In the latest chapter of America’s Ongoing Struggle to Explain Trump Without Acknowledging its Massive Problems With Racism and Wealth Inequality, we learned that Facebook took $100,000 from shady Russian companies for political ads targeting the US. According to some claims, the ads had a potential audience of 70 million Americans, so theoretically, the Russians might have done more to reach certain voters than the Hillary campaign.
But seriously though, there are some huge problems with this latest bombshell, some of which are addressed in this article in Vanity Fair, which points out:
“The psy ops campaign described by Facebook, however, mostly predates the D.N.C. hack. Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos said in a blog post later Wednesday that most of the 3,000 Russian-linked ads it sold between June 2015 and May 2017 didn’t reference the election, Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump. The ad buy was also relatively small, relative to the impact of fake news posts and misleading information in the media. Only about one quarter of those were geographically targeted, and of those, more ran in 2015 than 2016. But they wouldn’t have needed voter data to be effective. According to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies, Russia wasn’t initially focused on boosting Trump specifically but rather sowing discord in the early months of the election. That tracks with Stamos’s conclusion that the Russian ad buys “appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum.”
There is a much bigger question with this story, however. Speaking about the potential size of the audience is meaningless without looking at what that money actually bought and how effective the ads would be. So what did these Russian buyers get for their money? Here’s a fine example:
Now if I read my audience correctly, I’m pretty sure I don’t need to explain that the quote and claim in this meme are obviously false. This thing doesn’t even have a verification code! But I ask you now- who would be convinced by this thing? More to the point- who among those who at the very least were considering voting for Hillary in 2016 would have been convinced to change their vote or stay home based on seeing something like this on their Facebook feed? If you want to see more, have a look at this gallery of ugliness.
It’s pretty clear that the majority of these “memes” closely resemble the kind of crap your elderly relatives often share, which is the “Web 1.0” equivalent of forwarded chain emails. If you were fortunate enough never to receive one of those, they were typically fake photos or stories about some God-fearing Christian Marine humiliating a pompous atheist professor. These stories, like their social media descendants, are basically designed to confirm conservatives’ worldview. I’ve never heard of someone viewing such material and actually changing their political views based on it. I could see it happening to a younger person just forming their political views, but only after a long period of only consuming this messaging with no alternatives. Otherwise this kind of propaganda wouldn’t convince anyone.
Basically the sensible centrists are acting as if they didn’t know America’s politics have been ridiculously polarized for decades now. They’re acting like it wasn’t just eight years ago when the mainstream conservative media was either implying or explicitly declaring the Democratic president elect to be:
-Not a natural born citizen of the USA, thus ineligible for office.
-An attendee of a madrassa!
-A Muslim Marxist Fascist who attended a bad Christian church.
-A possible anti-Christ, who was destined to confiscate Americans’ guns, institute socialism, and give away the United States’ sovereignty to the United Nations or some other “New World Order” global government.
Eight years later, Obama hadn’t done any of the things conservatives had been screaming about for years, but do you think that changed their minds? Do you think any of them said “I was so terrified that Obama was going to bring in UN troops and deputized street gangs to come take my guns and send me to a FEMA reeducation camp to turn me into a gay transsexual Muslim, but he didn’t even attempt to do any of that! All that hatred and anxiety for nothing! My face sure is as red as the flag I thought Obama was going to fly over the White House!” Of course nobody said that. They went from “Obama’s going to bring the Marxist Sharia Apocalypse” to “Hillary’s going to bring the Refugee Sharia Apocalypse” without blinking an eye. Hell, they even called Hillary a warmonger. Many of these people are the same folks who would call you a treasonous coward for opposing the Iraq War during the Bush administration, but in 2016 it was fine for them to play Chomsky.
I could go on, but I think this suffices to show how liberals, especially those freaking out about Russian-bought memes, don’t really understand how conservatives think after all these years. Liberals think that most conservatives are just uneducated and unaware of the “facts.” If someone just provided them with facts instead of right-wing memes, they’d see that Hillary is the obvious choice, and the Democratic establishment is totally right when it comes to policy and the party needs no significant changes. But alas, Russia added to the already bloated supply of right-wing memes and thus these people voted for Trump.
In reality, even if Facebook had cut these people off from nearly all their sources of “fake news,” whether domestically-produced or imported from Russia, these people would most likely not have been swayed toward Hillary. They would just use some other medium with which to share their “memes.” These people get a high out of hating “liberals” and “leftists,” by which I mean the caricature of those types they have in their heads. Facts are not going to sway them, because if they accept a fact that contradicts their belief, that forces them to acknowledge that the pansy-ass, latte-drinking, elitist, Social Justice Warrior Cultural Marxist beta cuck was right, and they were wrong. If you believed that such people imperil “Western civilization,” which you think you’re trying to preserve, would you agree with them? Would you admit your mistake and apologize? Of course not- this is war.
Liberals simply can’t understand this because they can’t imagine how anyone could ever believe such things. They must be duped, confused, or stupid. For them, the age of ideology ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and what triumphed is a system that’s based on cold hard facts, data, and GDP growth. Sure, some people get screwed or killed by the thousands in this system, but we’re making omelettes here. This isn’t to say that the bizarre beliefs Trump supporters have are correct or even that they’re not incredibly stupid. But it’s a lot easier to woo people to your side when you tell people you care about them and their plight, that you’ll be their voice, than it is when your message is basically “drop all your expectations; the best you can ever hope for is extremely modest, incremental change over a period of many years.” In a sense, the liberal centrists’ “moderate” or “realistic” worldview can be just as delusional and inaccurate as the Trumpling’s belief that building a wall will restore America to full-employment. Apart from understanding why Americans won’t be swayed by “the facts,” the liberals ought to ask themselves why so many Americans have become so cynical and mistrustful of the media that they would find the most ridiculous conspiracy theories plausible.
Without being able to answer or even understand that question, the Democratic party elite comes off even worse, because the implication is that a massive amount of Democratic voters or at least Democratic-leaning voters changed their votes to an extremely repulsive candidate simply because they saw some Russian made memes with over-the-top, racist rhetoric. In reality the Russians just created more of something that had already been there- right-wing propaganda. There’s zero reason to think it was any more effective than the already-massive right-wing media machine that has existed for nearly three decades now. Even the messages the Russians used were just ripped off from already existing right-wing talking points. I could write another dozen pages on how idiotic this whole affair is, but I doubt it would help. These days questioning the efficacy of Russian attempts to influence the US election is automatically equated with denying that they interfered at all. Saying the Russia doesn’t do things one way is similarly equated with saying “Russia isn’t a threat.”
Sure, Russia intervened in the election and it does pose a threat (though the threat it poses to the US is far less than to Ukraine or Georgia), but this isn’t cause for America’s self-professed leaders to start acting like America’s politics haven’t become incredibly polarized and radicalized in the past decade or so. And speaking of which, do these geniuses truly believe that things would have been much better on that front had Hillary won? The whole point of Russian interference was to put the legitimacy of her victory under suspicion, and Trump himself was telling his rabid supporters the election would be “rigged.” If you’re not busy pretending you can’t remember the past eight years, think about how the right reacted to Obama’s victory in 2008 and then imagine how they’d react to a Hillary victory in 2016 after the DNC email leak plus the Orange Loser screaming about three million illegal votes. Then again, I can understand why many Hillary supporters can’t imagine the bloodshed and domestic terrorism that would result, seeing as how some of the same people were seriously advocating that the electors give their votes to Hillary instead of Trump.
At the end of the day, folks are missing the lessons of this whole Facebook ad scandal. The first is yet another lesson about the danger of money in politics. Prior to this election, there was a lot of talk about the so-called Citizens United ruling, which prohibited many restrictions on political ads and led to the creation of Super PACs, which might have a bit more sway over American elections than a St. Petersburg troll factory. Now, however, we’re talking about Facebook taking $100,000 from Russia- and nobody else it seems.
The other takeaway is that the Russians were able to find an audience in the US because they learned how to talk like all the other angry conservatives. They saw an opening and they charged through it. America’s immune system is weak after decades of bad domestic and foreign policy, and it shows in both spheres. How do you build up that immunity again? You do it by focusing on the American people instead of whining about how your precious “qualified” candidate didn’t win. You need to present a better vision of the future and when you manage to get any power at all, you need to work towards that goal and produce concrete results. Or you can go on blaming a foreign government for your failures, and start advocating for restrictive laws that could just as easily hurt or otherwise restrict American citizens. And then you will have fulfilled the message of Putin and his state media- you’ll have made America like his Russia.