Revisiting the active measures playbook, with a digital twist.
Great piece, Asha. Thanks for the fake pics, so I am informed, but they are disgusting
1. Consider Russia’s targeting of Black voters through the lens of reflexive control (see Class 12). What implicit assumptions or “anchor beliefs” did the IRA employ to get its targets to reach their predetermined decisions?
Because reflexive control has to do with using the assumptions and preconceived notions of the audience to sway the decision-making processes of those so manipulated, the first assumption with black voter suppression must be taken into account as beyond an assumption: It’s that “you are black,” which is factual if a voter is, in fact, African American.
Because the black identity is strongly rooted and constantly reinforced by media outlets in the modern context, the very idea of trolls posing as black people and appealing to the moral value system of the black voting minority is especially intimidating in a world without borders due to the World Wide Web. Even if Donald Trump has chosen to attempt to “wall out” Mexicans crossing the border, Russians can certainly gain access to American domain by way of social media like Facebook. And, so much American media makes its way to Russian “cyber-soil” – including a lot of music that blacks may identify with – that troll farms in foreign nations can certainly piece together narratives that appeal to pro-black people who are already dissatisfied with the American status quo due to racial inequality and socioeconomic discrimination inherent within a top-down system in the United States.
Black pride, while very justified by standards associated with the overcoming of steep obstacles, is the very object used by Russian hackers to influence African Americans to vote alternatively to their typical vote, or not to vote at all. Because most blacks have at least some degree of their identities vested in black pride, when hackers misidentify themselves convincingly as black people pushing a message associated with blacks having been betrayed by those who better represent their needs as a holistic population, some degree of outcome for the foreign actors can be expected. Part of the assumption that is used to manipulate here has to do with false trust being established that the troll is, actually, a black person lobbying his or her sentiment on behalf of his or her own race.
Then, the next assumption that is deployed to complete the manipulation is that if you are black, and you cast your vote for someone who only one-half has you in mind as someone he or she will fight for, then you have not only allowed yourself to be betrayed, but you have betrayed yourself (and you lack sufficient “pride” in condoning insufficient half-measures on behalf of your own kind).
The pride black people demonstrate and ascribe to doesn’t permit this if one is proud to be black. However, because the changing of the mind comes from a foreign troll, it turns out that those victimized black voters have instead been preyed upon by high-tech, transnational crime (as have been those politicians with black voters close to their hearts who are cheated out of election victories that would have benefited the black population as a whole).
The assumption is made here that use of this type of reflexive control over blacks was much more difficult to accomplish for foreign actors when Barack Obama was running for president. Perhaps a study should investigate what levels of reflexive control were used by trolls to manipulate women into voting against Hillary Clinton or not voting at all in 2016 (and instead electing apparent misogyny), Clinton having been a potential, second consecutive landmark Commander in Chief as a “first ever” (and long overdue).
-Matthew Mullaney Doherty, November 10, 2023
The ease with with trump and Bannon acted to depress the Black vote and manipulate the Black electorate is diabolical. The fact that their approach mirrored the Russian Govt approach (coincidence? You decide) is clearly not a coincidence & speaks to how deep the Putin Intell orgs have their hands grasping trumps vitals. They tighten and get whatever they want.
I didn't follow closely enough to answer #s 1 or 2. #3 is easy since it's a yes/no question. My answer is yes because the polarizing nature of the candidates in 2024 is as great as 2016.
Looking at #3, I believe it will be effective as part of a multi-pronged death by a thousand cuts strategy. Suppress vote through legislative means, run multiple 3rd party candidates who draw votes from Biden (Stein, West, RFK Jr), employ same strategies as in 2016. None may be as effective as in 2016, but cumulatively they could swing the election in key battle ground states (especially with the help of some of the media 'horse race' coverage I read ... don't get me started!)
Asha, thank you so much for all the education. I am wondering if you have any insight on how Russia is/could be exploiting the current war in Gaza for its benefit? Racism appears to the most popular strategy, but antisemitism and anti Muslim attitudes can’t be far behind on the list of issues that can help Russia throw the US into chaos. Does the fact that at least 15% Israeli population are Russian speaking/post Soviet make it easier for Russia to spread disinformation? What should we look out for? How do we shine the light on it?
Of course, Trump and the Russians will try the same tactics in 2024, unless they are blocked. I certainly hope the FBI is paying attention, and that all fair-minded. Americans are alert to this potential problem going forward, so as to call it out when and wherever it occurs. Thank you, Asha, for this very timely article!
Thx for the response Prof Rangappa! My initial very uneducated thought is that if someone stands along the road intentionally mis-directing voters that person is not really engaged in speech but rather is acting on that speech.... and those actions would violate some state or local laws.... or at least I would hope so. If the speech specifically encouraged folks to carry signs to interfere with voting that sounds like the speech is out of bounds. But IDK!
It seems to me that the depress, deflect, re-direct approach will continue unabated in 2024. I suspect that polarizing candidates will be with us for awhile....as this seems to be what a substantial portion of what the electorate likes. Even if the impact is not as much in 2024 many states (battleground ones) are likely so close to begin with that even a relatively small impact could get them their desired candidate.
For US based actors I am curious to what extent practicers of depress, deflect, re-deflect are really at any risk of having their attempts restrained..... presume 1st Amendment would restrict US Government interference.
Thx for your efforts here, Prof Rangappa.