A Closer Look at Russian Social Media and Its Impact

A bit earlier I posted on a couple of new reports commissioned by the Senate on the Russian use of social media in the 2016 campaign. I’m skeptical that this entire claim is anything more than a way for the people who shamelessly and stupidly bought into the Russia-collusion nonsense to try to save a bit of face by claiming the $100K or so the Russians spent on social media advertising favored Trump. [Spoiler: of course, it did. He was not expected to win. It was a way of sowing dissent. But just because they favored Trump doesn’t mean that he solicited their help.] One of the claims made in the report was that some of the vast social media expense incurred by the Russians was focused on depressing the turnout of black voters.


The analysis, first reported on by the New York Times Monday and published in full by Axios, said that the American Black community was targeted “extensively” with “dozens” of Facebook Pages or Instagram accounts, compared with just one or two phony accounts aimed at other ethnic or religious groups, the analysis said. The Senate Intelligence Committee officially released the report, as well as a related reported on the Russian internet trolls, on Monday morning.

“[T]his is why we have elected to assess the messaging directed at Black Americans as a distinct and significant operation for the purposes of the report,” reads the report from the Austin, Texas cybersecurity firm New Knowledge and researchers at Columbia University and Canfield Research LLC.

It’s not clear exactly how successful the Russians’ black voter suppression campaign was, but as the New York Times noted, in 2016 African American voting rates declined for the first time in two decades.

Not so fast, Scooter.

Source: US Census Bureau https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/newsroom/press-kits/2017/voting-and-registration/figure02.png



Without Obama on the ticket, black turnout is statistically the same that it was in 2004 and higher than it has been since 1984, though the 1984 difference is statistical noise.

And there is this:

There are countless reasons Donald Trump is president of the United States and Hillary Clinton is not. Decisions made by the campaigns, where advertising ran, who was knocking on which doors, what news broke and was covered when. The reason most commonly cited for Trump’s victory — a victory that relied on winning Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by a combined margin of fewer than 78,000 votes — is that Trump managed to appeal to working-class white voters in the Midwest just enough to carry the day.

But there’s another factor that bears mentioning. One of the reasons Trump is president and Clinton isn’t is because of how black Americans voted relative to 2012.

…But that blue line, showing more heavily black neighborhoods voting more Republican than in 2012, has been under-recognized.

So we can say with great precision that black voting in 2016 was at near historic highs if we assume–and I don’t think that anyone seriously doubts it–that the two elections with Obama on the top of ticket were an anomaly.

Regardless of what the Russians tried to do, we can say that, at least in this metric, they didn’t succeed. And we shouldn’t expect anything else. The Russian social media involvement didn’t even rise to the level of background noise in 2016. It was silly, it was small, and it was ineffectual.


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