“Russia knows no ends and no limits to which groups they would masquerade as to carry out their objectives.”
Kremlin trolls impersonated real American Muslims to stir pre- and post-election chaos on Facebook and Instagram. The name of the Facebook group: United Muslims of America. It was neither Muslim nor American. Instead, it was Russia’s social media-savvy spooks attempting to bash 2016 presidential contenders John McCain and Hillary Clinton, and then praise Clinton over then-candidate Donald Trump, according to The New York Times.
Their “active measures” campaign to influence and sow division in American social media and real life discourse came complete with fake news, like John McCain being the true founder of ISIS. Or that Osama bin Laden was a “CIA agent” (The Daily Beast).
The trolls were so in touch with US culture—and US pre- and post-election rhetoric—that they even posted a meme featuring Tupac and his line “Got money for wars but can’t feed the poor” while also bashing “anti-Muslim” refugee protests in the Midwest. However, it must be emphasized that they played BOTH sides of the aisle, but this goes well beyond “astroturfing” or drumming up fake grassroots support for a bandwagoning peer pressure effect.
John W. Kelly, the founder of Graphika, a commercial analytics company in New York that has extensively tracked Russia’s social media endeavors across platforms, emphasized in an interview with The New York Times, “The Russians sought to cultivate and influence real political movements” in concerted efforts far beyond just this one Facebook group.
Russia, with a pervasive, no-holds-barred domestic intelligence history steeped in the KGB and the Cheka, is notorious for its physical foreign infiltration via Illegals and a statecraft culture of paranoid self-preservation. This only makes the potential end goals for such an operation murky, if not unpredictable. Is the goal to divide and conquer by sowing instability in our democratic social base? Is it to attempt to swing an election and popular opinion one way or another for their own more short-term gain?
The strengths of such an operation of course lie in forcing the US to play by its own rules when it comes to the First Amendment, whether regarding freedom of speech, the press, or any other—as well as the capitalist system. “Obstacles” which were Russia the target of such operations, would likely be snuffed out posthaste from the top down. As House intelligence committee member Eric Swalwell, a Democrat, told The Daily Beast, “Russia knows no ends and no limits to which groups they would masquerade as to carry out their objectives.”
This all, of course, begs the questions: What is in store for 2020? And after 2016, how can America restore confidence in our political system, and our newsfeed, before it’s too late?