It is a theme of the 2016 presidential election that will not go away: Russia’s ability — and perhaps with great success — to influence how Americans voted.
Far-fetched? No way a foreign power could flip enough minds (and therefore votes) to ensure a victory for one candidate and a defeat of another?
As you determine your answer, consider the Columbia Journalism Review’s examination of the sophisticated propaganda machine at the disposal of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Mainstream journalists have seen their worlds turned upside down by the realization that 75 percent of news consumers can’t tell a fake news story from a real one. Putin, meanwhile, seems to have understood the gullibility of news consumers all along. US media and intelligence agencies are only now beginning to grapple with the consequences of Russia’s misinformation campaign.
And lest you think Putin is satisfied with whatever role he might have played in Trump’s victory, read the next sentence from the same CJR article:
…the same Russian trolls, bots, and state-run websites that promoted anti-Hillary, pro-Trump propaganda have set their sites on upcoming European elections.
There is a critical point here: No U.S. voting machine was hacked during the election, meaning no actual votes were turned into Trump votes. But the propaganda influenced enough people to believe Trump was the best candidate for America without telling them that the Kremlin believed he also was the best candidate for Russia.
A separate CJR report suggests that while this idea that an outside power could affect how Americans voted might seem evil, it would be deemed impressive if America had been the benefactor.
These changes are part of a more subtle and efficient strategy referred to as “shaping the narrative.” The Russians discovered it was enough to inject a drop of poison into the information bloodstream and let biology do its work. For example, says Khomenov, a news report might contain true facts alongside a false one. Other news reports might have true facts but false conclusions.
They’ve also pioneered new, computerized ways to pollute the information ecosystem. The Russians were among the earliest to massively scale up and deploy trolls and bots, Potemkin communities of fake users that support or oppose various positions.
Finally, as you notice your hate for Russia increasing, just remember one very important point: The CIA has been influencing elections — and often successfully — around the world for decades. The medicine is bitter because we ingested it; millions of people around the world long ago had.