FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Social Media Madness: the Russia Canard

For several months we’ve been hearing a crescendo of outcries that Russia used social media to sway the 2016 presidential election. The claim has now been debunked by an unlikely source — one of the most Russiagate-frenzied big media outlets in the United States, the Washington Post.

Far away from the media echo chamber, the Post news story is headlined: “There’s Still Little Evidence That Russia’s 2016 Social Media Efforts Did Much of Anything.”

The article focuses on “what we actually know about the Russian activity on Facebook and Twitter: It was often modest, heavily dissociated from the campaign itself and minute in the context of election social media efforts.”

In fact, the ballyhooed Facebook ads were notably not targeted to be seen in swing states, the piece by Post journalist Philip Bump reports. As for the much-hyped tweets, they were smaller than miniscule in quantity compared to overall election-related tweets.

But don’t expect the fervent canard about Russian manipulation of social media to fade away anytime soon. At this point, the Russiagate atmosphere has become so toxic — with incessant propaganda, credulity, fear-laced conformity and partisan opportunism — that basic logic often disintegrates.

One of the weirdest aspects of claims that Russia undermined the election with social media has involved explaining away the fact that few of the ads and posts in question actually referred to Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or the election. Instead, we’re told, the wily Russians tried to help Trump by inflaming social divisions such as racial tensions. It’s a rampant storyline (rendered here by NBC News political director Chuck Todd) that’s reminiscent of the common claim during the civil rights movement that “outside agitators,” such as Russian-directed reds, were inflaming and exploiting racial tensions in the South.

From there, it’s just a hop skip and jump to smearing Americans who dissent from U.S. orthodoxies as useful idiots who serve the interests of plotters in the Kremlin.

Of course history is not exactly repeating itself, but it’s rhyming an awful lot. There are real parallels between the McCarthy Era and today’s anti-Russia fervor in the United States.

Despite all the information and analysis that have strengthened progressive understanding in this country during the last few decades, fixating on Russia as culpable for the election of Trump has been widely irresistible. Perhaps that fixation is less upsetting than deeper realization of just how rotten the U.S. corporate system of injustice has become — and how the forces that brought us the horrors of the Trump presidency are distinctly homegrown.

Narratives scapegoating Russia now have an extremely powerful grip on the USA. The consequences include heightened U.S.-Russia tensions that absolutely mean heightened risks of nuclear war — and worsening threats to democratic discourse at home.

The conditioned reflex to label as somehow “pro-Putin” any opinion that overlaps with a Kremlin outlook is becoming part of the muscle memory of much of the American body politic. Countless journalists, pundits, activists and politicians have fallen under the Russiagate spell. They include the liberal primetime lineup on MSNBC, where — as the media watchdog group FAIR pointed out last month — Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes routinely bypass stories of great importance in order “to lead with minutiae from the ongoing Russia investigation that has consumed MSNBC‘s coverage like no other news event since the beginning of the Trump presidency.”

Across most of the media landscape, the meme that Russians attacked American democracy with social-media posts has been treated as self-evident.

In a typical exercise of the conformity that afflicts the national press corps, the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine, David Corn, wrote this fall that the House intelligence committee needed more staff to investigate, in his words, “how” — not whether — “a foreign adversary attacked American democracy.” His piece breathlessly declared that “the Trump-Russia scandal” was “expanding — it now includes new revelations regarding Moscow’s use of social media in the United States to influence the 2016 campaign.”

That kind of stenography for powerful spin may snag cable TV appearances and lucrative book contracts, but it’s a notable disservice to journalism and democracy.

Meanwhile, most Democrats on Capitol Hill are eager to engage in such rhetoric. So, it was just another routine appearance when Senator Richard Blumenthal went on CNN a week before Christmas and declared “there is increasing evidence that the Russians are continuing their attack on our democracy.” He said: “The Russian attack on our elections in 2016 was endlessly ingenious and inventive, using all kinds of social media, all kinds of intermediaries, sources of information for them.”

To put it mildly, that sort of bombast gains vastly more airtime than discussing the urgent need for détente between the world’s two nuclear superpowers.

On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow has climbed with her ratings to great mass-media acclaim, while advancing herself from the outset of the Trump presidency as one of the most prominent and irresponsible Russia baiters in U.S. media. At this rate, when Maddow retires — if she and the rest of us are lucky enough to avoid a nuclear holocaust — she can look back on a career that deteriorated into an obsessive crusade against Russia that increased the chances of World War III.

In the poisonous media environment that keeps boosting her fame and fortune, it’s grotesquely fitting that Maddow — time after time after time — has devoted so much of her program to the illusory Russian assault on democracy via social media.

That’s the way it goes in the propaganda-polluted land of Russiagate.

More articles by:

Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where he coordinates ExposeFacts. Solomon is a co-founder of RootsAction.org.

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador   Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail