When officials from Facebook, Twitter, and Google were summoned to testify before Congress this week about Russian influence in last year’s presidential election, a number of revelations came out. Given the enormous amount of attention paid to that topic, most of us are, quite frankly, tired of hearing about it. But we must not tune out, and here’s why.
The most important thing to remember from this week’s testimony is that Russia actively sought to further sow division among Americans. The question is: Will we let them? If we turn a blind eye to all of this because we’re sick of it, the default answer is, “yes,” because we’ll be ignorant of their strategy and powerless to resist it.
Here are a few things that have come out, not only this week, but in the last month or so as well:
- Russia used social media in an attempt to undermine Donald Trump’s presidency.
- Russia sought to stoke further racial tension in America by creating “Blacktivist” Facebook groups.
- The Women’s March also promoted fake accounts set up by the Russians (unbeknownst to them).
- They used Instagram accounts to foment Native Americans’ opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.
- Muslims were targeted with anti-Muslim messages.
- Russians aimed at Americans, generally, to sow hate and division among religious, sexual identity, and political lines.
- Up to 15 percent of all Twitter accounts are bots .
The final point is an important one to note. It’s unknown how many of the bot accounts are from a foreign government, but we do know they spread disinformation, can cause hashtags to trend, and give entirely fabricated impressions as to the favorability (or unfavorability) of a position stated in a tweet based on Likes. During this week’s hearing, Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) noted:
I’m concerned that Twitter seems to be vastly underestimating the number of fake accounts and bots pushing disinformation.”
That’s a whole lotta disinformation targeted at all of us. Here’s the question: What are we going to do about it? It seems that most Americans’ response to nearly anything that is difficult in the news is to move on. Keep scrolling. Whatever.
But the Russians are very good at this type of thing and it’s commonplace for them to use these tactics. We ignore them at our peril.
In reality the main thing we need to do now that we’ve been made aware of it is to be vigilant and not fall for it anymore. Does a story or a group or a tweet seem a little too juicy? A little too good to be true? It probably is.
We all recognize the dangerous levels of hate and division in our country, and now we know at least part of its source. Isn’t hating someone for holding an opposing political view tiring? Let’s not play right into the Russians’ hands by weakening ourselves from the inside. (Are you marveling, like I am, that that’s a valid and relevant statement in a post-Cold War era?)
The Democrats are already threatening to regulate (that’s so unlike them, right?). It’s incumbent on citizens of a free society to be well-informed and involved if we wish to hold on to that freedom. As Thomas Jefferson said:
I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.”