The words themselves cover a range of predictable far-right topics, like “Milo” (Yiannopoulos, an “alt-right” internet celebrity) and “Warren” (as in Senator Elizabeth Warren), to seemingly innocuous words like “hybrid,” “division,” and “norm.” The fact that these words had high novelty scores in each community at the same time strongly suggests that the sentences were written by a single author, or a group of authors working from a shared messaging playbook.
Isn’t this conclusion a stretch? If, instead of a shared messaging playbook, the authors had a shared ideology and overlapping social media circles, couldn’t we see this arise organically? If we consider that the communities have some demographic differences (for instance, the average age in each community), we don’t expect all novel words to be shared across all communities, but could we not expect some subset of novel words to be shared across all communities?
Evidence of a massive, coordinated disinformation campaign, possibly connected with the Russian government, continues to mount. As described at length in the Intelligence Community Assessment made public in January, the campaign was intended to influence the political landscape, undermine social ties, and increase ideological polarization and distrust. Understanding this campaign and the impact it continues to have on US, British, and European politics is crucial to safeguarding our democracy.
This is an unfortunate reality when you have free speech and democracy within a setting of inequity. Some groups have the ability to influence democracy more than other groups. Some groups have the ability to sidestep democracy altogether, generally by leveraging their money to buy direct influence within the various institutions of government.
It’s alarmist and probably a red-herring to get mad at “the Russians” (whoever that is) for any of this, when the table was perfectly set for ths sort of influence campaign by our own government. Consider the following data from Pew:
It appears the Vietnam War eviscerated the public’s trust in the federal government, and it never recovered. What goodwill was built up under the Reagan years was eradicated by the Gulf War, and the surge in government trust during the Clinton years got wiped out by the brazen and overt lies surrounding the Iraq War, and now we sit at an all-time low, with no sign of things turning around. It is ironic that we discuss Russia’s Twitter bot influence tactics, when it’s America’s own bomb-dropping influence tactics abroad that seem to erode trust the most.
Given this utter lack of public trust in the government, it isn’t surprising, then, that an army of barely-literate sockpuppets and simplistic, repetitive bots could influence the American election so heavily. The question to ask, of course, is how did we get to this point in the first place?
The Russians aren’t the first to try to influence the American elections. The American oligarchy (and its international allies) has been doing this for years and, in a sense, American elections have long been little more than propaganda and psychological warfare. Notable events in the recent history of the rise of the oligarchic machine were the 1979 amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act, and, of course, Citizens United. With legislation like this, it deeply entrenches an oligarchy that has been overwriting the democratic process in the United States for decades. If you want to talk Deep State, there’s your Deep State.
Americans have always been at least somewhat aware of the disproportionate influence wielded by the wealthy, but it has become glaringly overt as the years pass, as more information has bubbled to the surface demonstrating just how corrupt the American political system is, from top to bottom, across all departments of every branch. So, again, how could we possibly expect American citizens to stand firm against absurd propaganda when they know very well their own government has been screwing them over for decades? It’s not illogical to think of Clinton as “crooked Hillary” if she’s part of a system in which virtually everyone is crooked.
Until we demand our elected officials be principled instead of corrupt, we have little hope of stopping the oligarchic entity du jour from influencing our elections and hijacking our government, be it Putin, the Koch brothers, or whoever else. Our government will not gain the trust of its citizens by dropping bombs on Syrians, accepting corporate campaign contributions, making backroom deals with wealthy entities abroad, or by further enriching the elite and, until the government does gain the trust of its own citizens, they will be influenced by the changing wind when it comes to votes.