The 2016 election was the first time in history that goofy advertisements were considered an act of war. The frenzy on Capitol Hill over a smattering of Russian advertisements would be comical except that most of the American media has jumped on the hysteria bandwagon. The latest clamor is a stark warning to anyone who presumes that politicians are natural friends of freedom of speech.
Russian political advertisements amounted to only .004 percent of the total content that Facebook users saw last year in the United States.Russian ads on Facebook were clumsy and schizophrenic, hitting multiple sides of issues, and were often laughably simplistic (such as the “Jesus Punches Hillary” ad shown here).
Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) railed that “a dictator like Vladimir Putin abused flaws in our social media platforms to inject the worst kind of identity politics into the voting decisions of at least 100 million Americans.” This presumes that Russian ads had a mysterious power to zap the minds of Facebook users who perhaps had zero resistance after viewing too many cat videos. But my experience running a few ads on Facebook for one of my books found that it was a worse investment than buying used lottery tickets from a wino on the street corner.
Axios reporter Sara Fischer observed, “In the political advertising world, you would need to serve at least 7-10 viewable impressions to a person over a short window, two-four weeks, to even begin driving intent or action."
No one has proven that Russian ads on Facebook or Twitter had any significant impact — especially in swing states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Regardless, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) berated tech company officials: “You bear this responsibility. You’ve created these platforms and now they’re being misused. And you have to be the ones to do something about it. Or we will.” ...
To highlight the Russian peril, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D- Minn.) created a bogus Facebook group named “Americans for Disclosure Solution” to purportedly show how easy it was to spread fake news. But any Russian contribution to fake news was infinitesimal last year compared to the Trump and Clinton campaigns’ vast expenditures to bombard Americans with deceitful advertisements. And when it comes to the damage from fake news, nothing compares to the carnage from the Bush administration’s false claims before invading Iraq or the Obama administration’s deluded forecasts about the happy results of bombing Libya. Governments often define “fake news” as anything that debunks official falsehoods.
Shamelessness was bountiful this week. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declared: “When you use cyber in an affirmative way to compromise our democratic, free election system, that’s an attack against America. It’s an act of war.” Ironically, Cardin did his saber rattling in a spiel at the National Democratic Institute — a Washington organization heavily financed by the federal National Endowment Democracy, which has been caught interfering or alleged to be interfering in elections in France, Panama,Costa Rica, Ukraine, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Haiti and many other nations.
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