With the approaching of another presidential elections in US, the news outlets became increasingly worried of the anticipated Russian interference. Well, you may think you have already come up with your choice of the candidate and feel yourself confident in the atmosphere of another Russian information attack being immune to all this stuff.
Well, you may be too reckless. The purpose of Russian trolls is not merely influencing behaviors and voting results. They’re targeting minds, trying to provoke antagonism and controversies. Those who consider themselves immune to Russian tactics could become self-congratulatory, and appear right into Russian embracement.
To comprehend the abilities of the Russians, we should remind a history lesson. During the Cold War, Rand Corp. applied the game theory to the state security policy while in the Soviet Union another concept called reflexive control theory was developed. This theory create the basis for Russia to interfere into US internal affairs in general and elections in particular. Understanding of the reflexive control gives better comprehension of Russian strategy and allows to combat it.
Models which form the core of the theory are based on algebra and study of graphs. The main idea suggests that the world is polarized between the cooperation and conflict and the way people adopt the decisions largely depends on whom they think to be friends or enemies and how they think they are perceived by others. Distortion of this judgment-based perception is the main Moscow’s target.
The culmination of such maneuvers is provoking emotional reactions that cause unsurmountable dissentions and makes it impossible to achieve the consensus. Another expectation of the Russian party is that those who remained of the same mind would give up and take a wait-and-see approach causing the political stagnation.
Imagine the following situation: you have a neighbor who has a lot of views in common with you but you disagree on some sensitive issued related to race or immigration. When you go to the web, you find a lot of information aggravating the divergences, such as memes that describe the situation as a battle between those defending opposite views on the topics. This make you see you neighbour in a quite different light not as a person with a lot of common, but as your arch-enemy, who share the views of “others”. Later it becomes impossible to come to terms when your neighbour is apparently racist or anti-American.
The final aim is to create a perception of in-depth divisions between people who share your position and those dissent, making it impossible to agree on anything.
In fact, Russians are interested in US and European realities inasmuch as they meet the primary purpose of trolling them and setting one against another while their identity and political beliefs are of no importance. That’s why it is equally important for Russia to penetrate into the groups of both Black Lives Matter and white nationalists.
All these efforts coupled with the specifics of communications in social networks make society divided and give growth to extremism while making in difficult to combat such campaigns and find their source.
The nature of content in social networks that preclude detailed conversation and cultivate short posts is easily suitable for providing people with customised content based on their preferences and respectively, making it popular and shareable more quickly.
Everyone may put strength to neutralise the main Russian weapon during the upcoming US president elections. From the technical side, engaged companies should detect suspicious content generated from beyond US and check the identity of the users. Public leaders should eliminate discrepancies on sensitive issues, carry on explanatory work on such topics as race, immigration and inequality which are widely exploit by Russia.
However, except for tech companies and public agencies, the above problem shall be the subject for attention of all users, who share unchecked information or funny memes which may have far-reaching outcome, such as despising people sharing other opinion.
The thing we all should remember when we enter the world of social networks is that we are a constant target for manipulators. However, such a play on emotions can make us much more hostile to each other and unable to find a lot of common, hitting seriously the national discourse.