Tag Archives: Hillary Clinton

Finally!

Lately there’s been a lot of talk about this New Yorker article about a new book called Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President What We Don’t, Can’t, and Do Know by Kathleen Hall Jamieson. Unfortunately due to time constraints I wasn’t able to get around to reading it for a while and only now have I got the time to actually give my take on it. While I haven’t been able to examine the book’s arguments in detail, I have to say that this seems to be the first time I’ve seen anyone actually try to attempt to measure the influence of Russian propaganda on the 2016 election with some semblance of scientific rigor. Those of you who follow this blog know that I have often complained about how many of those pundits and politicians who express such confidence that Russia swung the election to Trump seem to avoid expending even minimal effort to try to substantiate their claims. Specifically, nobody seemed to be interested in going out to those key battleground states to survey voters who changed their votes to Trump, a third party, or who decided not to vote at all, and then try to determine the extent to which these people had been exposed to Russian propaganda, e.g. via Facebook.

To be fair, it doesn’t seem like Jamieson’s book does that specific thing, but it does present an interesting case. For one thing, it points out that in those key Midwestern states where Hillary lost unexpectedly, the deck was stacked against Hillary when it came to getting votes. Anyone trying to influence the election against her had an advantage because they didn’t need to push people to vote for her opponent or a third party but rather they could just as easily convince people not to vote at all. This is reminiscent of an old axiom about guerrilla warfare- the insurgent doesn’t need to win; they just need to not lose.

If you look at a lot of Russian propaganda surrounding the election, you’ll notice that a good deal of it is aimed at people who are either left wing or at least left enough to reject Trump. But the Russian propaganda on Facebook, for example, seems to be aimed at keeping those people from voting for Hillary. Some stuff could be construed as anti-GOP or even anti-Trump, but I’ve yet to see anything from that period which is pro-Hillary, or more accurately, anything that would support the idea that as bad a candidate as she is, she’s at least better than Trump.

Now before anyone suggests that this is setting up an excuse for the Hillary campaign, take note that if Russian influence played a decisive role, it could only do so because the election was so close, far closer than it should have been. Judging from the article, one of the main factors in swinging the election was the hacking of the DNC emails, which contained a lot of material relating to Hillary’s political baggage. In other words, a candidate without such baggage would have been harder to bring down. So there’s no letting the Democratic party off the hook even if this book is 100% correct in its hypothesis. If Russian influence swung the campaign it was almost certainly because the weakness of the party and its candidate made it vulnerable to such influence in the first place.

Like I’ve said about Kremlin propaganda dozens of times before- it is effective only where vulnerabilities exist. Corruption, lack of accountability, inequality, and a refusal by politicians to address any of those problems inevitably spreads the rot in which the bullshit of RT, Sputnik, and the Internet Research Agency take root and sprout. Address those aforementioned problems, and people will see the propaganda for what it is- nonsensical fringe crap from a corrupt, authoritarian, desperate regime that has nothing of value to offer the outside world.

And am I sold on the idea that Russia swung the 2016 election, after all this? Well I haven’t read the book so I can’t say for sure. In fact, I’m not sure we’ll ever know exactly what happened. Too much time has already passed and we have much bigger issues to deal with. What I will say is that the idea that it had an impact can no longer be discounted.

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The counter-offensive…of bullshit

I think I’m starting to really understand this whole Cold War 2.0 thing a little better. For about two years now, Western think tank pundits and government officials have been warning of the need to counter Russian propaganda. Beyond support for effective initiatives like Stopfake.org and EU Disinfo Review, we haven’t heard much from the academic geniuses of the various think tanks. Now, however, it looks like the private sector might be stepping up to the plate with a plan to counter the Kremlin propaganda machine. And apparently the strategy is to fight bullshit with…more bullshit.

Just get a load of this headline:

“The man who discovered CTE thinks Hillary Clinton may have been poisoned”

The man, incidentally, is Bennet Omalu, who is at least a forensic pathologist. The problem is, however, that you can’t diagnose people over twitter. To his credit, he merely suggested she might have been poisoned and advised her doctors to check and see if this was the case. However, this isn’t really newsworthy, particularly when his best argument is:

I’m sorry but how is this any different from Pepe Escobar accusing the US of organizing the Charlie Hebdo murders shortly after the attack, apart from the degree of callousness, of course?

In case you didn’t notice how hard they were trying to make this newsworthy, they included information about the Litvinenko case. I’m sorry but Hillary being diagnosed with pneumonia and fainting in public is not comparable to Litvinenko or Yushchenko, who was nearly killed with dioxin. If Hillary’s hair falls out tomorrow or her health rapidly declines, then you might have an argument.

This is a bit infuriating because recently Dmitry Kiselyov suggested that the US intelligence services might assassinate Donald Trump, because he’s just such an anti-establishment figure don’cha know.

 

This is course is amusing because it’s not the US but Russia that has a habit of losing political dissidents under mysterious circumstances.

We laugh, yet how funny is it when only a couple days later a major publication like The Washington Post is taking idle speculation of the same sort and turning into an actual news story?

Let me make this clear. Conspiracy theories and fallacious stories aren’t acceptable or good just because they’re on “your side.” These things make the world stupider. This is one of my main arguments against the Russian foreign language press, for example. All their conspiracy theories aren’t new, and they’re not even Russian in origin most of the time. It’s just that beaming these idiotic theories onto the internet makes people less rational and eventually, dumber.

And here’s the thing about making people dumber- today you get them on your side with fallacious arguments and conspiracy theories. Later down the road, their moods change, the political situation changes, and now suddenly they’re more receptive to the Kremlin’s propaganda. Hell it’s already happening. Look at Trump’s supporters and tell me that the vast majority of them would have vehemently condemned anyone speaking positively of Russia or Putin. Conservatives had on numerous occasions attacked Obama’s administration for supposedly being too soft or flexible with Russia. Moods change.

If we want people to question Russian, Chinese, or any kind of state propaganda, we need to consistently encourage critical thinking. Moreover, if privately-owned Western media outlets want to continue being taken more seriously than Sputnik News, they need to crack down on conspiratorial non-stories like this. If you don’t want to well, first, you don’t get to complain about not being taken more seriously, and second, maybe you’re not really as interested in the truth as you claim.

And as a final note, addressed to the Putin fanboys out there who are no doubt applauding- stop. I’ve pointed out numerous times how Western media makes mistakes and fails to report things with 100% accuracy or objectivity. I’ve also point out how this fact doesn’t excuse a state run media apparatus deliberately concocting stories and suppressing others for the sake of preserving a regime and justifying its foreign policy. As I’ve said many times on this topic- fast food is unhealthy, but eating out of the dumpster round back is not an acceptable alternative.