Media & news

Just Asking…For A Friend

Apr 21, 2020

A friend told me Joe Biden said on Face the Nation the Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential elections and continue to try to interfere in U.S. politics to influence the 2020 presidential election. The Washington Post and other media outlets report U.S. officials have told Senator Bernie Sanders that Russia is attempting to help his presidential campaign as part of an effort to interfere with the 2020 democratic nomination.

My friend asked me, “If the Russians could influence a presidential election, could they also influence the public opinion on global warming?”

The Mueller Report found Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was illegal and occurred in a sweeping and systematic fashion. It also states Russian interference deserves the attention of every American.

The Report determined Russia employed tactics during the 2016 election it has used closer to home to cause disruption among its democratic neighbors in the Balkans and to expand its influence. Before Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, for example, it launched a cyber campaign in eastern Europe, flooding news websites in Ukraine with tens of thousands of comments during unrest there, according to a report by the non-profit Rand Corp.

Additionally, the Report found Russians bought at least $100,000 of Facebook ads before the 2016 presidential election and bombarded Twitter accounts that boosted Trump and disparaged Hillary Clinton. The Russians unleashed another weapon in their unconventional arsenal: cyber espionage, stealing emails and disseminating them to embarrass democrats.

The Report cited an anti-Clinton ad from March 2016 with a caption that read in part, “If one day God lets this liar enter the White House as a president – that day would be a real national tragedy.”

The Russian campaign began in 2014, according to the Report, when the Internet Research Agency (IRA) mimicked Americans on social media. “Using fictitious U.S. personas, IRA employees operated social media accounts and group pages designed to attract U.S. audiences,” the report says. “By early- to mid-2016, IRA operations included supporting the Trump campaign and criticizing Hillary Clinton.”

The operations seized on social divisions and showed a clear bias toward Trump, said Young Mie Kim, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, whose research analyzed 3,500 Facebook ads bought by Russia and released last year by the House Intelligence Committee. “If the goal was to simply sow the division, then you should see voter suppression targeting likely Trump voters,” Kim said in an email. “We found ZERO voter suppression targeting likely Trump voters.”

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on China’s reaction to Walter Russell Mead’s article, China is the Real Sick Man of Asia, about the Chinese government’s management of the coronavirus epidemic. The Journal reports the Chinese government initiated a public campaign against the article. Its mailbox was flooded with complaints about the article, all containing similar language demanding an apology. A campaign was orchestrated to get Mr. Mead banned from Twitter.

The Journal states, “If you think this was spontaneous outrage, you don’t understand how China’s government works to influence public opinion home and abroad. Beijing knows how to exploit America’s identity politics to charge racism in the article in service of its censorship.”

Democrats and republicans, liberals and conservatives all are of the opinion that foreign governments or foreign agents are actively involved in influencing or disrupting U.S. opinion on certain issues that could be advantageous to their interests. Democrats are convinced Russians contrived to influence the 2016 election. It is apparent Chinese are active in influencing reporting to build opposition to criticism about government management of the coronavirus and other issues.

My friend raises an interesting issue. If the Russians could throw a presidential election could they or China or both be active in influencing the U.S. debate on climate change?

The cost of all U.S.-produced goods and services would be increased if the U.S. adopts even moderate action to mitigate climate change.  If the cost of U.S. goods is increased, Chinese goods and even Russian goods become much more competitive and could result in China replacing the U.S. as the global economic power.

China has made no commitment to cut its carbon emissions. Can we trust the Chinese or the Russians to accurately report carbon emissions? There is an energy cost component in every product or service. If our cost of production, while today threatened by Chinese goods, could be displaced as the world leader with an increased cost of energy, could the Chinese or Russians be using fictitious U.S. personas, American-appearing social media accounts and group page audiences to influence U.S. opinion on climate change? Could foreign interests be exploiting American free speech to become the leading world economic power?

Not that I believe that the Chinese or the Russians could be that smart or strategic. Just asking – for a friend.

I hope you have a good month.

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