This week I downloaded the Mueller Report and began reading it voraciously. And though I am far from finished reading it word from oft-redacted word, I was immediately shocked by the sheer degree of Russian interference in our democracy and in our election. In particular when it came to social media meddling, the Report demonstrates how our often divided and dysfunctional approach to communicating with each other on such platforms played right into red hands.
We already knew that, beginning in 2014, Russian hacking specialists began a very coordinated and comprehensive offensive on the American people – initially through Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and later on Tumblr and Instagram. The report provides even more comprehensive and disturbing details. Utilizing bogus accounts and groups to espouse pro-Republican, anti-Democratic sentiments, these accounts also, amazingly, encouraged followers to hold support rallies – which many did, posting photos of the events and, in one case, garnering a retweeted thank you from our then future president.
The degree of the foreign deception in this form was unprecedented. Facebook estimates that Russia spent $100,000 to post some 3,500 online ads. Overall, hacker posts on this platform numbered 80,000, reaching at least 29 million persons and perhaps as many as 126 million. On Twitter, U.S. law enforcement officials discovered and the Mueller Report details, nearly 4,000 fake accounts were found. In just the ten weeks leading up to the 2016 election, these accounts posted nearly 180,000 tweets to 1.4 million Americans. As alarming, these tweets were retweeted by top members of the future administration and many of its family members, as well as by conservative media at its most prominent, including Sean Hannity.
Influence an electorate? More than likely and at the very core of what the Mueller Report set out to determine from the beginning. And today, while some still focus on collusion or no collusion by the administration, we are missing the point and distracted, in turn once again playing right into the hands of a foreign adversary. As social media consumers, we were duped – in many ways becoming complicit by blindly and emotionally sharing and retweeting content without checking sources and because we simply agreed with the “author’s” sentiments. Up to the very top, we have to admit and acknowledge that. If not, history has a way of repeating itself. And the 2020 election is but a year and 1/2 away.