Citizens beware: Russia still meddling in U.S. politics
If you want to know whether Democrats will take back the House and/ or Senate in November, just ask Russia.
Or rather, ask the Russian trolls who have triumphed in disseminating real “fake news” to influence U.S. elections. They credibly did so in 2016. And, reportedly, they’re determined to make trouble again in the 2018 midterms.
In the meantime, Russian “bots” — applications that perform an automated task — were helping Trump once again by creating momentum for the Feb. 2 release of the so-called “Nunes memo,” the four-page brief from the House Intelligence Committee chairman alleging surveillance abuses by FBI investigators.
To do this, Russian operatives created a #ReleaseTheMemo campaign on Twitter, which quickly went viral and created a sense of urgency and import to the committee’s findings — at least those by Republican members. Trump refused to approve release of a Democratic rebuttal. Apparently, the latter was far more detailed and, according to the administration, could be harmful. Perhaps.
But, also, Trump likely wanted the Nunes memo released for its value in casting doubt on the FBI.
Thus far, the memo has succeeded only in damaging trust between the FBI and Congress, possibly hindering future sharing. As Senate Intelligence Committee member Angus King, I-Maine, pointed out Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” the Senate and House panels are the only watchdogs of U.S. intelligence agencies. If the FBI or the CIA refuses to share, “then nobody’s watching.”
The extent to which Russia’s cyberantics have manipulated American thought is of no small concern. But when nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults get at least some of their news from social media, the potential reach of bad actors is incalculable. Sixty-six percent of U.S. adults use Facebook, with 45 percent getting news on the site, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center study.
Only 18 percent rely on YouTube for news. Relatively few adults use Twitter — just 15 percent — but nearly all who do (74 percent) get their news from the little blue bird. Although its base is far smaller than Facebook, its viral capacity is incalculable. One need only think of the global reach of the #MeToo movement that spread in a matter of vir- tual nanoseconds.
Trump uses his account to advance his opinion, taunt his enemies, exact revenge and, strategically, to misinform. Sort of the way Russia does.
No wonder he admires Vladimir Putin, with whom he spoke by phone on Monday. What do you suppose they talk about? The “Russia investigation”? Hashtags for future mind-melding ops? Midterm elections?
Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, testifying Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned that Russia considers its efforts to disrupt the 2016 election a success and likely sees 2018 as another opportunity. While congressional leaders are hoping to pressure social media groups into becoming more responsible, the burden falls to citizens to become more discerning as news consumers.
Unfortunately, the minds of social-media users are likely becoming more malleable. Demographically, the largest increase in news users on social media has been among older, nonwhite, less-educated people, according to Pew. Except for the nonwhite part, this would seem a boon to the GOP, whose constituents, though whiter than the DNC’s, tend to be older and slightly less educated than Democrats.
Trump once exclaimed, “I love the poorly educated!” Doubtless, Russia does, too.
She writes for the Washington Post.