rockmerica EST 2012

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  • RoRo Raimúndez

Influential Power of Social Media in Undermining Governments

meme sourced off the internet

The development of social media is proving to be a great tool for connecting friends and families around the world. Although many benefits exist to this networking technology, there are downfalls to the ease and anonymity of it: trolls spreading fake news. The influential power that social media users have is potentially undermining governments, as many believe the Russian “troll factory” did in the American 2016 presidential election.

Propaganda is a biased advertisement promoting a political cause, often filled with false information to influence elections. By selectively passing information to manipulate the public opinion (Standage), Russian President Vladimir Putin maintains his control of the country.

Disseminating Russian state propaganda into social media platforms viewed worldwide, Putin is taking advantage of the internet’s ability to digitally penetrate borders and avoid censorship (McFaul).

By infiltrating American social media networks to comment, like and share trending posts, suspicious profiles caught the attention of ‘digital literate’ users. This exposure resulted in investigation by newspaper journalists, which in turn lead to mainstream media coverage reaching viewers who were not on social media platforms.

Internet anonymity gave the international public a chance to create jobs for themselves profiting from ad revenue off their own websites they owned filled with trending topics. The increasing number of fake websites imitating real news sources (Stoffers) creates more ad space for businesses to purchase and the opportunity for start-ups to capitalize off online marketing techniques.

Media consumers needed to scrutinize the validity of their sources as the line between professional journalists and bloggers blurred (Standage) due to the saturation of information available online. Under this cover, Russia’s Internet Research Agency had successfully infiltrated America’s cyber-security during the 2016 presidential elections.

With no federal regulations protecting social media users from foreign influence, the information on Russian “trolls” was available firsthand in the form of anti-Hillary memes, exaggerated (true) claims and original (but fake) articles. Whether Americans recognized the Russian propaganda before the mainstream media exposed it, is a different situation.

The greatest tool in the manipulation of information was the targeting of Trump supporters (Subramanian) allowing foreign influencers to outsmart the American public and sway the election by marginal votes.

Recognizing the negative use of ethos and logos, in comparison to the pathos appeal of lower emotions, was the first step in analyzing how Russian “trolls” were able to capture their gullible audience. By providing false statistics (logos) on a medium in which information is easily misinterpreted (ethos), the rhetoric was skewed focusing on inciting the emotions of readers.

Based on a reversal of the “Dulles Doctrine” (MacFarquhar), the Internet Research Agency created fake profiles on social media, digital games and Paypal (Glaser) to spread their propaganda. Once linked to trending posts, outrageous headlines portraying American news (Stoffers), that instead pushes the Russian agenda represents their ability to undermine the electoral system.

Without knowing the depth of the cyber-attack carried out on America’s public opinion, Russia has the biggest secret of all: whether they attacked full force or not. Social media platforms revealed the numbers of how many fake profiles are linked to the Internet Research Agency (Glaser), but not the extent of how protected their privacy is.

As the Congressional investigation and journalists shed light on Russia’s influence in the 2016 presidential election, anonymously interviewed former Russian “trolls” provide insight to the structure within Internet Research Agency. Enticed with big bucks for easy work, employees were expected to meet content quotas during 12-hour shifts.

By assigning topics to writers that required lies, the Internet Research Agency was secretly conditioning them with their own intellectual property (MacFarquhar). Flooding their own media with lies to suppress freedom of information, Russia began to use this process in taking advantage of America’s first amendment.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the potential of the internet in challenging his own power and embraced it as his own weapon in cyber-warfare. The “clicktivism” movement, a form of activism by clicking ‘share’ to show their support, hinders fact verification and increases the spread of fake news over the internet that is no restricted by borders.

As Mark Zuckerberg developed Facebook into a social revolution of information sharing (Mezrich), the Pajama Revolution had been sparked. Allowing the transfer of information between anyone with an internet connection and computer increases the awareness of global issues, both good and bad.

While connecting global citizens to share their cultures and offer relief aid is a step forward in global unification. The current lack of digital and news literacy (Stoffers) is dangerous because oppressive individuals are adapting the information technology as cyber weapons to undermine foreign governments and sway public opinion.

Annotated Bibliography

- Glaser, April. “What We Know About How Russia’s Internet Research Agency Meddled in the 2016 Election.” Slate, 16 Feb. 2018, Accessed 26 Mar. 2018.

Briefly recaps general information about the Internet Research Agency & dives into new information based off the recent congressional indictment of the Kremlin-backed troll organization. Numerical statistics of how many social media accounts are connected to the Internet Research Agency, provides quantitative data that can be confirmed. Slate is a free daily web magazine analyzing & commenting on a variety of mainstream topics.

- MacFarquhar, Neil. “Inside the Russian Troll Factory: Zombies and a Breakneck Pace.” The New York Times, 18 Feb. 2018,

Accessed 26 Mar. 2018.

Based on interviews from two former Russian trolls of the Internet Research Agency, they give us a glimpse into the secretive company. Explains that ‘easy money’ motivated employees to create content, even if assignments were unethical or downright false. The New York Times is a global media organization with correspondents spread out for maximum efficiency developing stories.

- McFaul, Michael A. "Cyber Invaders: We still don't know how deeply Russia interfered in US elections, but we do know how to make it harder for the Russians to interfere next time." Hoover Digest, no. 1, 2018, p. 131+. Opposing Viewpoints In Context, Accessed 30 Mar. 2018.

Suggests how to protect our voting process due to flaws in America’s cyber-security against Russian cyber-attacks, from the private individual to government level. Foreign purchasing power endangers the American public when they are unaware of what foreign propaganda looks like. Written by a political science professor who has served as US ambassador to Russia, this peer-reviewed article is a part of Hoover Digest a quarterly print publication discussing politics, economics & history.

- Mezrich, Ben. The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal. New York: Doubleday, 2009. Print.

Exposes the drama of how Facebook was created & the people behind it. The successful domino effect of users signing up to connect with their friends foreshadows the ease of swaying public opinion. Written by a highly regarded nonfiction author, Ben Mezrich, who has printed over four million copies of his nineteen books, this book was later adapted into the movie The Social Network.

- Standage, Tom. Writing on the Wall: Social Media -- the First 2,000 Years. Bloomsbury: New York, 2013. Print.

Scientifically explains the human need for sharing information with their social group. Describes each medium & the social impacts in chronological order as they come full circle to the original method of information being shared directly between two individuals. Using historical analogy to write about science, technology & business, Tom Standage is a journalist & author currently serving as Deputy Editor at The Economist.

- Stoffers, Carl. "Fake news fools millions!" Junior Scholastic/Current Events, 9 Jan. 2017, p. 6+. Opposing Viewpoints In Context, Accessed 30 Mar. 2018.

Designed for educational purposes, the reading highlights fake news & the discussions on the affects globally & nationally. Uses critical thinking questions to develop news literacy standards for the students. Junior Scholastic produces teaching resources at national standards for social studies.

- Subramanian, Samanth. “The Macedonian Teens Who Mastered Fake News” Wired, 2 February 2017, Accessed 26 Mar 2018.

Dropping out of high school, a young entrepreneur in Eastern Europe profits from advertisement revenue on his websites filled with trending American politics. With his newly funded materialistic lifestyle & not a care about potential consequences elsewhere, he questions if his website truly influenced the 2016 election. Reaching over thirty million people each month, Wired creates content on how technology is impacting our lives.

- “War of the Worlds: The Panic Broadcast.” Youtube, uploaded by PBS America, 24 October 2013, Accessed 26 Mar 2018. A science fiction book written by H.G. Wells was adapted into a radio broadcast by Orson Welles as a Halloween prank. The radio was a new medium & without realizing the potential consequences, airing the hoax broadcast incited public hysteria across America. Youtube is a video sharing platform that PBS America, UK-based affiliate of PBS, uses to promote their educational shows.

- “The Global Intelligence Files - - Media Analysis: Social media's challenge to Russian leader Putin.” WikiLeaks, uploaded by Stratfor, 27 Feb. 2012, Accessed 26 Mar 2018.

A media analysis how social media challenged Putin’s control of Russian campaigns by organizing anti-Kremlin protesters. Consequentially resulting in the development of his own social media forces to campaign. WikiLeaks is a media organization founded by Julian Assange to verify & publish whistleblower documents.