Yesterday, as part of an ongoing Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on the way Russian troll farms influenced the 2016 election, tech giants Facebook, Google, and Twitter were forced to reckon with the fact that they made massive quantities of money off ads that radicalized and misled aunts, uncles, and old high-school buddies throughout America. These paid, poorly written and illustrated ads were seen by some 10 million newly angry second cousins, who then did not bring any of this up when you saw them in person in February but went right back to posting just the wildest pro-gun shit you can imagine. The Russian troll farms also created unpaid posts that reached some 146 million people, including your friend’s boyfriend who is always getting into arguments with people about the nature of violence at really weird hours. Does he have a job?
And while it’s been clear for awhile that this Russian misinformation and the corresponding rise of “fake news” had subtly infiltrated the public discourse, seeing the actual ads is sort of gobsmacking, both for how amateurish they are and how familiar they are to anyone who hasn’t blocked literally everyone they know on Facebook by now. You can flip through all of the winners here and here, but some of the stuff shared was truly fucking wild:
Yes, from homoerotic Bernie Sanders support to eschatological Hillary Clinton hate, the Russian trolls knew the exact fault lines along which to divide Americans. They pandered to both sides equally, enflaming divisions along gun ownership, sexuality, race, and religion. It’s not particularly well done, but it is outrage-inducing, which is, of course, the entire point.
It’s good to know that Grand Theft Auto font rip-offs somehow slipped into the politicized ether, along with Aziz Ansari. One more hearing is still set, but don’t really hold your breath for much to happen here: The companies would rather regulate themselves, and given the Republican stranglehold on Congress, they’ll probably be granted that wish. (A bill requiring disclosures for online advertising similar to those of print and broadcast media has a total of one Republican supporter.) On the upswing, at least, Diane Feinstein tore into the assembled Silicon Valley representatives, saying:
I must say, I don’t think you get it. You’re general counsels, you defend your company. What we’re talking about is a cataclysmic change. What we’re talking about is the beginning of cyber warfare. What we’re talking about is a major foreign power with the sophistication and ability to involve themselves in a presidential election and sow conflict and discontent all over this country. We are not going to go away, gentlemen. And this is a very big deal. I went home last night with profound disappointment. I asked specific questions, I got vague answers. And that just won’t do. You have a huge problem on your hands. And the US is going to be the first of the countries to bring it to your attention, and other countries are going to follow I’m sure. Because you bear this responsibility.
If they don’t do something about it, Jesus certainly will.