump campaign was working to suppress ‘idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans’…with targeted, ‘dark’ Facebook ads. These ads are only visible to the buyer, the ad recipients, and Facebook. No one who hasn’t been targeted by then can see them. How was anyone supposed to know what was going on, when the key campaign terrain was literally invisible to outside observers?”
Steve Bannon, for one, “was confident in the operation,” saying, “I wouldn’t have come aboard, even for Trump, if I hadn’t known they were building this massive Facebook and data engine. Facebook is what propelled Breitbart to a massive audience. We know its power.”
“The truth is that while many reporters knew some things that were going on on Facebook, no one knew everything that was going on on Facebook, not even Facebook. And so, during the most significant shift in the technology of politics since the television, the first draft of history is filled with undecipherable whorls and empty pages. Meanwhile, the 2018 midterms loom.”