In most third world societies, when people don’t like the results of an election, they take to the streets. In America, we take to the Internet.
But the end result is the same. The system is undermined because we do not like the results it yielded. Accusations of something unfair having happened are slung around, usually either unsupported by facts, based on faux “statistical anomalies,” or via a small data set that is blown up into something general to prove “the system is unfair/corrupt/wrong/inaccurate” to people who already believe that to be true but need talking points for their Facebook pages.
Of course a nice tag-along is if this can all be blamed on an outside third party. Dissatisfied people have little interest in blaming themselves, their flawed candidate, or acknowledging the strengths of the opponent among a large segment of voters. Nope, easier to blame someone else. For that, a person who has been molded into a one-word symbol of, well, everything and anything Americans fear, Putin.
And so a recent article in the Washington Post terrifies me. It is at a level of journalism that previously was reserved for conspiracy theories on Geocities’ style web sites. Here’s a selection from the article:
The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy.
Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery – including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts – echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers.
So: Clinton lost because Russia wanted Trump to win because Trump will favor Russia so Russia created fake news which influenced over 62 million Americans to overlook Trump’s flaws and vote for him. Got it.
Proof? Stuff on Facebook. Main source of that proof? A group of unknown origin, financing, and makeup (“an independent team of concerned American citizens”) called PropOrNot, i.e., propaganda or not. The group also “strongly suspects that some of the individuals involved have violated the Espionage Act, the Foreign Agent Registration Act, and other related laws.”
A second source quoted by the Washington Post is Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (which has been around in one form or another since the 1950s, dedicated to the Cold War), who says of the Russians “They want to essentially erode faith in the U.S. government or U.S. government interests.” Watts’s report on his work appeared on a blog this month as Trolling for Trump: How Russia Is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy. That piece claims without any real evidence at all that “Russia is actively trying to put Donald Trump in the White House… And the evidence is compelling.”
I encourage everyone to read some of the linked articles. This is seriously scary Cold War paranoia stuff.
And guess what? The ProporNot group has created a (black)list of websites that it claims are controlled/influenced by the Russians. While – dammit – this website in not included, I take some solace in noting that I have written for or been reprinted by 11 of them.
“They use our technologies and values against us to sow doubt,” said Robert Orttung, a George Washington University professor who studies Russia, quoted in the article.
And that sounds dangerously close to saying our First Amendment’s freedom of speech provisions seem to be the root of this threat to American democracy.
Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent. Reprinted from the his blog with permission.