USA Today Sports

Scoot: Did Russia get to you during the campaign and you didn’t even know it?

May 31, 2017 - 9:35 am

New information related to the investigations into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election floods the news media and social media daily, sometimes hourly.  The amount of new information coming out is overwhelming.

At this point, the information is just that – information.  No hard facts or evidence have been produced to directly link the Trump campaign to Russia’s alleged desire to alter the course of the election between Trump and Clinton, at least, not yet.  

There seems to be enough information to justify serious and objective investigations; and if President Trump is confidence of the innocence he promotes, he should welcome the investigations to clear his name.  There are times it seems President Trump and his staff are reluctant to provide information; but at this point, there is no proof of wrongdoing.

President Trump and his supporters are convinced that the Russian investigation is a “witch hunt,” and I doubt that if there is real evidence connecting Trump to the Russians that many minds will be changed.  Today, too many Americans are willing to only believe what they want to believe and information challenging what is believed is called “fake news.”  

When there is talk of Russian officials meddling in the presidential election, the instant retort is that “there’s no way the Russians changed the results of the election.” 

There does not appear to be any evidence to support the notion that Russia manipulated the actual votes cast, but a recent TIME Magazine article explained how Russian officials might have impacted the opinions of many Americans and that could have guided the votes of those so influenced.

The TIME article explains that Russians sent Twitter messages to over 10,000 Defense Department officials.  These messages were designed to get their attention so they would click on the link to get more information.  The messages may have been about sports stories of interest or stories related to celebrities, anything to inspire a click.  Clicking on the link sent the person directly to a server controlled by Russians.  Russian hackers would then gain control of the person’s Twitter account or computer and sometimes their phone.

Whenever you click or “like” something, you establish a pattern of what interests you; and Russians have been creating groups and subgroups of Americans who share certain opinions and political ideology.  The individuals within groups were targeted by Russians with false messages created to sway opinions.  For example, stories about Hillary Clinton that were believed to be true and spread in the news and on social media were planted by Russian officials to shape the opinions about Hillary.

The famous “Pizzagate” story about Hillary Clinton and her campaign operating a child-sex ring out of a pizza parlor in the D.C. area was “fake news” believed to have been planted by Russians into our media for the sole purpose of damaging Hillary’s campaign.  In December after the election of Trump, Edgar Welch went to the pizza parlor with a gun and fired shots inside on a mission to stop the child-sex ring.  Yes, people did react to “fake news.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to hurt Hillary’s chances of becoming president as a payback for what Putin believed was Secretary of State Clinton’s efforts to hurt him over a 5-year period.  U.S. intelligence picked up conversations supporting the idea of Putin’s revenge.

According to the TIME article, there is evidence that a Russian soldier in Ukraine penetrated social media in the U.S. by posing as a 42-year-old housewife in America, who enjoyed expressing her opinions about political issues.  Through social media conversations about politics, the Russian gained access to many Americans.

A phony Facebook page was set up by Russians to spread false stories about Syrian refugees being sent to certain cities in America.  There were many stories and a lot of hysterical reaction to the news that 10,000 Syrian refugees were being sent to Louisiana.  That was “fake news” and did not happen.  However, the fear of 10,000 Syria refugees being sent to any area inspired people to buy guns and to support President Trump for his tough stance against refugee resettlement in the U.S.

Russians are also believed to have set up “fake news” sites that appeared legitimate to distribute false stories created to alter opinions.

Remember the story during the campaign that Hillary Clinton had Parkinson’s?  Shortly after that “fake news” was promoted, Clinton fainted at an event in New York City.  That made the story about Clinton and Parkinson’s go viral.  But it was not true and planted to cause Americans to question whether Hillary was healthy enough to be president.

These are just a few examples of how Russia had an impact on many Americans.  It’s not clear if that really changed the course of the election, but conventional wisdom indicates that information about Hillary late in the campaign hurt her badly.  In fact, there were a disproportionate number of “fake news” stories in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – blue states that ended up voting for Trump.  Coincidence?

The investigations into Russia’s involvement in our election are trying to determine if the Trump campaign worked with the Russians on any of the “fake news” stories that were planted to hurt Hillary’s campaign.

Hillary Clinton was not a good candidate and her image as an established political figure was contrary to a strong desire many had for change.  Clinton may have failed on her own without the help of negative “fake news” stories spread by Russians.  But Russia’s goal should be taken seriously.

Russian trolls were active during the campaign.  A troll on social media is defined as a person who intends to create conflict on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, for the purpose of instilling anger and emotion in other users.  Trolls can also be used to spread false narratives.

Trolls are real, and I deal with them every day I am on the air.  It is not a stretch to believe that Russian trolls were out to spread “fake news” to hurt the Clinton campaign. 

The only way to combat “fake news” is to think and to apply common sense to news stories, especially on social media and the Internet.  It is not difficult to make “fake news” appear to be real news.  “We” – Americans – are the first line of defense against the idea that another nation or one of our own political parties would launch a crusade to discredit a candidate with damaging “fake news” stories.

The fact that so many people actually believed the story about Hillary Clinton secretly running a child-sex ring out of a pizza parlor in the D.C. area is proof that a lot of Americans are not thinking and believe what they want to believe.  

Those who wanted that story to be true believed it, but that does not change the fact that it was a “fake news” story.  As much as anyone might disagree with Hillary Clinton or even loathe her very existence, no one should have believed the child-sex ring story was true.  We have all learned bizarre things about politicians, but no one with any degree of common sense could have believed that story to be true.

Our democracy is threatened more by our own bias and ignorance than by Russia or any outside enemy entity.  Think of the “fake news” stories as incoming missiles from an enemy source and our common sense is the anti-missile defense that we can launch to prevent the incoming missile – or incoming “fake news” – from destroying us.

Partisanship, which in many cases is powered by hate, leads people to see what they want to see and to discredit facts that are inconvenient to what they hope is true.

If “we” don’t start thinking and stop accepting “fake news” our democracy is in danger.  It’s up to “us!”

Comments ()