WASHINGTON, March 22, 2018: Clearly, the Russians attempted to influence the American elections of 2016. That is the conclusion of a number of government agencies. The United States must bring a halt to this blatant, malicious electoral meddling. But individual voters, not the federal government, have the final responsibility to thwart Russian electoral interference and meddling.
How much did Russian electoral interference actually influence the last election? According to a redacted but public report published by the U.S. intelligence community (CIA, FBI, NSA,) the Russians spent millions to influence the 2016 election. According to that report:
“Before the election, Russian diplomats had already publicly denounced the US electoral process and were prepared to publicly call into question the validity of the results.”
In fact, using the hashtag #DemocracyRIP, Russian bloggers launched a Twitter campaign on election night to discredit the election results.
The actual Russian goal was to undermine the voting process.
Intriguingly, however, the joint report concluded:
“Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
The Democrats say this proves that Russian electoral interference helped Trump win the election. They further imply that Trump was not legitimately elected. The reality is that in all likelihood, the Russians did not necessarily prefer either candidate. Their goal was simply to disrupt the process and cast doubt on the eventual winner of the Presidential sweepstakes.
Since Clinton looked like she would be the winner, the Russians tried to help Trump. If the polls had indicated that Trump was winning, the Russians would have tried to help Clinton. The goal of Russian electoral interference was disruption. They cared little about who actually won.
Indeed, if they did have a presidential preference, indications are that they probably favored Clinton. After all, she was Secretary of State, and did nothing at all when they invaded and eventually annexed the Crimea, cutting it off from the Ukraine. Yet Clinton and President Obama did absolutely nothing to protest this blatant grab of another nation’s sovereign territory. Worse, the Obama administration even refused to sell defensive arms to Ukrainians to defend themselves.
Obama’s “line in the sand” vs. Trump’s tougher tactics
After “drawing a line in the sand,” Clinton/Obama also did nothing when the Russians claimed they had removed all chemical weapons from Syria. It was later discovered that was not true – after the Syrians had massacred their own civilians with chemical weapons.
While candidate Trump said he would like to have a good relationship with Russia, his actions as president have been tougher than any actions undertaken by Clinton/Obama. Trump has already bombed Syria, where the Russians – and Iran – continue to back Assad. Under Trump, American armed forces also defeated ISIS without any help from Russia. This administration has also sold weapons to the Ukrainians and has significantly increased economic sanctions on Russia.
Let’s understand analytics.
Companies spend billions of dollars annually on advertising. The purpose is to provide information to consumers and eventually persuade them to purchase their products. Advertisers know it is very difficult to determine whether these dollars are being spent efficiently.
Advertisers often claim that half of the dollars they spend on advertising don’t produce any results. The trick, they say, is trying to figure out just which half. Part of the reason behind this belief is that companies generally spend ad dollars to reach a broad audience. But if those dollars could be targeted more specifically toward potential consumers of their products, the yield on their advertising spend would increase.
That’s where analytics comes in. Advertisers know the characteristics of the ideal consumer most likely to purchase their customers’ products. Gender, age, education level, income level and geographic location are just some of the demographic factors that are used to target ads more efficiently.
Suppose a company knows their product is typically purchased by college-educated females between the ages of 21 and 38 who live in a warm climate. The ads for that product would then be placed where those specific consumers would likely see them. This care in placement increases the ad’s effectiveness. As a result, the yield of that ad also increases.
Cambridge Analytica: Political advisors try to collect data on voters.
Analytics companies attempt to gather data to help target political ads the same way they target a company’s products to the right demographic. That brings us to the current controversy swirling around the UK firm Cambridge Analytica. That firm appears to have violated Facebook policy during the 2016 presidential campaign by improperly using Facebook data for political purposes.
Intriguingly, the media failed to disclose that the 2012 Obama campaign did the same thing. Instead, they praised the campaigns tech savvy in doing so, neglecting to mention details.
Facebook currently claims they will address this issue and strengthen policies to maintain user privacy.
When users of Facebook sign on, they essentially agree to allow Facebook to gather data about their online preferences. This helps Facebook provide better target markets for advertisers. Since Facebook is free for users, Facebook’s revenue must come from advertisers. This policy is certainly one way to do that.
Far from unusual, however, Facebook’s model strongly resembles the same one used by free-to-consumers radio and television.
The U.S. can’t allow Russian electoral interference.
Russian electoral interference efforts in the U.S. appear to have started in 2014. Yet this didn’t concern to the prior administration. President Obama simply told Russia to “Cut it out.” We now see how effective that was.
It currently appears that Russian influence actually had little or no impact on the 2016 election. Russia seems to have spent a few million dollars on such efforts in total. In the meantime, the Trump and Clinton campaigns spent over $2 billion.
In order for our Democracy to function properly, the election results must truly represent the will of the people. It is therefore important to note that voting machines nationwide are vulnerable to tampering efforts. That said, there is no evidence that Russian electoral interference and meddling ever got to this point.
While we should be able to prevent election tampering in the future, however, it will be difficult to stop outsiders from placing ads or maintaining blogs that favor one candidate over the other. The Russians can simply pay friendly contacts in the U.S. to write blogs, comments and tweets aimed to influence American voters.
Our intelligence community and other federal government agencies can offer election security assistance to each state. Under our constitution, the states actually control the voting process. Yet completely eliminating interference will still be difficult and may require help from Washington.
But ultimately, the real responsibility for voter integrity falls on the shoulders of each individual American voter. Before reaching conclusions and choosing a candidate to support, an informed voter should verify the source and accuracy of the available information on that candidate. That’s the way to ultimately control any election interference efforts whether foreign or domestic. It’s not entirely up to the Federal government.