While the West obsesses over ineffectual meddling on Facebook, Putin is commissioning missiles
Mike Martin is a former British army officer and War Studies Visiting Fellow at King’s College London. His latest book is Why We Fight.
October 27, 2020
To read the newspapers, one would think it impossible to go online without being subject to Russian misbehaviour. From overt state propaganda (delivered by RT), to disinformation (delivered via Facebook), to outright cybertheft, Russia stands accused of delivering the 2016 Brexit referendum to Leavers, helping Trump to victory in the same year by undermining Hillary Clinton, and hacking and releasing gigabytes of documents from President Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 presidential campaign. And only last month, the FBI reported that Russia is currently interfering in the 2020 US elections (with a pro-Trump bias). Reportedly this is because Russia wants to destroy Western democracies.
I am not saying that Russia has not developed, and is not using, a relatively sophisticated set of clandestine schemes to operate in the online world. But Russian activities on the internet (and on social media) receive much more prominence in the news relative to their actual importance in shaping the world in which we live. Most probably this is because journalists are obsessed with social media: it has upended traditional journalistic business models and made them all poorer with more stressful lives.
After all, the success or otherwise of a clandestine scheme could be said to be linked to its clandestine nature, which, judging by the number of legislature-led inquiries, reports, arrests and shutting down of Russian networks could lead us to conclude that the Russians are not achieving their aims. Furthermore, it is not clear that Russian activity has changed the course of a democratic event anywhere. As the outgoing head of the Secret Intelligence Service, Alex Younger, said recently: “I haven’t seen in the UK any occasion where this stuff has made a strategic difference … The Russians did not create the things that divide us — we did that. They are adept, albeit in a rather crass manner, at exacerbating those things.”
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