Hacking Democracy

By Ryan Abbasi

For the past four years, Americans have been subject to innumerable accusations of Russian meddling, hacking, and destruction of our 2016 Presidential Election. Although this sounds daunting, what does “hacking an election” even entail? The term hacking is applicable to the Russian interference in our election in one main way: propaganda. Without directly changing the results of our election, in 2016, the Russian government knew that the most effective, and plausible, method of attaining desired results in the race for the presidency was in influencing voters. Consequently, the Kremlin sought a divided, politically tense atmosphere by purchasing ads and creating fake accounts on platforms including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. 

By posing as average Americans, and posting politically radical, extreme views through these fake accounts, or “bots,” Russia influenced and divided voters, both conservative and liberal, into further division and more fervent support for their respective candidates. According to Facebook, nearly 125 million Americans were exposed to Russian-backed posts during the 2016 campaign. Furthermore, The Atlantic reports that Twitter deactivated nearly 3,000 accounts suspected of being Russian bots during the 2016 campaign. The US Intelligence Community itself, consisting of multiple government intelligence agencies, has confirmed that the head of the Russian government, Vladimir Putin, personally directed the meddling campaign. When the average moderate American is exposed to constant content portraying one candidate or party as extreme and radical, moderate Americans tend to shift their votes to the seemingly stable and sane side: the conservative or Republican candidate in 2016. In fact, the Kremlin was so meticulous in its research and hacking, that they targeted ads and fake posts to Americans in not only crucial swing states but also the most valuable and vulnerable “swing” precincts, which influence the outcome of the entire state’s election, thus deciding the nation’s next leader (Washington Post). Russia hacked our election by making real news and information on social media almost indistinguishable from fabricated or falsified information, dividing our nation and influencing the outcome of our election. 

Ultimately, through capitalizing off of and destabilizing our nation’s diversity and delicate political fabric, foreign agencies were able to provoke chaos and a long-lasting distrust of the government from both the right and left. The same is applicable to the situation today. As the 2020 General Election approaches, Americans are responsible for taking vital steps, such as scrutinizing their sources of information and reporting accounts that seem suspicious, in order to ensure a fair, balanced election.