A lot has been said about the Russian troll farms and their activity on social media, in the ongoing probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
This is where I feel it necessary to remind folks that by “interference,” nobody is suggesting they physically changed vote counts.
It was more a case of influence, by flooding social media with pro-Trump memes and stories, while simultaneously slamming Hillary Clinton (not that she needed anyone’s help in appearing completely wretched).
Just as the mainstream media had their role in creating Trump, by covering him as if he were already king, the Russian troll farms did their part online.
A new analysis by the Associated Press is pointing out other ways the troll brigade helped Trump: They worked to divert attention away from the disastrous reveal of the 2005 “Access Hollywood” audio, where Trump is heard bragging to host Billy Bush about sexually assaulting women.
Tweets by Russia-backed accounts such as “America_1st_” and “BatonRougeVoice” on Oct. 7, 2016, actively pivoted away from news of an audio recording in which Trump made crude comments about groping women, and instead touted damaging emails hacked from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.
The AP examined 36,210 tweets from Aug. 31, 2015, to Nov. 10, 2016, posted by 382 of the Russian accounts that Twitter shared with congressional investigators last week. Twitter deactivated the accounts, deleting the tweets and making them inaccessible on the internet. But a limited selection of the accounts’ Twitter activity was retrieved by matching account handles against an archive obtained by AP.
“MSM (the mainstream media) is at it again with Billy Bush recording … What about telling Americans how Hillary defended a rapist and later laughed at his victim?” tweeted the America_1st— account, which had 25,045 followers at its peak, according to metadata in the archive. The tweet went out the afternoon of Oct. 7, just hours after The Washington Post broke the story about Trump’s comments to Bush, then host of “Access Hollywood,” about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women, saying, “when you’re a star, they let you do it.”
Speaking of Russian trolls, within an hour of the Washington Post story, WikiLeaks announced it would be releasing the hacked emails from John Podesta’s email account.
I’m sure it’s all one, silly coincidence.
“WikiLeaks’ Assange signals release of documents before U.S. election,” tweeted both “SpecialAffair” and “ScreamyMonkey” within a second of each other on Oct. 4. “SpecialAffair,” an account describing itself as a “Political junkie in action,” had 11,255 followers at the time. “ScreamyMonkey,” self-described as a “First frontier.News aggregator,” had 13,224. Both accounts were created within three days of each other in late December 2014.
Twitter identified over 2,700 Twitter handles that actually originated from the internet troll farm, Russia’s Internet Research Agency.
It didn’t begin late in the campaign, either. They’ve been working the American public often, and early.
When Trump reversed himself on a lie about Barack Obama’s birthplace on Sept. 17, declaring abruptly that Obama “was born in the United States, period,” several Russian accounts chimed in to echo Trump’s subsequent false claim that it was Clinton who had started the birther controversy.
Others continued to push birther narratives. The Russian account TEN_GOP, which many mistook for the official account of the Tennessee Republican Party, linked to a video that claimed that Obama “admits he was born in Kenya.” But the Russian accounts weren’t in lockstep. The handle “hyddrox” retweeted a post by the anti-Trump billionaire Mark Cuban that the “MSM (mainstream media) is being suckered into chasing birther stories.”
On Sept. 15, Clinton returned to the campaign trail following a bout with pneumonia that caused her to stumble at a 9/11 memorial service. The Russian account “Pamela_Moore13” noted that her intro music was “I Feel Good” by James Brown — then observed that “James Brown died of pneumonia,” a line that was repeated at least 11 times by Russian accounts, including by “Jenn_Abrams,” which had 59,868 followers at the time.
There’s real reluctance on the part of some, especially Trump’s loyalists, to admit that Russia has been working to subvert our American systems. At the very most, some will admit it, but with the caveat that Russia isn’t so bad, and that we should be doing more to embrace them.
I’m sure it’s all just to help us, right?
Anyone who believes that is dangerously naïve and probably shouldn’t be allowed to use scissors without adult supervision.
It was an entire campaign, aimed at helping Trump, and no, not for our good.
Russia knows that with America in chaos, weakened from the inside-out, there is very little it can do to stand against their own quest for dominant position in the world.
It’s an old trick, with a new spin. We do ourselves no favors by pretending it isn’t a thing.