Putin’s Plot: The Divided States of America
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, pundits were quick to claim Vladimir Putin helped elect Donald Trump. “Russia: The ‘cloud’ over the Trump White House,” proclaimed the BBC.
The truth, however, is much more sinister. As we begin to get a complete picture of Russian involvement in last year’s election, it is becoming clear: the Russians were playing both sides.
Their goal was not to elect Trump, but to make America, and now potentially other nations, turn inwards by fostering political infighting.
In fact, in what has perhaps become almost routine after every major event over the last 12 months, online Russian propagandists quickly got involved. This was seen after Charlottesville and now after Nevada.
In the case of Charlottesville, The Alliance for Securing Democracy, a project under the German Marshall Fund that tracks efforts to undermine democratic governments, found a collection of 600 Twitter accounts known to be linked to Russian influence, including openly pro-Russian users, accounts that take part in Russian disinformation campaigns and automated bot accounts that parrot Russian messaging.
They found these accounts busy at work in the days after Charlottesville, most frequenly using hashtags such as “#PhoenixRally,” “#Antifa,” and “#MAGA.”
Furthermore, just days ago, VICE found a likely Russian run Antifa account after the user forgot to turn geotagging off in their post.
And, in the case of the most deadly mass shooting in US history, which took place last night in Nevada, an ANTIFA group in Australia claimed responsibility for the shooting. Likely a victim of the same Russian hacks.
Real Money, Real Ads
Outside of a frightening media army, these accounts’ use of money could be the most frightening. Spending money on ads directly allows propaganda to reach citizens everywhere they go, without fear of being fact-checked.
Last month, following an internal review, Facebook revealed it had discovered 450 Russian accounts that spent about $100,000 on ads pertaining to divisive issues during the U.S. presidential campaign.
Facebook now plans to turn over more than 3,000 Russia-linked ads to congressional investigators Monday, according to a Facebook official.