Campaign disinformation troll houses have become synonymous with Russia. There is no doubt that Russia is interfering in the 2020 elections. But there are other players playing in the social media arena who are also trying to manipulate elections in other countries. Some of them are American.
Social media platforms have become voter outreach centers over the last few years as get out the vote campaigns started to leverage online platforms for vote getting. But the Covid-19 emergency has forced many elections to go virtual and in so doing it has made social media platform the most important player going into the November elections.
The Russians proved in 2016 that manipulating elections via social media works. Local and national elections are now using the Russian techniques in elections. But the Russians aren’t the only ones manipulating foreign elections.
Americans are doing it as well.
The Washington Post reported on September 4 on Washington based CLS Strategies, a public relations firm focused on government work. CLS Strategies was accused by Facebook for creating fake accounts on Facebook and on Instagram “to secretly manipulate politics in another country.”
According to the article, CLS Strategies did not deny the allegations and instead said it was launching an internal investigation. Facebook closed 55 accounts, 42 pages and 36 Instagram accounts controlled by CLS Strategies. The closed accounts “targeted politics in Venezuela, Bolivia and Mexico.”
According to the Washington Post, CLS Strategies spent $3.6 million in social media advertising targeting the three countries. CLS Strategies “had amassed more than 500,000 followers.” That works out to about $7 per account.
In comparison, it is estimated that Cambridge Analytica paid about $0.75 per Facebook user it harvested data from. The Russians had a monthly budget of about $1.25 million to create online disinformation campaigns in support of Donald Trump in 2016.
In other words, it is the money that makes foreign political interference possible. It is also important to note that foreign political manipulation online is not limited to the Russians alone. Americans are playing the game as well.
In tomorrow’s post we will look at how Facebook and Twitter can simply and effectively end the foreign interference war.