The Myth of Russian Media Influence by Larry C Johnson

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Republicans and Democrats, along with almost all of the media, have accepted the lie that the Russians engaged in unprecedented “interference” in the 2016 Presidential election. It is a ridiculous proposition and is based on a presumption rather than actual evidence. The Intel Community said it is true so, by definition, it must be true.

Let’s focus on the actual numbers. How much money did the Russians spend? According to Robert Mueller, $1.25 million per month. If you start that money clock in May of 2016, that means those pesky Rookies spent $8.75 million. But let us be generous and add on the previous four months, essentially starting the clock in January 2016 before the first primary votes. That brings the total to $13 million.

Hillary and Donald, by contrast, spent over $81 million on Facebook alone. According to TechCrunch:

Russian information troll farm the Internet Research Agency spent just 0.05 percent as much on Facebook  ads as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s campaigns combined in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, yet still reached a massive audience. While there might have been other Russian disinformation groups, the IRA spent $46,000 on pre-election day Facebook ads compared to $81 million spent by Clinton and Trump together, discluding political action committees who could have spent even more than that on the campaigns’ behalf.

Trump and Clinton, when you factor in their various political action committees, spent millions more.

A fuller analysis of the spending on the major social media platforms was provided by

Surprisingly, Clinton’s campaign was overall more active on Twitter and on Facebook than Trump’s, generating 19 percent more messages (11,475 messages by Clinton to 9,390 by Trump). On Facebook, Clinton generated 500 more messages than Trump. While Trump’s tweets seemed to garner more news coverage, Clinton’s campaign was actually substantially more active on social media, generating 25 messages a day on average to Trump’s 20.

Yet, Trump’s social media following was larger than Clinton’s. In November 2015, Clinton had 1.7 million followers on Facebook. By Election Day that had grown to 8.4 million, a 394 percent increase. Trump had 4.2 million Followers on Facebook in November 2015. By Election Day, that number jumped to 12.35 million, a 194 percent increase. So, while Clinton saw a greater increase, Trump still had nearly 4 million more followers. . . .

All of this suggests that while Clinton’s campaign was overall more active on its social media accounts, it did not receive the same amount of attention and support on social media as compared with Donald Trump. . . .

In the last months of the campaign, generally the focus shifted to voter registration and then get-out-the vote efforts. Social media can be a useful starting place for helping give supporters events and activities to do to be part of the campaign and to help with the effort of winning the election. Although both campaigns, indeed, increased their calls-to-action in the last two months of the campaign, Clinton beat Trump in volume of such messages on Facebook and Twitter, producing a third more call-to-action type messages (See Figure 17). If we only look at Facebook, however, Trump’s campaign produced as many call-to-action type message as Clinton in October.

When it came to asking people to vote, the Clinton campaign produced more than twice as many messages asking for people to vote on election day on the two platforms (See Figure 18), but most of that was on Twitter. On Facebook, both campaigns urged people to vote at the same rate, but on Twitter, Clinton’s campaign produces three times more appeals for votes than does Trump.

So, the Lilliputian Russians, spending a pittance compared to the Goliaths of the Clinton and Trump campaigns, was the deciding factor in 2016? Bullshit.

The pathetic and laughable U.S. intelligence community (aka IC) did not do a state-by-state breakdown of how these various social media campaigns operated in those states that swung the election to Trump. Nor did the IC look back at the Russian and Soviet Union covert propaganda efforts over the previous 90 years. If you are going to do a comparison you need to have a benchmark. This is what we know for certain–Russia and its predecessor, the USSR, ran comprehensive and continuous information operations in the United States, including computer network operations.

No one can say with any degree of certainty that what Russia did in 2016 was qualitatively and quantitatively different. Also, the IC is completely silent on the efforts of other countries, such as China and Israel. Nope, just accept on faith that the Russians committed an attack worse than Pearl Harbor.

I had my own experience with Russian media influence, or the lack of such influence to be more precise. I was interviewed on Russia Today aka RT on March 4, 2017 to comment on Donald Trump’s claim that the FBI had wiretapped Trump Towers. During that interview I noted that the Brits, not the FBI, were ones doing electronic surveillance of Trump. And how did the public and the media react to that bomb shell pronouncement by me? Crickets. No reaction.

The crazy insistence that Russia grossly interfered in our 2016 election is a canard. Too bad the vast majority of America has bought into this absurd nonsense. Yes, there were groups linked to the Russian government that were pushing stories on social media. The Chinese did the same thing. So did the Israelis and the Brits. I am sure there are other countries who were pushing their own agenda as well. But that is a truth American is too damn lazy to grasp.

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39 Responses to The Myth of Russian Media Influence by Larry C Johnson

  1. joanna says:

    The pathetic and laughable U.S. intelligence community (aka IC)
    yes, when exactly did they get laughable? After you left with a solid pension, I would assume, or a long time before?

  2. Well, you’re dead ass wrong. Shocker. I did not “leave” with a solid pension. I stayed four years. No pension. But I did maintain clearances and continued to work with CIA, DIA and NSA over the ensuing 25 years. My criticism is grounded in experience. I think Iran/Contra was the watershed moment. The CIA became very politicized and the quality of analysis and spy trade craft declined significantly. John Brennan turned the place into a freak show. When you have “Dykes on Bikes” day at CIA Headquarters you know you have lost your way.

  3. Fred says:

    “…did not do a state-by-state breakdown of how these various social media campaigns operated in those states that swung the election to Trump. ”
    Hilary’s campaign staff didn’t do this level of work when directing their own media efforts either. At some point she, being the head of the campaign, should have been able to get answers to the questions “what is the return for each advertising effort” and “what does that do to the electoral vote count.” Not only is the IC community discredited but so should most of the Democratic media operations and campaign advisors.

  4. O'Shawnessey says:

    Well said. This may be irrelevant, but I keep hearing rumors that Bannon’s Cambridge Analytica, in concert with Mossad, were the prime drivers of both the Brexit vote and Trump’s election, with Mossad taking out HRC’s digital vote rigging system, but just enough to allow T to win in the ECollege, not to walk away with the popular vote, in order to have their man (and boy, in the form of Jared)in the White House.
    I suppose this is an example of how such non-covert operations are done:

  5. JJackson says:

    “All of this suggests that while Clinton’s campaign was overall more active on its social media accounts, it did not receive the same amount of attention and support on social media as compared with Donald Trump. . . .”
    I suspect this had much to do with Clinton supports hearing what they wanted to in the MSM but Trump’s, seeing a hostile press, turned to social media for their coverage.

  6. JamesT says:

    I am surprised there is so little discussion of the new Project Veritas video about google insiders … pretty much admitting that they are planning to “rig” the 2020 election. Tucker Carlson is the only person talking about it:
    Meanwhile, Project Veritas has had their videos expunged from youtube, they have been banned from Vimeo, and they have been banned from Reddit. It is enough to make a person paranoid.

  7. Cofer says:

    O’Shawnessy, You must be commended on your solid research. As always, rumors supersede facts in the Levant.

  8. turcopolier says:

    joanna/LeaNder Are we supposed to believe that this is the lovable “nitwit” speaking? Larry made a lot of money in business after he left government. So did I. You fellows should try it. It is not that hard.

  9. JamesT says:

    I should have mentioned that the silencing of Project Veritas on Google/Vimeo/Reddit all happened immediately after they released their expose.

  10. Barbara Ann says:

    The poor dumb voter. It may be nothing, but I heard a wild rumor that both Trump and Brexit may in fact have been the result of the electorate actually voting for what they wanted. Crazy, I know.
    Brecht would have recognized Russiagate and similar canards of all-powerful election influence operations for exactly what they are; the (Deep) State expressing a loss of confidence in the people. He famously proposed a solution.
    Democracy is the process by which the enlightened, bigoted, deluded, downright stupid and all the rest get to have their say. The moment we permit a narrative whereby the electorate can no longer be trusted to vote the ‘right’ way, you have something different.

  11. ex-PFC Chuck says:

    From Raúl Ilargi Meijer at The Automatic Earth, a couple of veeeerrrry interesting graphics about last night’s Round One among the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate. They should set the hearts of many here at SST aflutter, while at the same time inflicting heartburn upon the deserving denizens of the Party’s establishment.
    Well! Apparently pasting a graphic into a Typad comment window is a No No. So instead here’s the link to Ilargi’s Debt Rattle post for today. Just scroll down past the list of today’s links to read his brief comment, followed by the said graphics:

  12. Stephen Richter says:

    What is ridiculous is neither Comey or Brennan were asked during their Congressional testimony whether they had seen any evidence of Trump campaign collusion with the Russians. No one asked if the Carter Page wiretaps had revealed any useful and incriminating evidence. By delaying the release of his findings until after the off year election, Mueller was able to influence the vote. People assumed Mueller had something and voted democrat to get a house that would impeach.

  13. Recently read a Symantec study of the IRA’s twitter campaign based on the full data set of IRA produced tweets leading up to the 2016 election (3,836 Twitter accounts and nearly 10 million tweets). The campaign used 3,836 total fake accounts with 123 main accounts pushing out new content supported by 3,713 auxiliary accounts amplifying messages by retweeting content from the main accounts. This included the influential and infamous TEN_GOP which eventually had 150,000 followers and 6 million retweets, almost all from real twitter users rather than IRA auxiliary accounts. The full report is at:
    How much did this cost? Probably not a damned thing outside of employee costs. This was just the twitter part of the IRA campaign. They were also active on Facebook and Instagram. Comparing the cost of social media ad campaigns does nothing to understand the Russian campaign. However, is a good place to understand how social media was used in the 2016 election cycle and in other areas as well. Jonathan Albright has been a prolific researcher in this field and has published prolifically in Medium.

  14. Mishko says:

    Russia. Rooskies. Russia.
    This song and dance will last us all through the night and well into
    the afterparty.
    But still, how come AIPAC is not elligible for foreign-agent status?
    Are CIA and Mossad 2 peas in a pod?

  15. Factotum says:

    Barry was right in 2012: The 1980’s are calling and they want their foreign policy back.

  16. Fred says:

    Did they do a study on tweets by Mexican politicians, immigrant aid groups, drug cartels or anyone else that might have had a reason to try and influence the election?

  17. Jim Ticehurst says:

    Barry.??..The same one that provided a “Coup” for the “chickens that came home to Roost” The same one whose “Foreign Policy ” was to Partner up with Hillary and take His Liberation Theology all over The Middle East and “Liberate” The Muslim Brotherhood, support the Overthrown of President Mubarak in Egypt…”liberate ” and destabilize Libyia,,Creat a Really big Mess in Syria..Allowing the Russians to move in everywhere and help them achieve their Own Foreign Policy Objectives…Pipelines everywhere Destabilize buying Russian Weapons..and Helped Hillarys Foundation “Libeerate” Millions of Dollars for her Foundation..Pin a Tail on the Democrate Donkey.. and Fundamentally change America…Or do you mean the Reagan Foreign Policy that Brought the Berlin Wall down..?

  18. Fred, do you have evidence that any of these actors used thousands of fake twitter accounts in a coordinated campaign during the election? The closest thing I can think of is the wide ranging Israeli hasbara efforts. Their anti-BDS campaign is the most recent example. I would not be at all surprised if they’re working just as hard to goad us into a shooting war with Iran. China uses fake social media armies, but almost exclusively for internal purposes.

  19. optimax says:

    Tulsi won yesterday’s Drudge and Washington Examiner polls. She was also the most googled after the debate.Warren came in second and “Crazy Eyes” Booker third. Everybody lost today.

  20. joanna says:

    ok, sorry. Lazy babbling on my part. Only four years at the CIA at a no doubt interesting time and then four years in the State Department as deputy director on Terrorism. I vaguely recall your blog, your firm and partners now.
    When you have “Dykes on Bikes” day at CIA Headquarters you know you have lost your way.
    yes,that’s surely even worse then Iran Contra. Come to think of it: Maybe Iran Contra wasn’t that bad at all. It may have fitted well into Reagan’s larger anti-communist strategy. SDI – Weapons for the Contra’s – Weapons for Afghanistan’s anti-communist fighters.
    Only negative side effect: more drugs for America …
    But Reagan won. Didn’t he?

  21. joanna says:

    oops, my response just vanished.
    Are nitwits usually always lovable? Why, because of their dim wits?
    I can’t help but this feels enormously repetitive to me after all these years. I don’t expect any fat lady’s revelatory aria, neither do I expect any big swamps being drained. Maybe I should leave the topic to people still interested. I’ll try.

  22. b says:

    How much money did the IRA make by selling advertisements of the webpages its twitter accounts promoted?
    IRA was and is a commercial enterprise. It created content to sell ads. There is no evidence, just an asumption, that its account were set up to create political influence. There is evidence that they were set up to sell ads.
    From the Mueller indictment of the IRA:
    “Defendants and their co-conspirators typically charged certain U.S. merchants and U.S. social media sites between 25 and 50 U.S. dollars per post for promotional content on their popular false U.S. persona accounts, including Being Patriotic, Defend the 2nd, and Blacktivist.”

  23. Dao Gen says:

    This Symantec article is deductive, not inductive, and starts from the premiss that Russia hired IRA to influence the 2016 US election but leaves the premiss unproven after giving many stand-alone statistics. It does not mention the fact that IRA is not part of the Russian government or formally connected to it. The IRA is owned by a flashy entrepreneur who also runs a catering company that caters for Kremlin banquets. He is not even literally “Putin’s chef,” as the cliche goes. Second, the IRA English-language social media campaign was only one of more than a dozen media research campaigns carried out simultaneously by IRA. The vast majority of its activities involved Russian-language tweets and messages, and most of IRA’s budget was for these Russian media activities. Unless Symantec or any other researchers thoroughly study the all the vast Russian-language material that is presumably available, any conclusions they wish to draw from a small selection in English remain pure speculation. Without a full study, Symantec is simply guessing based on premature generalizations and forced interpretations. If the IRA Russian material also shows a strong orientation toward controversial topics, then we have to ask, was the IRA, allegedly working for the Russian government, really trying to “sow discord” within Russian society? The chances of that are small(!), first for political reasons and second because the use of controversial, emotionally charged subject matter is a standard MO of both the MSM and social media in the US and worldwide and is a technique known a “using clickbait.” Invoking a controversy is one of the best and easiest ways to increase readers and followers and does not prima facie indicate an attempt to stir up discord or destroy the social fabric of a society. Much less does it by itself indicate an attempt to affect the outcome of an election, especially since in an election year the election itself is a hot online topic and a good source of clicks. Perhaps this is why the Mueller investigation has so far been unable to win its case against Concord Management, one of the groups indicted in relation to IRA’s activities in English. Almost all the evidence presented by the Mueller investigation against Concord, by the way, has consisted of Russian-language social media messages without any English translations. I wonder how many Russian-language translators were hired by the Mueller investigation. I would like to see that figure. The same of course goes for Symantec or any other research groups. So far I haven’t seen any hard evidence that the Russian government tried to influence the 2016 US elections. The Democrats should put this whole unproven narrative behind them and stick to hard facts and discussion of real issues.

  24. turcopolier says:

    Years back I checked with some of my old timey colleagues at the agencies you hold in contempt. One of them remembered that his agency had once had you on their asset list under your true name. IMO you are an intelligence groupy still associated with some spookery and allowing them to use your name here. Amusing

  25. Did Obama do all that? I got the impression he wasn’t that interested in the nuts and bolts of American foreign policy. Just uncritically took it as it came and let the boys get on with it. Not so much President as front man for stuff he couldn’t be fussed to get to grips with.
    They let him play with the drones and I suppose they must have kept him briefed. But he was loose-mouthed so I bet they regretted it when they briefed him too much. His casual disclosure on prime time TV that they hadn’t thrown a “bunch of airstrikes” at the ISIS columns when they were heading into Iraq was real amateur hour.
    An American President disclosing that the genocide and mayhem in Northern Iraq was deliberately permitted in order to put pressure on the then Iraqi government. Real son of Brzezinski stuff, right out in the open. Must have had the PR men wincing. Fortunately no one noticed it much.
    Came across an odd (alleged) quote from Seymour Hersh the other day. Supposed to have said that he’d heard from White House insiders that Trump is “intelligent and kind” in private life. Yeah, our European Progs’d be dying laughing if they heard that, but fits in with what I’ve seen of him when he thought he was off camera, or when he’s not in Twitter bullyboy mode.
    “Kind” isn’t a lot to navigate the neocon jungle with, but the pawns on the geopolitical chessboard might have a better time with that, with any luck, than under Obama’s lazy “cool”.

  26. You are ignorant of my career and experience but that does not stop you from offering up idiotic commentary. We keep you around for entertainment value.

  27. “How much money did the IRA make by selling advertisements of the webpages its twitter accounts promoted?” That’s a very good question. Surely some enterprising researcher supporting the “Russia did nothing” narrative has run the numbers and proved this was just a legitimate business venture. Seems that information should be publicly available. I’ve run intel operations that made money. They weren’t lucrative commercial enterprises whose purpose was to make money. They were intel operations that made money to reinforce a cover. Nor did these intel operations have an ostensible connection to the USG or USI.

  28. Dao Gen, is there any study of the vast Russian language material produced by the IRA? I don’t doubt it exists, but I have no idea of its nature or its relationship to the English language material concerning the 2016 US elections. Is the IRA’s Russian language activities mere commercial marketing campaigns or are they Moscow sponsored activities aimed to influence the Russian peoples thoughts and actions? The techniques of modern marketing and reflexive control are really the same.

  29. Fred says:

    I agree that Isreal is active in influencing American policy. I need to find a few million fake twitter accounts to prove my point?That is rather disingenuous. There are millions of people here illegally. As individuals they are actively in contact with the media and are sought out by reporters routinely:
    Multiple former Presidents of Mexico have come to the US and given speech often in support of one political point of view.
    Here’s former President Fox of Mexico in Texas and in Illinois. Of course such paid speeches covered by local and national media are not tweets orFB posts so therefor not “interference”.

  30. Factotum says:

    Former President Jimmy Carter needs a new intelligence briefing regarding Russian election interference :
    Carter replied:
    “Well, the president himself should condemn it, admit that it happened, which I think 16 [of the] intelligence agencies have already agreed to say. And there’s no doubt that the Russians did interfere in the election. And I think the interference although not yet quantified, if fully investigated would show that Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016. He lost the election, and he was put into office because the Russians interfered on his behalf.”

  31. Fred, I don’t expect you to personally dig through millions of fake twitter accounts. I don’t do anything thing like that myself being happily and busily retired. I believe we share that blessed state.
    Fox comes to the US and talks as the former President of Mexico. He can say what he wants in that capacity. Putin, Xi and even Rocket Man can say what they want about our politics and elections at any time in any place. As long as we know whose speaking, what’s the big deal. Every ambassador in DC can yap from the front gates of their embassies every morning if they care to. Most will be ignored every morning. None of this is even remotely similar to the well thought out and executed black propaganda op carried out by the IRA.

  32. Factotum, I agree Carter needs a new intel briefing. As far as I heard the Russian IO may have changed minds, but it did not change votes. Therefore, Trump won the election and remains the legitimate President. The American electorate does not and never will exist in a vacuum.

  33. Fred says:

    And the millions of illegal immigrants here, some of whom do indirect work for candidates and policies, are interfering in our electoral process.

  34. joanna says:

    We keep you around for entertainment value.
    thanks a lot to whomever it concerns beyond Pat and you.

  35. Factotum says:

    WSJ rightly concluded in today’s lead editorial that Bernie Sanders won both debates since all Democrat candidates fell over themselves, trying to sound just like him.

  36. Factotum says:

    Time to re-read Seymour Hersh’s “The Red Line and the Rat Line” to see how well his expose now holds up as an example of Obama’s foreign policy.

  37. Factotum says:

    How about the big public employee unions, did they try to influence the 2016 election? How much did they spend.

  38. Of course the big public employee unions try to influence elections including the 2016 election. So do myriad other advocacy groups like the NRA, Citizens United and the ACLU. They do so openly and vigorously as they should. However, as to Fred’s question of millions of illega immigrants interfering in our elections, I don’t see it. Their mere presence give other groups cause to advocate for or againsts them, but I see no organized effort by illegals themselves to influence or interfere in our elections. Groups like UnidosUS, formerly La Raza, clearly advocate for the illegals, but that’s political participation, not interference.

  39. There’s the usual chicken and egg problem with Hersh, as I suppose there must be with all reporters who know their way around. His sources wouldn’t talk to him if they thought he wasn’t safe. He can’t quote them to back up his assessments. So there’s little concrete you can take to a sceptic and say “here’s the smoking gun”.
    Or so I read it. But to return to Obama, his personal involvement, or lack of it, is always arguable. But what is clear is that he bought the whole blood-soaked neocon Weltanschauung hook line and sinker. Geopolitical imperatives to the limit and beyond, and be damned to the pawns. You wouldn’t have expected that, not given his posing early on.

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