Latest Russia Conspiracy Theory: Facebook Pages Are Culture Hacks Meant to 'Harvest Rage'

Worry over Russia's "influence" on U.S. politics is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of free speech.



It has come to this: The latest reporting on Russia's attempts to "interfere" with the U.S. presidential election focuses on Facebook groups that posted content created by Americans.

This, The New York Times breathlessly reports, represented an effort to "Reshape U.S. Politics."

What are the Russians accused of this time?

"The Russian pages—with names like 'Being Patriotic,' 'Secured Borders' and 'Blacktivist'—cribbed complaints about federal agents from one conservative website, and a gauzy article about a veteran who became an entrepreneur from People magazine," the Times informs us. "They took descriptions and videos of police beatings from genuine YouTube and Facebook accounts and reposted them, sometimes lightly edited for maximum effect."

So in essence, they did what a lot of Facebook pages do: Repost content that fits the theme of the page.

The Times describes this as "harvesting American rage," but that seems grossly overstated. These pages—which the site has removed—were not unlike countless other politically oriented pages on Facebook. Since virtually anyone can start a Facebook page, and since the Russian pages reportedly suffered from broken English, it's hard to imagine them having any real influence rather than being merely another interchangeable part of the online echo chamber.

The wide range of ideological opinion represented by the Facebook pages (which included material that highlighted police brutality and discrimination against Muslims, in addition to standard right-wing fare) also undercuts the idea that Russian efforts (or these efforts, at least) were directed toward a particular outcome.

"This is cultural hacking," Jonathan Albright, research director of Columbia University's Tow Center for Digital Journalism, told the Times. "They are using systems that were already set up by these platforms to increase engagement. They're feeding outrage—and it's easy to do, because outrage and emotion is how people share."

Maybe that's the aim. But that's also their right. The right to free speech, perhaps contrary to popular belief, is not limited to U.S. citizens. Anyone can (or should be) able to participate in America's marketplace of ideas.

Are Russians trying to breed chaos by stoking certain segments of America's political debates? Guess what: Free speech means our debates are always chaotic. That makes them stronger. Suppressing speech because Russians may have amplified it, on the other hand, undermines our culture of free speech and has the potential to be a lot more harmful than any Facebook page could possibly be.

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  1. “They are using systems that were already set up by these platforms to increase engagement. They’re feeding outrage?and it’s easy to do, because outrage and emotion is how people share.”

    “And they need to stop, because that’s the Times‘s job.”

  2. …outrage and emotion is how people share.

    I thought they did it using the share button.

  3. This must seem especially absurd to average Russians, for whom, I’m sure, American involvement with various anti-Kremlin revolutions in parts of the former communist bloc is common knowledge.

    Anybody else ever hear of Voice of America?

    Incidentally, if the American government isn’t doing anything to help counter the influence of the Venezuelan government in the region, then someone in the state department needs to be fired for falling asleep at the wheel.

    This is about people still being sore that Hillary Clinton didn’t win. Even neocons on the right wanted Hillary over Trump. Hillary Lost. Yes, foreigners try to influence us. So what? Get over it.

    Go read what Wikipedia says about Chinese communism sometime. Ever heard of the 50 cent army? That shit is real–and has been for more than a decade. Get over it!

    1. Partisanship explains why you’re so dismissive of the evidence that suggests Trump’s campaign elicted the aid of Putin by promising to withdraw support for Ukraine and the sanctions.

      1. I didn’t mention anything about the Ukraine, but my partisanship is to blame for the American government trying to influence the rest of the world through VOA, trying to get various leaders elected in the former eastern bloc, and my partisanship is also to blame for noting that RT News is paid for by the Russian government. My partisanship is to blame for the Chinese government seeking to influence the political debate in America through the 50 cent army, too.

        In fact, my partisanship is to blame for North Korean nukes, global warming, childhood obesity, ISIS, and everything else wrong with the world, isn’t it? I mean, in all seriousness, is there anything that you can’t blame on my partisanship? Isn’t blaming problems on my partisanship what reason and logic are all about?

      2. What evidence, pray tell?

    2. Being a Cold War era veteran, I remember the Russians trying to sway American public opinion long before there was such a thing as “the internet”.

      And they weren’t the only ones. When I was in high school I took a class on current events that included participating in a Model U.N. I wrote to various embassies for background material. The embassies sent me boxes of stuff. It was all propaganda. The Israelis sent me the most, including a pamphlet “proving” that Yassir Arafat was a gay pedophile.

      So I have trouble seeing what all the squalling is about.

      1. +1

        This is nothing new or secret.

        Foreign governments have been trying to influence the American public since forever–out in the open. Our government tries to influence foreign populations, too.

        Always been this way.

      2. What is different is that some people are bent out of shape over Trump’s willingness to collaborate with Russia over Syria and Hillary winning the election.

        This is the new Birther conspiracy. They want to attack Trump’s legitimacy as President, so suddenly they’re finding conspiracies that have been hiding in plain sight for decades.

        I’ve seen Welch and company appear on RT television. The Russian government funds a television news channel in the United States, for goodness’ sake. So do several other governments.

    3. I remember Voice of America, and it’s certainly been on my mind every time I hear about how the eeevil Russians have been influencing American elections by telling Americans things their government didn’t want them to hear.

      Of course, things are very different now then they were back in the Cold War days. People actually used to defect from Russia to the US, instead of the other way around!

      1. Voice of America is still around.

        “Voice of America (VOA) is a U.S. government-funded international news source that serves as the United States federal government’s official institution for non-military, external broadcasting. As the largest U.S. international broadcaster, VOA produces digital, TV, and radio content in more than 40 languages which it distributes to affiliate stations around the globe. Primarily viewed by foreign audiences, VOA programming has an influence on public opinion abroad regarding the United States and its leaders.[1]”


        They’ve only been around since . . . 1942.

        These people are acting like they just found out that government try to influence each other’s populations!

        If a tree fell in the middle of a forest decades ago but a Millennial wasn’t there to hear it, you can convince them that no tree has ever fallen in a forest before.

        1. Trees…fall?

          It is the end of the world!

      2. Yeah, but this is the Voice of Russia. Totally different.

  4. “outrage and emotion is how people share”

    Maybe for assholes like you, but for kindhearted people like me who aren’t total dickweeds like you are, sharing is an expression of love, you dumb retard. /sarc

  5. “harvesting American rage,”

    The rage virus has been released!

  6. Harvester of Rage was my superhero name in college.

    1. Now I am just the Harvester of Wage.

      [cries softly into mouse wrist pad]

    2. Any relation to Impotent Rage?


  7. Weather was nice this morning, should get some good rage today.

  8. Ed, it’s nice of you to defend Russians but we’re not attacking Russians we’re attacking Putinists. You’re framing the issue the way Putin frames it and it’s inaccurate. Replace the word “Russia” with “Putin” and see how it reads then.

    1. It’s still ridiculous.

      1. On the surface and if considered without context then I could see how one would dismiss these pages but these pages were a part of a much larger effort by Putin to elect Trump.

  9. The russia thing is the equivalent of the “Obama is a muslim” thing. Utterly pointless, utterly inconsequential and entirely perpetuated to keep the crazy retards in a state of anger so they will not pay attention to the $20 trillion dollar debt, the never ending wars, the bankrupt police/spending/social welfare state apparatus, and the hooker and booze on revolving order in Washington.

    If you give a sh*t about russia or kneeling/protesting songs and flags or if you think black people or woman are oppressed in the united states, you are a f*cking useful idiot.

  10. “Cultural hacking”.

    That there is some funny shit. I picture some black leather-clad rooskie broad suspended from ropes, furiously HACKING the secure Culture terminal in the bowels of the Pentagon, wiping the sweat from her brow as she nervously watches the Pumpkin-Spice-Kardashian-JJ Abrams Reboot-Super-Virus load. Suddenly the lenses flare and the security klaxons roar to life but it’s too late – she’s HACKED the CULTURE!!

    1. If someone culture hacked America, I think they would spew, then chunder.

    2. Wait. When did America start having culture?

  11. What are these goddamn commies doing on America’s Internet anyway? Build your own damn The Facebook if you want to shitpost, suchki!

  12. Maybe if the electorate wasn’t a fucking moron.

    1. Being a fucking moron and proud of it is the thing these days. I do it all the time to impress the kids.

      1. We have the best morons in America – the best.

  13. Real Americans don’t need Russian influence to lose faith in their institutions.

  14. They took descriptions and videos of police beatings from genuine YouTube and Facebook accounts and reposted them, sometimes lightly edited for maximum effect.”

    This was as opposed to the heavily edited versions that came from the police department?

  15. “This is cultural hacking,” Jonathan Albright, research director of Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, told the Times.

    You know who else accused a specific group of hacking the culture?

  16. I was only in like 3rd grade at the time and don’t remember, but can somebody explain to me how this Russia thing is different or worse than the China-DNC scandal in the 90s?

    From what I gather, a bunch of Chinese nationals were caught illegally funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into Democrat campaigns and the DNC. While the DoJ did an investigation and found it never went beyond a few congressional elections, Clinton and Reno ignored demands for an independent counsel from, among others, the NYT and Clinton’s own FBI director.

    I know this is “whataboutism”, but I am just tired of people saying this was the worst attack on American democracy in history and worse than 9/11, when it is in fact not that new at all.

  17. I’m looking over my shoulder.

    I’m a Reason Facebook follower and print subscriber, and there’s my photo! You certainly made an example of “increased engagement” for me.

  18. Latest Russia Conspiracy Theory: Facebook Pages Are Culture Hacks Meant to ‘Harvest Rage’ – Hit & Run : Reason.comis the best post by imo for pc Please visit imo app imo app snaptube for pc snaptube app

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