Written by Aaron Mate via The Nation,

Far from being a sophisticated propaganda campaign, it was a small, amateurish campaign unrelated to the 2016 election …

The release of two reports commissioned by the Senate sparked a new wave of panic over Russia manipulating a vulnerable US audience on social media. The headlines warn that Russian trolls have tried to remove the African-American vote, promote Green Party candidate Jill Stein, recruit "assets", and "sow discord" or "hack the election of 2016" via sex-toy ads and Pokemon Go. "The studies," writes David Ignatius of The Washington Post, "Describe a sophisticated and multilevel Russian effort to use all available tools of our open society to create resentment, mistrust and social disorder," demonstrating that the Russians, "through the Internet … seem to be perfecting these obscure arts ". According to Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times"It seems more and more that" Russian disinformation "has changed the direction of American history" in the tight election of 2016, while "the Russian trolling could easily have made the difference".

Reports from Oxford University Research project on IT propaganda and the firm New knowledge, provides the most comprehensive look at Russian social media activity to date. With an abundance of data, diagrams, graphs and tables, coupled with in-depth qualitative analysis, the authors analyze the results of the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the Russian clickbait company. indicted by the special advocate Robert Muellerin February 2018. On each significant measure, it is difficult to match the data to the dramatic conclusions that have been drawn.

  • Content of the 2016 election: The most striking data point concerns the degree of minimization of the Russian social media activity in the 2016 campaign. The New Knowledge Report acknowledges that assessing the content of the IRA "only in according to the fact that it has definitely flipped the election is too narrow a goal "because the" explicitly political content accounted for a small percentage ". To be exact, only "11% of total content" attributed to IRA and 33% of user engagement "was tied to the elections. "IRA publications" were of very limited relevance to candidates, "with" about 6% of tweets, 18% of posts on Instagram and 7% of Facebook posts "having" mentioned Trump or Clinton by name ".

  • Ladder: The researchers say that "the magnitude of [the Russian] the operation was unprecedented ", but they base this conclusion on dubious figures and reiterate the widespread claim that Russian publications" would reach 126 million people on Facebook ", which is in fact an embodiment of Facebook's guess: "Our best estimate" Facebook's Colin Stretch testified before Congress in October 2017"Approximately 126 million people could have been served [IRA] between 2015 and 2017. According to Stretch, posts generated by suspected Russian accounts appearing in Facebook's news feed represented "about 23,000 content".

  • spending: The fact that the Russians have reached a large number of Americans has also hurt the fact that they have spent such a large sum of money to do it. Oxford estimates that the IRA's Facebook spend between 2015 and 2017 is only $ 73,711. As previously known, about $ 46,000 had been spent on Facebook advertising related to Russia before the 2016 elections. This represents about 0.05% of the $ 81 million spent on Facebook ads combined by the Clinton and Trump campaigns combined. A recent disclosure by Google the fact that Russia-related accounts spent $ 4,700 on platforms in 2016 only underscores how tiny these expenditures were. The researchers also claimed that the "manipulation of American political discourse by the IRA had a budget exceeding US $ 25 million". But this figure is based on a repeated error that makes a mistake IRA expenditures for US-related activities for overall global budget of its parent project, including the domestic activity of social media in Russia.

  • SophisticationAnother reason to doubt the sophistication of the operation can be found by simply looking at its offers. The most shared Facebook publication of the IRA before the election on Facebook was a caricature of a Yosemite Sam armed with firearms. On Instagram, the best image received request users to give a "J" love "s they believe in Jesus. The first IRA Facebook message before the election, mentioning Hillary Clinton, was a screech of conspiracy on electoral fraud. It is telling that those who are certain that Russian social media publications have had an impact on the 2016 elections never cite the publications that they believe have really helped to achieve this goal. The actual content of these messages could explain why.

  • Secret operation or clickbait? Far from exposing a sophisticated propaganda campaign, the reports provide more evidence that the Russians actually engaged in clickbait capitalism: targeting unique demographic groups such as African Americans or evangelicals in order to attract a wider audience. public for commercial purposes. Journalists who have presented the IRA have commonly described it as "a social media marketing campaign. The indictment against the IRA by Mueller revealed that he sold "promotions and advertisements" on his pages, generally between $ 25 and $ 50. "This strategy," observes Oxford, "is not an invention for foreign politics and intrigue, it is compatible with the techniques used in digital marketing." New Knowledge notes that the IRA has even sold goods that "may have provided a source of income to the IRA," hawking items such as t-shirts, "positive sex toys for LGBT and many variants of triptychs and 5-panel works depicting traditionally conservative patriotic themes.

  • "Asset Development": Lest we wonder how the promotion of sex toys could fit into a sophisticated influence campaign, New Knowledge's report says exploitation of "sexual behavior" was a key part of "expansive" human resource recruitment of the IRA in the United States. "Recruiting an asset by exploiting a personal vulnerability," says the report, "is a timeless espionage practice." The first example of this timeless espionage practice is: an ad featuring Jesusto console a young man shot down by saying: "Do you have a problem with addiction to masturbation? Contact me and we will beat all obstacles. It is unclear whether this tactic in particular has brought assets to the fold. But New Knowledge reports that there have been "some successes with many of these attempts at human activation." That's right: the IRA's online trolls apparently managed to trigger protests in 2016, like many in Florida, where "we do not know if anyone attended"; "No one has shown up to at least one" and "motley groups" to others, including the one where video clips were captured a crowd of eight people. The most successful effort seems to have been in Houston, where Russian trolls allegedly organized dueling meetings between a dozen white supremacists and dozens of counter-protesters outside of an Islamic center.

Based on all this data, we can paint a picture of the social media activity in Russia: it was mostly unrelated to the 2016 election; microscopic in scope, commitment and expense; and juvenile or absurd in its content. This leads to the inevitable conclusion, as the New Knowledge study acknowledges, that "the election-based operation was only a small subset" of its activity. They call this story "accurate" by saying that it "lacks nuance and deserves more contextualization". Alternatively, it may be worthwhile to think at least that a youth-centered social media operation is widely described as a seismic threat that may have decided the 2016 competition.

This leads us to conclusions that have nothing to do with the activity of social media in Russia, nor with the voters supposed to be influenced by it. Take the widespread assumption that Russian social media publications may have suppressed the black vote. That a Russian troll farm has sought to deceive a black audience and that other demographics are targeted on social networks is certainly despicable. But in criticizing this effort, there is no reason to assume that he succeeded – and yet that's exactly what the experts did. "When one considers the narrow margins by which [Donald Trump] won [Michigan and Wisconsin]and the low participation of minorities there, these efforts to repress Russian voters may have been decisive ", David Axelrod, former adviser Obama, commented. "The electoral participation of blacks decreased in 2016 for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election," the New York Times remarkably note"But it is impossible to determine if this was the result of the Russian campaign."

That it is even considered possible that the Russian campaign impacted the black vote displays a rather astonishing picture paternalism and condescension. Axelrod Time journalists, or one of the other floating a similarDoes the scenario accept a suggestion that their own votes could be subject to silly publications on social media unrelated to the elections? If not, what does it tell us about their attitudes towards the people who they think might be so vulnerable?

Entertaining the possibility that Russian social media publications have had an impact on the election outcome requires more than just a scornful view of average voters. It also requires the abandonment of basic standards of logic, probability and arithmetic. We now corroborate this judgment from an unlikely source. Just days after the publication of the New Knowledge Report, the New York Times reported that the company had achieved "a secret experience" during the Alabama Senate race in 2017. According to an internal document, New Knowledge used "a lot of [Russian] the tactics that have now been understood to have influenced the 2016 elections ", going so far as to organize an" elaborate fictitious operation "that promoted the idea that Republican candidate Roy Moore was supported by Russian robots. The fallout from the operation led Facebook to suspend the accounts of five people, including Jonathon Morgan, new CEO of Knowledge.

the Time reveals that the project had a budget of $ 100,000, but adds that it "was probably too small to have a significant effect on the race". A Democratic agent agrees, telling the president Time it was impossible for a $ 100,000 operation to have an impact.

The race in the Alabama Senate cost $ 51 million. If it was impossible for a New Knowledge operation of $ 100,000 to affect an election in the state of 2017, then how could a comparable Russian operation, or even cheaper, have an impact on $ 2.4 billion The US presidential election in 2016?

In addition to proven credulity, focusing on barely detectable and trivial social media content also minimizes the myriad of serious problems. As the journalist Ari Berman has tirelessly stressed, the 2016 election was "the first presidential contest in 50 years without the full protections of the [Voting Rights Act]", One of the two that was conducted in 1965." Instead of asking themselves if they were fooled by Russian clickbait, the reporters spoke Midwestern black voters found that political disillusionment with stagnant wages, high inequalities and ubiquitous police brutality leads a lot to stay at home.

And that may lead us to The main reason why the elites in particular are so obsessed with Russia's so-called threat of interference: it diverts attention from their own failures and failures of the system that confers them the status of "self-righteous". elite. During the campaign, Donald Trump was given to the institutional media billions of dollars of airtime because in the The lyrics of the CBS executive, The Moonves, now ousted: "It may not be good for America, but it's good for CBS …. Money comes in and it's fun. "Not wanting to interrupt entertainment, these outlets have every interest to cover breathtaking Russia and to amplify the comparisons between stolen emails from the Democratic Party and Russian publications on social media. pearl Harbor, 9/11, Kristallnacht, and "cruise missiles. "

After losing the presidential election to the benefit of a reality TV host, the leadership of the Democratic Party is arguably the most incentive to take advantage of Russian panic. They continue to oblige. Like clockwork, former Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook seized on new Senate studies to warnthat "the Russian agents will try to divide the Democrats again during the primary of 2020, thus making the accomplices unconscious accomplices". By "involuntary accomplices", Mook is likely to refer to the progressive democrats who protested the direction of the DNC collusion with the Clinton campaign and bias against Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary. Mook follows a now well-known Democratic game book: blaming Russia for the consequences of the party's elite acts. When a rumor broke out about the Trump Cambridge Analytica campaign's data society in early 2018, Hillary Clinton city pose what she nicknamed the "real question":" How did the Russians know how to target their messages with such precision to undecided voters in Wisconsin, Michigan or Pennsylvania? "

In reality, the Russians spent a grand total of $ 3,102 in these three states, with the majority of this derisory sum not even in the general elections but in the primaries, and most of the announcements did not even concern candidates but social issues. The total number of times that ads were targeted on Wisconsin (54), Michigan (36), and Pennsylvania (25) is below the 152 times that ads were targeted on the Blue State of New York . Wisconsin and Michigan are also two states that Clinton, infamous and dangerous, avoided visiting during the last months of the campaign.

The usefulness of Russia's baiting goes well beyond the absolute accountability of the elites to their own failures. Pirated documents have recently revealed that a UK government charity has conducted a global propaganda operation on behalf of "counter Russian misinformation. The project, known as the Integrity Initiative, is run by military intelligence officials and benefits from funding from the British Foreign Office and other government sources, including the US Department of Defense. US state and NATO. It works closely with "clusters" of friendly journalists and academics from the West and has already been made available to the media. a social media campaign against Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn. The group's Twitter account featured articles describing Corbyn as a "useful idiot" in the service of "the Kremlin cause"; criticized his director of communications, Seumas Milne, for his alleged "work with the Kremlin agenda"; "It's time for Corbyn's left to face his Putin problem."

The Corbyn camp is far from being the only progressive force to be targeted by this defamation tactic. The fact that it is revealed as part of a Western government backed operation is another reason to view fixation with Russian social media activity in a new light. There is no indication that misinformation spread by employees of a trolling farm in St. Petersburg has had a discernible impact on the US electorate. The tide of contrary claims is but one element of an infinitely larger chorus of failing political elites, sketchy private corporations, dark intelligence officials, and gullible media inculcating the Western public with fears of 'a disorder sown' by the Kremlin. Given that the prevailing alarm is dissociated from the actual facts – and the influence of those who fed it -, one may wonder what misinformation is most worthy of interest.