Just ask journalist Anne Applebaum how effective they can be. Her op-ed that originally appeared in the Washington Post was re-printed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
In my case, it didn’t matter, because nobody I know cared about the stories. But during the U.S. election campaign, with millions and millions of bots at work, hundreds of fake stories in circulation and many volunteers joining the troll factories and botnets, maybe Kremlin-generated lies and Kremlin-created echo chambers did make a difference.
The same techniques were at work as in my case: take a “truth” revealed in a hacked email, twist it into a scandal, pass it on via fake-news sites, troll factories and botnets, and see whether it sticks.
The Russians understood the power of such networks to fool people before anybody else. They also understood that the global information space, accessible to all, offered a cheap way for an impoverished ex-superpower to meddle in other countries’ politics.
But of course there was nothing to stop others from using the same techniques. Mr. Trump clearly did so, and the Russian propaganda state assisted him.