Friday, September 22, 2017

Facebook - We fear it so we did it to the USA.

It will come as no surprise to learn, for those that somehow do not already know, that Kremlin controls Russian social media very tightly.  You can be sent to jail for liking a social media post.  If you have a blog that gets more then 3,000 readers per day, you need to register with Big Brother.  The government can shut down any website, for any reason, at any time.  We also run a large, complex and expensive troll operation designed to ensure conversation on the internet in Russia match's the Kremlin's views and those who we fear in the west are harassed.

It therefore stands to reason that we see social media as an important tool for influencing public opinion and for shaping the way people act.  Either that or we have nothing better to spend our money on when oil is $50 and our economy is a disaster.

Not one self-described Russia expert who claims that if the Kremlin did anything on Facebook it had no effect on the US elections (although sadly for this argument the Kremlin has now denied doing anything)  can explain why the Kremlin fears it so much being done to them.

If it would have no effect in the USA, why work so hard on preventing it from happening in Russia? Why have a huge troll farm shaping internet discussion if it's not important? Are Russian security services idiots who have given no thought to preventing regime change?  These questions answer themselves.

Taking our obsessive control of Russian social media another very small, yet logical step further, it stands to reason we view the US Government’s complete lack of control over what is posted on Facebook & Twitter with some surprise.  Given also our public statements that US wishes to overthrow the Russian government, it also presents us with an opportunity.  An opportunity, I have explained, we would never give to the USA because we understand and fear the consequences.

Now consider the expense from a historical perspective.  While it's not intended to be a direct comparison* to today's events, in the 80s we paid Aldrich Ames $4.6 million (in 1980s dollars) for what was then the most serious breach in US intelligence history.  A breach that allowed us to roll up and kill a large number of US spies operating in Russia.  At around the same time and into the 90s we paid Robert Hanssen $1.4 million and more in diamonds for information that cost the US billions to fix.  Both of these took years and the monies mentioned do not involve our own costs behind the scenes.  The idea of someone in the KGB saying to Andropov "for a fraction of this amount we will one day be able to potentially reach millions of US voters and cause them to act in ways against their interest".  He'd have told them not to turn up to work drunk again. 

Flash forward to today and picture us being told we could do precisely what was beyond our dreams back then. Being told we could influence 10s of millions of US voters for $100,000 over two years. That’s $4,166 a month.  It’s peanuts.

The decision, when compared to how much thought went into the above operations, was surely quick. Basically you can easily picture after at most a few moments thought the decision being, "do it. it's cheap, deniable, disproportionately effective and the sort of thing we fear being done to us"*.

Clearly, it is needed to be stated that this didn't give you Trump all by itself. (why oh why is that necessary?) but as wise Russia watchers have commented, we only need to shift opinion 1% to have a major effect. 

In short, we had:

Motive – Our clear and publicly stated hatred of Hillary
Means – It was, in geopolitical terms, incredibly cheap
Opportunity – We do our best to prevent it in Russia yet it’s easy to do in the USA.

It’s not complicated and, sadly for a few sensitive academic egos, you don’t need to be a Russia expert to understand it nor understand it.

*Presidential note. After some interesting feedback, these two points were clarified after the original post.

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