BY DIANE DIMOND
It is high time we accept the fact that the Russian government is engaged in a massive propaganda campaign aimed at getting Americans to fight with one another. It’s been going on for a long time.
You might have thought the Russians would back off their social-media misinformation campaign after their attempts to influence our last presidential election were exposed. But no.
Even though there are multiple investigations into last year’s Kremlin-inspired campaign to sow American dissent on a wide range of hot-button issues (presumably so voters would be convinced to reject Democratic Party candidates), the Russians are still at it. That’s according to top members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who are worried about the potential chaos Russian propaganda might create for future U.S. elections, like the ones taking place across the country next month and next year.
Here’s a quick primer on their insidious efforts to disrupt America’s social fabric and mold the way we think and interact with one another: Russians set up countless phony social media sites with attractive-sounding names like “Being Patriotic,” “United Muslims of America,” “Defend the 2nd” and “Blacktivist.” They then glommed on to existing posts in which Americans have expressed outrage about the U.S. government, race relations, gun rights, immigration or tax policies, and a number of other divisive issues. The Russian provocateurs fan the flames of our passionate discourse by embellishing the messages and disseminating them to a much wider audience than the original posts would have ever reached.
In other words, the Russians are using our own disagreements against us. I wonder how many Americans have already been swayed by Russian-instigated propaganda and don’t even realize it.
The following were among the posts designed to stoke Americans’ anger: a manufactured hoax about Muslim men in Michigan collecting welfare for up to four wives; a sponsored Facebook page with a headline that that read “BRIDGEPORT COP SHOT, HANDCUFFED BLACK TEEN AND LEFT HIM IN THE STREET FOR 6 HOURS AS HE BLED TO DEATH”; and a concocted story from the aforementioned Being Patriotic page that erroneously claims that 50,000 homeless U.S. veterans are starving in the streets while “liberals want to invite 620,000 refugees” to our country.”
All those hate-filled missives are untrue, but you can bet some internet addicts believed them and passed them on.
You see the sinister thinking behind the Kremlin’s campaign? The Russians grab an issue, twist it for maximum negative effect and then sit back and watch Americans argue with one another until rage erupts.
Why, you might ask, would a foreign power want to do this? Because Russia realizes today’s wars are no longer fought on a battlefield with guns and tanks; they take place behind a keyboard, on a stage called the worldwide web, and the best weapon they can employ is one that erodes the common sense of their enemy. The Russians know a divided nation is much easier to defeat than a united one.
This is not new behavior. After World War II, the Soviet Union tried to spread its socialist propaganda via Radio Moscow and a newspaper called The Daily Worker. But the audience for their pro-communist message was miniscule compared with today’s worldwide reach of the internet.
Americans loathe censorship, and social media thrives on lively give-and-take discussions. But even executives at Facebook, Twitter and Google agree there is a problem here. Facebook now admits that, in 2016, it accepted money for more than 3,000 ads purchased by agents connected to the Internet Research Agency. That group has been described as, “a secretive company known for spreading Kremlin-linked propaganda” that investigators believe is “part of a highly coordinated disinformation campaign that sought to sow chaos and exploit divisive (American) social issues.”
Top officials from Facebook, Twitter and Google have been asked to testify before Congress early next month to see whether there is some way to curb the Kremlin’s continuing campaign against us.
There is no specific U.S. law against what agents of the Russian state are doing. The First Amendment allows everyone the right to express themselves. So, it is up to us, the readers, to use our critical thinking skills to identify the hyped Russian posts for what they are: a sick device designed to get us to turn on one another. This Moscow mind manipulation is yet another important reminder not to believe everything you read on the internet.
It seems that we come together as Americans only after a national crisis, like the senseless massacre of innocents in Las Vegas, the hurricane devastation in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. These days, we squabble about everything and say ugly things about others’ opinions. This is just what the Russians are aiming for.
Let’s stop giving it to them.
Rockland resident Diane Dimond is a syndicated columnist, author, regular guest on TV news programs, and correspondent for Newsweek/Daily Beast. Visit her at www.DianeDimond.net or reach her via email Diane@DianeDimond.net