I think it’s pretty clear now that the only reason we’ve been hearing so much about Russian election interference is because Hillary lost, and so many Americans need a convenient explanation that doesn’t require them to face the ugly truths in our society. I’m sure the DNC hack, arguably the most influential aspect of the interference and the one which could have actually swayed votes away from Clinton, would have remained news for a few months and perhaps the related sanctions still would have been implemented, but apart from that I don’t think you’d see much more. I wouldn’t be surprised if all the chuds who are currently being indicted and investigated never came under any scrutiny, free to work their next con.
But of course Hillary did lose, and now we’re scrambling to track down every conceivable example of Russian interference. Some folks are going far above and beyond the call of duty as well.
Unfortunately, for all the talk about Russian information operations in the US, few actual solutions have been proffered, and some of what has been suggested could be dangerous. It seems in the hysteria, some people have lost their ability to extrapolate and imagine how their remedies against foreign propaganda could one day mutate into suppression of internal dissent. But I can still extrapolate, and I’ve recently come to realize that Russia’s influence operations and the overhyped response to them could lead to something far, far worse.
As it stands now, a significant portion of Americans, especially in leadership positions, seems to believe that Russia successfully swayed the 2016 election. Perhaps their belief is not strong enough to get them to push for invalidating the results, but people seem to have no qualms about voicing this opinion. That means, for all intents and purposes, that the Russian tactics- the trolls, the bots, the fake pages, etc. were seen as effective.
What’s so scary about that? Well I can guarantee you that the PR industry and the rest of corporate America is watching. If they believe that these tactics are effective enough as to allow a country like Russia to sway a US presidential election, they’re likely to start adopting them. Since these will most likely be native US companies, they won’t be subject to the same scrutiny or regulations as foreign entities like the Russian government. Everything will most likely be well within the limits of the law. And it’s going to be terrible.
Remember back in 2008-2009 when people were talking about “astroturf” organizations behind the Tea Party movement? That was nothing. Some of these organizations were funded by people with deep pockets, but the people who showed up to the rallies were their on their own volition, driven by their own beliefs, however disconnected from reality they might have been. But what comes next is going to make astroturfing look like child’s play.
We already have rent-a-crowds in America. The decline in stable employment and lack of living wages means this could increase in the future, turning our political system into something resembling that of Russia or Ukraine. But imagine what it will be like when American lobbyist firms start adopting the online tactics of the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, better known as the infamous Troll Factory.
Just imagine what it will be like when numerous corporations and lobby groups are implementing the same tactics for disparate or similar goals, year round. It will be almost impossible to say for sure what’s real, just like in Putin’s Russia. The worst is yet to come, my fellow Americans.