Why America is especially vulnerable to Russian trolls
Jenna Abrams was a Twitter natural, said Ben Collins on The Daily Beast. After setting up her account in 2014, she amassed nearly 70,000 followers with her no-nonsense, often funny observations on topics ranging from Kim Kardashian’s naked selfie to feminism. Her tweets went viral and were picked up by lots of mainstream media outlets, including The Daily Telegraph, which featured one of her jokes about punctuation. To start with, she largely avoided politics, but in the run-up to last year’s presidential election, she began pushing very divisive views on contentious issues such as the Confederate flag, segregation and the Black Lives Matter movement. And now we know why. Congressional investigators working with US social media companies have confirmed that Jenna Abrams, the freewheeling American blogger, never existed. Her account was the creation of employees at a Russian government-funded “troll farm” in St Petersburg.
This is just one example of a much wider disinformation campaign by Moscow, said Mark Joseph Stern on Slate. Last week, the House Intelligence Committee released some of the roughly 3,000 political ads put out by a single troll farm linked to the Russian government between 2015 and 2017. What’s “astonishing” about these ads, which reached millions of Americans on social media, is “how closely they mimic actual conservative propaganda” – by demonising Hillary Clinton as a putative enabler of creeping Sharia and stirring up fears of an influx of violent Hispanic “illegals”. They show that, as early as 2015, the Kremlin “had not only identified the burgeoning Trump base; it had learned how to exploit its paranoias and prejudices with near surgical precision”.
Critics have attacked Russia for its meddling, and blamed Silicon Valley for facilitating it, said Emily Parker in The New York Times, but no one forced Americans to believe these lies or to spread them. Alas, the US is particularly susceptible to these tactics, said Stephen Marche in The New Yorker. Similar efforts by Russian trolls to influence recent elections in France, Germany and Canada failed to get anywhere because those countries possess, “in every meaning of the phrase, common sense”. America doesn’t have the same shared sense of reality. Its “ancient faith in self-determination” holds that “everyone is entitled to his or her own vision of the universe”. This guiding principle is the source of the country’s dynamism and capacity for reinvention, but also, alas, of its “gullibility”.