Social media algorithms effectively isolate readers of one type of political news from opposing views; if you follow Fox News, you won’t see MSNBC pop up and vice versa. At the same time, you can usually judge the importance of the “breaking news” of the day by the number of profane, violent, vitriolic comments that follow. I have received, if not death threats, at least death wishes, for comments on Facebook I can’t even remember, and I know I’m not alone in this. Does such overheated rhetoric reflect the national mood? I’ve come to think that in many cases, it does not, though some interests would have us believe it does.
On July 11, in an opinion piece in the Washington Post, David Rothkopf, said, “Russia’s primary goal was not to get Trump elected. It was to weaken the United States” (emphasis added).
That’s worth pondering at length. It crystalized my sense that a significant part of the national tension over our “house divided” is a creation of social media, and much of it may derive from the focused efforts of foreign trolls.
On the evening of July 11, the PBS Newshour aired a report by Nick Schifrin, with the help of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Inside Russia’sPropaganda Machine. Schifrin reports that for the past two years, the Russian military has run online recruiting adds, offering soldiers a chance to “put down their guns and fight a cyber-war.”
Schifrin interviewed a former Russian troll, Marat Mindiyarov, outside of a large complex in St. Petersburg which Mindiyarov identified as the headquarters of this effort. He said he had “maybe 20, 30” online identities, but implied that some have hundreds.
At the end of May Newsweek reported that 900,000 blank twitter accounts had popped up as Trump followers that month. They were easy to spot – no photo, no byline, no tweet history. And no way for a casual viewer to determine their place of origin. I initially assumed they were created by Trump’s team. Now I have serious doubts.
Important stories on left leaning Facebook sites draw verbal conflict that is sometimes abusive enough to report. This morning I scrolled down the Fox News Facebook site, and noted similar trolling.
Again, I refer to Rothkopf’s piece, cited above. It’s very much worth considering that our external enemies no longer care if Trump stays or goes – as long as we as a nation stay angry and divided against each other, they have won…
Excellent post, Morgan! I’d always thought the spelling and grammatical errors I notice frequently on a lot of these angry comment sections were indicative of the intelligence of their authors. Perhaps it’s also because they’re not native English speakers.
It is really impossible to tell. At some times I think the one’s who can form complete sentences and know how to use a spellchecker are the foreign agents, and the domestic comments come from the “poorly educated” supporters the president professes to love…
To the young trolls and hackers and their paymasters go the spoils, the losers lack any savvy of nuance, complexity or motivation — and we all are dragged along with them.
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