In the end, it was not the Russian government as anti-Russia propagandists in the West claimed but instead homegrown digital tools that brought down US leader Donald Trump. As a result, not only did he lose the presidential election in 2020, but also access to his much-loved social networking sites in his last days at the White House, which Donald Trump often used in his own interests.
Recent events in the United States have shown that the internet and new digital tools, along with an altered political landscape, have all contributed to the diminishing role of professionalism and character in determining whether a politician gets elected or not. The digital revolution, which was initiated and subsequently promoted in the West by political elites, led to fragmentation and division within societies and to individuals striving to remain within their own networks on social media sites so as to access and digest information on their smartphones and notebooks in a manner comfortable for them.
On his path towards becoming the US President, Donald Trump began actively using all of these fairy new digital tools at the start of his 2016 election campaign. He then continued to take advantage of them (e.g. his Twitter account) to communicate with the public. Initially, many communication experts, politicians and journalists did not think highly of Donald Trump’s use of Twitter. Still, such a communication strategy was the secret weapon that helped him win in the 2016 election. After all, average American voters, especially those with less than stellar education, must have viewed Trump’s tweets as messages directed at them, which they could relate to. Over the years, it became the norm in the US that more informal and direct encounters with voters (i.e. at shopping centers, on the streets and in other public places vs. at rallies) benefited candidates running in elections. Hence, in this digital era, Trump’s tweets must have played the same role as conversations in an informal setting. In all likelihood, average voters viewed his Twitter posts as messages directed at them and not at some distant elites who one usually communicates with via media outlets, which are not always accessible for free. In addition, people with less than average education could prefer communication via tweets, which are usually short. The fact that Donald Trump chose Twitter as his main mouthpiece probably encouraged an average US voter to view him as “one of the guys”.
At the beginning of December 2016, Das Magazin (a Swiss-based publication) wrote about the effect Big Data had on the results of the 2016 presidential election in the United States. At the time, a number of media outlets already started reporting about psychological micro-targeting as a political tool, and its effect on outcomes of elections. In a nutshell, an individual’s digital footprint on social networking sites was used to compile the user’s psychological profile and then the information collected could be employed to manipulate public opinion. In fact, Cambridge Analytica, a company hired by the Trump team to take charge of the 2016 social media campaign did just that.
Cambridge Analytica, founded in 2013, was a subsidiary of the SCL Group (Strategic Communication Laboratories) and its main focus was on US elections. SCL described itself as a “global election management agency” and studied the use of Big Data in public relations and political technologies. Reportedly, Cambridge Analytica’s owners included the family of Robert Mercer, a computer scientist and an early artificial intelligence researcher who later began to actively fund political campaigns. It is also important to note that the company’s board of directors included Steve Bannon, who later became Donald Trump’s chief strategist. According to various reports published earlier, approximately in 2007, Steve Bannon wanted to tear down crony capitalism, which was “about creating wealth and creating value for a very small subset of people.” The Breitbart Embassy, headquartered in Tallahassee, dealt with implementing this thesis and included not only a young team of 200 analysts known as ‘Bannon’s pirates’ but also the most powerful US private software and hardware system aimed at analyzing the invisible internet.
By the end of 2014, Cambridge Analytica had been “involved in 44 US congressional, US Senate and state-level elections”. The company became more well known after its involvement in Ted Cruz’s and subsequently Donald Trump’s presidential campaigns in 2015-2016. After performing data mining and data analysis on its audience, the firm’s communication team would specifically target key groups “to modify behavior in accordance with the goal of” Cambridge Analytica’s client which dramatically increases the probability of success (by precisely 1,400%).
Recently, Donald Trump’s opponents, including first and foremost members of the US Democratic party and supporters of liberal political causes (e.g. George Soros), have come to appreciate the important role played by digital tools in the US President’s previous elections and political life. Aside from encouraging mail-in voting with its inherent falsifications during the 2020 presidential election, they also made a crucial decision to try and beat Donald Trump at his own social media game in the hopes of dealing a heavy blow to US President’s 2020 re-election campaign. At first, US-based social networking sites promoted posting of content on preparations to and the elections themselves that was biased against current leader Donald Trump. And afterwards they clearly declared war against him. These websites started censoring information, posted by the President himself, that the opposition could find objectionable.
In order to make their actions seem justifiable and fair to the public, yet another anti-Russia campaign was initiated within the US media landscape under the pretext of combatting false narratives and Russian government-sponsored interference in US presidential elections. Wide-spread censorship of messages and content posted on social media benefited members of the US Democratic party and individuals like George Soros as accounts belonging to alternative information sources, such as that of the New Eastern Outlook, were suspended by US-based social networking sites. Facebook whistleblower Ryan Hartwig filmed with a hidden camera and uncovered documents that show Facebook censoring conservatives and influencing elections on a global scale.
In the end, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Twitch suspended Donald Trump’s and his closest allies’ accounts and channels, thereby essentially preventing him from communicating with his supporters online and making him lose elections. It is therefore not surprising that members of the professional association of social media and messenger users advised the current President of the United States, Donald Trump, to create accounts on Russian social networking sites. However, such advice does not seem relevant at present because the current US leader has not shown any true affinity for Russia or its various institutions during his presidential term.
Social media and digital tools used in information warfare have proven to be a destructive force comparable to nuclear weapons since under certain circumstances, they can be used not only to influence outcomes of important elections in various nations but to also help win different political battles.
Clearly, social networking sites have long been employed as political tools and the United States appears to have mastered their use in this manner. In addition, they have been employed by presidential candidates to win elections and to encourage color revolutions all over the world. Facebook, Youtube and Google dominate the online world and their leadership do not seem to care where in the world accounts are suspended as long as they continue to comply with the wishes of investors and sponsors.
Such wars can be initiated and waged yet again in any country and not only using tools employed in color revolutions. Hence, it is important to ensure the use of digital tools for waging information warfare is regulated at a supranational level in order to prevent certain political forces in the West from employing them in their own interests in other countries.
Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.