Two reports prepared for the Senate on Russian disinformation unfold a now-indisputable narrative: The Kremlin engaged in a coordinated campaign to elevate Donald Trump to the presidency, and this country’s technology companies were central to its strategy.
The Russia operation is staggering in its scale, precision and deceptiveness. Pages generated by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency elicited nearly 40 million likes and more than 30 million shares on Facebook alone, reeling in susceptible users with provocative advertisements and then giving them propaganda to spread far and wide. The aim was not to toss the country into tumult, but to put the preferred candidate of a foreign adversary in the Oval Office. All the while, Americans were entirely unaware of what was happening: What seemed like local Black Lives Matter activists were actually Russian trolls well-versed in the buzzwords of social justice. Ostensible patriots for Second Amendment rights were broadcasting from St. Petersburg.
Republicans have protested over the past year that election interference is neither unusual nor important. This week’s reports comprehensively put both arguments to rest. Russia waged an unprecedented campaign, targeting Americans across all segments of society, on platforms large and small. The studies do not even cover the entirety of Russia’s online tampering: The hack-and-leak operation that led to the release of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s private emails, orchestrated by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, was another crucial salvo in a pro-Trump onslaught. [Continue reading…]