From the beginning, I have wondered why we care what happens on Facebook. Of course we care about our friends, as individuals. Rather, why do we care about the platform, as a collectivity? If it became a persistent source of death threats, I would understand heightened concern for that reason. I do not understand anxiety about foreign efforts to stir up partisan trouble there.
Department of Homeland Security has a nose for trouble, though. Why do you suppose the FBI, and the rest of our dear intelligence agencies, keep warning us about plans formulated by Russia’s devilish intelligence agencies to interfere in our elections? Even Super Tuesday primaries from Maine to California elicit serious warnings about foreign interference. What the hell are we supposed to do about it? Isn’t that their job? How does warning us help them do their job better?
Government agencies love to stir up panic, concern, anxiety, vigilance, anything that gets people talking and uneasy. Why? Because it creates a social and political climate where they acquire more influence. With influence, they do as they like, get what they want. They want encryption backdoors, surveillance approvals with no questions asked, greater control over internet giants. Yes, they would like to see enhanced annual budgets. More immediately, they simply want greater control over the internet.
Admit it, intelligence agencies, an uncontrolled, unmonitored internet poses a big threat to your special expertise, which is to “protect” all of us from enemies. If we don’t have real enemies, you make them up. You warn us about the threat these phantom enemies pose to our way of life. You want our support to undertake whatever you have to do to keep us from harm. The more power we grant you, the safer you can make us. Thus the warnings.
I will not deny that some shadowy people abroad like to play games with us on Facebook or Twitter. Forget Instagram: the bad guys, as you call them, don’t even know how to use that. Let them fool with us, or more accurately, fool themselves. They are far away – how can they even begin to threaten us? They have the crudest possible grasp of the way American politics works. If you are afraid of them, if you think they can harm you, you may as well send a substantial donation to the FBI right now.
Yet the Department of Homeland Security warns us to be on guard against fake Facebook accounts. It’s a little like Centers for Disease Control reminding us to wash our hands for twenty seconds, how many times a day? Good grief, leave us alone. Let Facebook alone. The platform has already lost young people. Soon enough the old people who use it will die off.
To return to Russian attempts to fake us out: a campaign to heighten division among partisans on a certain issue is not election interference. It’s just not. People do not cast their votes based on arguments they’ve had online with strangers and bots. They cast their vote based on party affiliation, habit, and a host of other judgments that might come down to the question, do I like this candidate? Partisan sentiments expressed in online forums are not important.
If you target a community or nation where people actually fight with each other, perhaps these methods offer some advantage for the country that wants to meddle. Perhaps the subjects of interference are open to prodding because they have little voice – no voice in selection of leaders. Then violence is the only type of political participation that seems effective, and violent people may be vulnerable to emotional and divisive calls to action. In that case, meddlers may try to weaken a rival in a particular region, or more effectively subjugate a client state.
Nowhere in the government graphic below do you see reference to an election, or electoral politics of any kind. People who design and perfect such methods do not aim to affect election outcomes, or favor one side of a controversy over another. Our friends at Homeland Security make that clear. Yet government officials constantly warn us about election meddling, and insinuate that one or another candidate benefits from that interference.
If you do decide to donate to your favorite agency, let them know how pleased you are with their work. They work hard to keep us on edge. If we become complacent, if we stray into danger, they are there to lead us back to the well-guarded corral. They are the shepherds that protect us from the Muscovite wolves. They can use the money to build stronger fences around us.