The Post reports on Facebook’s discovery of coordinated activity from phony accounts aimed to influence our election:
The disclosure — the first admission of coordinated disinformation on Facebook that could affect the November election — is a sign that manipulation continues to be an active problem for Facebook and its billions of users, even after the company has spent heavily to prevent it.
Yet both Facebook and disinformation operators have become more savvy in the last year, since the company trickled out information about the [Internet Research Agency] activity. Facebook, which detected the most recent pages through manual investigations, artificial intelligence and leads from law enforcement, has taken a more aggressive approach to rooting out and disclosing political abuse.
While not definitive, the activity seems to point back to the Kremlin. (“One of the most popular pages had links to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the Kremlin-backed organization of Russian operatives that flooded Facebook with disinformation around the 2016 election, Facebook said. Yet the operators of the newly banned pages, whom Facebook said it was not in a position to identify, were more clever about covering their tracks. Lawmakers and experts were quick to attribute the activity to Russia.”)
President Trump has been utterly delinquent in protecting our election system from and rebuking Russia for its skullduggery. “This shows Russian interference hasn’t stopped. Why would it? The Trump administration has done nothing to deter Putin from attacking us again,” observes Max Bergmann, head of the Moscow Project at the Center for American Progress. “President Trump’s weak response compounded by his pathetic fealty toward Putin in Helsinki has given Russia a green light to continue and possibly escalate its interference operations.” Bergmann offers a keen insight: “The Russians aren’t the cause of our divisions; but they are trying to inflame them. Their influence operations are designed to try to pour gasoline on a fire. They want to sow discord, instigate conflict, as well as put our internal problems on full display to sully our image around the world.”
So while it may seem as if we are powerless to check Russian interference, we in fact have more control to protect our democracy than one might initially believe. Our election machinery can be protected; intelligence agencies can work with social media companies; and a competent president and responsible Congress can inflict stiff penalties on Russia and other state actors — provided we elect a competent president and responsible Congress for a change. At a deeper level, we also have a lot to say about the avenue — racial animosity, xenophobia, white nationalism — that bad actors use to insinuate themselves into the public debate.
On one level Russia has upped its game, but it is still playing the same hackneyed hand. “It’s still an old school KGB disinformation operation,” says military intelligence veteran Malcolm Nance. If politicians and media (mainstream and conservative) echo the themes foreign operatives use, the message will be spread and amplified, non-facts soon becoming accepted as conventional wisdom. Among other reasons, the preponderance of foreign disinformation is why our public officials must eschew attacks on reality. If everyone is gas-lighting Americans, it all becomes a blur and “truth” loses meaning. Insisting on a reliable, fact-based level of discourse from our elected officials is one way to fight back against Russian-induced confusion and chaos.
It is largely within our power to fend off malicious foreign intervention — with smart technology policies, private-public tech cooperation, adherence to higher standards for truth-telling and denying refuge and encouragement to race-baiters. The question is whether we have the will. Alas, a very substantial chunk of the Republican Party now doesn’t see anything wrong with Russian influence:
In [a Yahoo Finance/Survey Monkey] survey, 11% of people who identify as Republican or lean Republican say it’s “appropriate” for Russia to help Republicans keep control of Congress in the upcoming elections. Another 29% say it’s “not appropriate, but wouldn’t be a big deal” for the Russians to help. So combined, 40% of Republicans either approve of Russian interference, or don’t strongly object to it.
That stunning finding shows the degree to which the Trumpized GOP no longer puts their country first. If one party is no longer going to defend our democracy from foreign control, it’s time to vote that party out of office — every office.