The Talking Heads are Wrong. Of Course Russian Ad Strategy Was Designed to Elect Trump.

The Talking Heads are Wrong. Of Course Russian Ad Strategy Was Designed to Elect Trump.

 

New reporting this morning shows that of the 3,400 Russian-paid ads Facebook turned over to the Special Prosecutor in the course of the Trump-Russia investigations, about a quarter were geographically based, and that they targeted battleground and non-battleground states on a variety of issues. This has led some talking heads to opine that Russia's strategy was not really concentrated on helping elect Trump, and that the spread of the ads undercut the collusion argument.

Talking heads still don't get it. Everything Russia did - it is now proven indirect communication with the Trump campaign and surrogates - it did to sow chaos to help Donald Trump. Of course, even Russia couldn't guarantee the success of their efforts; that they did speaks as much to their invasion of American democracy as it does to the state of our own citizenry. But what Russia knew, likely guided by Republican operatives and officeholders, is that chaos is good for the chaos candidate.

But still, it begs the question, why target California, New York, Texas and Alabama? These states were never going to be in play!

This view represents a fundamental misunderstanding of political chaos creation. Russians targeted California and New York, Texas and Alabama for the same reason candidates come to these states to fundraise, even though the electoral votes of these states are, for the moment, a foregone conclusion. These states are where broad swaths of the ideological base of the parties reside. These states are where opinion makers hail from. Get the opinion-makers bombarded with a certain message, and suddenly they are bending opinions far away from their keyboards or studios.

Another thing. Because these states are ripe with active, ideological Right and Left, target ads to them to notice a story is an effective way of getting it onto the radars of people on their timelines, without spending a dime in extra advertising money. The ideologically fervent are often people on their social media circles look to for political stories, slants, opinions. Get a cadre of right wingers in Texas to believe that Hillary Clinton is deathly ill, and suddenly everyone on their timelines from Michigan and Ohio are wondering if there's merit to the lie. Get a group of Left wingers to buy that Hillary Clinton will start a nuclear war, and suddenly their sympaticos in Wisconsin are voting Stein.

There is also an argument that a clearly focused campaign to get Donald Trump elected would not target issues like police-shootings and racial tensions that, pre-election, weren't clear would work out in favor of Trump's election.

This, once again, is a missing the forest for the trees. Recall that Donald Trump himself exacerbated racial tensions - about the only thing he's ever been consistent about. Hillary Clinton ran on a platform of Stronger Together while Trump took the track of I alone can fix it. Fueling racial tensions created a message atmosphere that helped push Russian and Trump campaign propaganda to make white people scared of losing their systematic privilege more easily. At the same time, targeting the Left kept many from voting for Hillary Clinton in crucial states.

The targets of Russian interference - of which social media was a significant but a small part - of which the ads were but a small part - was more sophisticated than battleground states and individual electoral issues. The Trump-Putin alliance sought to utilize a social media landscape where stories tugging at a particular narrative spread like wildfire and grew in influence like weeds to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.

Targeting on social media - which is geared to produce more organic branches than the root message itself - cannot be looked at the same way as targeting ads on traditional broadcast media channels. Russian ads on social media were not meant to overwhelm the airwaves; they were created to hit people who would pick up the lies and run with them without verifying accuracy. It's the concentration of those people that mattered, not the battleground status of the states.

And this story is getting lost.



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