Free Minds & Free Markets

5 Reasons Not to Feed the Russian Troll Hysteria

"If voters are making [stupid] decisions," says Senior Editor Jacob Sullum, "that's not the Russians' fault."

Federal prosecutors have filed charges against 13 Russians who allegedly sought to "sow discord in the U.S. political system" through social media posts, ads, and videos falsely presented as the work of Americans. After the indictment was unveiled in February, The New York Times reported that Donald Trump's "admirers and detractors" both agree with him that "the Russians intended to sow chaos" and "have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams." But Reason Senior Editor Jacob Sullum says a close look at the indictment tells a different story.

Here are "5 Reasons Not to Feed the Russian Troll Hysteria:"

1) Russian trolling was a drop in the bucket.

According to the indictment, Russian trolls associated with the so-called Internet Research Agency (IRA) in Saint Petersburg spent "thousands of U.S. dollars every month" on social media ads, which is a minuscule fraction of online ad revenue. Facebook alone reported advertising revenue of $9.16 billion in the second quarter of 2017. The Russians are said to be responsible for producing 43 hours of YouTube videos, but that doesn't seem like very much when you consider that 400 hours of content are uploaded to the site every minute.

2) Russian trolls were not very sophisticated.

Russian trolls supposedly had the Machiavellian know-how to infiltrate the American political system, but their social media posts don't look very sophisticated. The posts often featured broken English and puzzling topic choices. A post promoting a "buff" Bernie Sanders coloring book, for instance, noted that "the coloring is something that suits for all people." Another post showed Jesus and Satan in an arm wrestling match under this caption: "SATAN: IF I WIN CLINTON WINS! JESUS: NOT IF I CAN HELP IT!" The post generated very few clicks and shares.

3) Russian troll rallies apparently did not attract many participants.

The indictment makes much of pro-Trump and anti-Clinton rallies instigated by Russian trolls, but it does not say how many people participated. The New York Times reported that a Russian-organized rally in Texas opposing Shariah law attracted a dozen people. An anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rally in Idaho drew four people. Attendance at other rallies was similarly sparse.

4) Russian trolling probably didn't change anyone's mind.

Broken English aside, the social media posts were not qualitatively different from content created by American activists, and they seemed to be aimed mainly at reinforcing pre-existing beliefs and divisions. The Russians might have gotten a few Trump supporters to show up at anti-Clinton rallies, but that does not mean they had an impact on the election.

5) Russian troll hysteria depicts free speech as a kind of violence.

The Justice Department describes the messages posted by Russians pretending to be Americans as "information warfare." But while the posts may have been sophomoric, inaccurate, and illogical, that does not distinguish them from most of what passes for online political discussion among actual Americans. The integrity of civic discourse does not depend on verifying the citizenship of people who participate in it. It depends on the ability to weigh what they say, checking it against our own values and information from other sources. If voters cannot do that, maybe democracy is doomed. But if so, it's not the Russians' fault.

Produced and edited by Paul Detrick. Camera by Alex Manning.

Ghost Dance by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (

Russian Folk Dance by Sam Bikov is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (

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  • Citizen X - #6||


  • gormadoc||

    The Will and Grace thread is over thataway.

  • Jujucat||

    Oooh that one almost TRICKED me because ANDREW!

  • Just Say'n||

    "3) Russian troll rallies apparently did not attract many participants."

    Except for one rally, apparently.

    The whole hysteria is beyond stupid, but I do find it amusing that the only rally supposedly organized by Russian trolls that was successful was a large anti-Trump rally that Michael Moore attended.

  • gormadoc||

    Trolling, in so far as it can be considered bullying, is certainly violence. This I know, for the Hihn tells me so.

  • gormadoc||

    I don't know why this became a reply, but whatever.

  • Presskh||

    Didn't they also organize a pro-Trump rally at the same time? Their only goal was to sow discord instead of backing a particular candidate.

  • DajjaI||

    I followed PropOrNot on twitter for several months. He was constantly pointing out alleged examples of Russian trolling and fake news (mostly criticizing tweets from the Russian MFA), and his underlying agenda was to restrict free press. He often argued that news sites must be better regulated and was jubilant when RT was forced to register as a foreign agent. Also the scariest thing about this Troll hysteria for me is that I am often falsely accused of being a troll and thus would be one of the first casualties of any such war against them. (Which I say at risk of being banned again by Reason, but I guess I'm feeling lucky today.)

  • Devastator||

    It's good that RT had to register as a foreign propaganda agency. If you watch 30 minutes of it you will realize it is little more than a Putin mouthpiece.

  • Number 2||

    Would it be too cynical of me to suggest that the "Russian Trolls Sowing Discord" hysteria is merely a face-saving device for those who now realize that their "Trump Colluded with Putin to Steal the Election" hysteria was wildly overstated?

  • Cynical Asshole||

    No, it wouldn't.

  • Sevo||

    "Would it be too cynical of me to suggest that the "Russian Trolls Sowing Discord" hysteria is merely a face-saving device for those who now realize that their "Trump Colluded with Putin to Steal the Election" hysteria was wildly overstated?"

    I'm surprised that the losers pushing the 'Russki Troll' noise haven't fallen back to plan C by now, since the 'Trolls' have been shown to have the sophistication of that pimply-faced kid down the block.
    THAT crap convinced HRC supporters to vote for Trump?!

  • soldiermedic76||

    As I pointed out to my progressive friend, the recent indictments against the Russians are totally useless because they will never go to trial and no one will ever be convicted (that is if you could even get a conviction, it seems the 1A probably covers their activities).

  • Fancylad||

    As I pointed out to my progressive friend
    Wow, really? Doesn't talking to him hurt your common-sense? How do you handle it?

  • soldiermedic76||

    Lots of high end whiskey. Right now I am drinking knob Creek Rye.

  • ejhickey||

    since the cases will never go to trial, the Mueller's case against the will never be tested in court. Mueller will never be forced to produce any credible evidence to make his case. In the end this is a very Safe indictment as his theory will never be challenged.

  • soldiermedic76||

    He has to show that he accomplished something. Got to justify his budget. This is perfect. He can point to actual indictments without the need to ever actually go to trial.

  • ejhickey||

    It's crazy that people equate an indictment with proof.

  • soldiermedic76||

    Well, for the year we've been told that Trump will he impeached any day, despite lack of evidence. Progressives no longer even pay lip service to the Bill of Rights.

  • Nardz||

    I'd say it's not cynical, but naive.
    If you haven't noticed, the West is putting more effort into provoking conflict with Russia than it is in fighting terrorism. (Terrorism, not "terrorism")
    It's a long story, but Putin (and an independent Russia) never part of the - as SimonP puts it - postwar consensus, nor their plans.

  • wearingit||

    Point 2 suggests that the typical American is smarter than that. Have you looked outside lately?

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Seriously. It's like Jake doesn't even read Hit comments.

  • Rockabilly||

    Clinton voters were not brainwashed by Russian Robots to vote for Trumps?

  • Free Oregon||

    Could Mueller be a Russian Troll?

  • ThomasD||

    More meta than meta.

  • Headache||

    The most effective anti-Clinton troll was Clinton.

  • Johnimo||

    OMG! Her voice is so irritating. How about those 73 million registered voters that chose not to cast a vote in the presidential contest? You don't suppose about a third (at least) of them are democrats?

  • CatoTheChipper||

    Sollum's thesis that the Russians didn't really do much misses the point. Despite the paucity of cost and effort incurred by the Russkies, and despite the innocuousness of their output, the Russkies were enormously successful in disrupting American politics. Those clever FSB guys designed the program such that the Democrat Party elite and their acolytes in the federal bureaucracy and the mainstream media would do all the hard work in the event that Trump won. If Trump had lost, I doubt the Russkie plan would have been quite as effective, but the Trumpsters would be able to point to their pro-Hillary and pro-BLM propaganda.

    But Sollum is absolutely correct that the whole response is insanely ridiculous.

  • soldiermedic76||

    I have tried to explain to my progress friends that their continued screaming about this is playing right into the Russians hands. In return, they have accused me of being a Russian dupe because I don't think it's that big of a deal (and definitely not worth creating an international incident with a nuclear armed country).

  • soldiermedic76||

    Progress=progressive. Why doesn't Reason have an edit button?

  • ejhickey||

    They want you to get it right the first time. Sometimes life does not give you a do over.

  • soldiermedic76||

    Well considering the skill of some of the paid staff, you'd think they'd understand the importance of editing.

  • Nardz||

    "screaming about this is playing right into the Russians hands"

    Here I disagree. Now, according to the narrative, your logic is absolutely correct. If there was some plot by Russians to sow discord, none have colluded more than progressives, D politicians, FBI, and MSM.
    But I don't think it's Russia's hands they're playing into - it's the narrative they're feeding.
    Cui bono?
    That is the question.
    It is not at all apparent - what, with the threat of sanctions, conflict in Syria, expanded US military spending, and risk of wider conflagration - how exactly Russia benefits from a chaotic US (especially considering their traditional fear of our 'preemptive nuclear strike' and MAD doctrines). Is the benefit that they look clever? The utility of being clever is precisely to not appear clever, so that doesn't make sense. Plus, we're selling weapons to Ukraine now... not sure that would've passed muster without all the 'Russian meddling' hysteria.
    If not Russia, who benefits from Russian meddling?
    For some reason, nobody ever really asks this question.

  • Nardz||

    *I shouldn't have singled out the Ds here. The Rs have played their part, especially folks like "Maidan" McCain, and are equally complicit.

  • A_Spellman||

    I was about to strongly object to your assertion about the success of the Ruskies......then I realized. They were quite successful, weren't they? We're on month, what, 15, 16, of the #notmy president #resist shenanigans. Darn those sneaky commies!

  • soldiermedic76||

    I asked my progressive friend, who insists that this is a big deal and Trump must be guilty because he isn't taking this seriously enough (and neither are completely conservatives) "exactly what would you want us to do? What is the end game? Is this worth risking an international incident with a nuclear power over?" He couldn't give me a straight answer. He kept insisting anyone who isn't angry about this and doesn't think the investigation is a major scandal must be unAmerican.

  • Fancylad||

    I saw a Russian Troll scampering up my birdfeeder yesterday, and stealing the sunflower seeds. I ran out screaming "RESISTANCE" and "NOT MY PRESIDENT", and he ran away.
    I'm so afraid he'll come back though, that my pussyhat is soaked with sweat.
    What can I do to stop him?

  • BigT||

    That's not sweat, dearie.

  • Nardz||


    Call 911.
    They'll get you right over to the FBI hotline.
    Just make sure that you don't mention any imminent plans to shoot up a school, because then they'll hang up on you.

  • Johnimo||

    I check under my bed every night before retiring. Those Russians are so clever that one just can't be cautious enough. I wonder if Howdy Doody wasn't a Russian troll? And what about that Micky Mouse Club? Suddenly, it's all coming into focus.

  • Nominalis||

    At least Americans can rest ussured that their govenment has never interfered with another countries political process.

  • Nominalis||

    Make that "assured".

  • Nardz||

    Nor have they ever interfered with our own...

  • ejhickey||

    So basically Russia "attacked" the US political process with Words and Pictures and not very many of those . Also the words were poorly used and their "attacks" occurred in areas of the country where the election was not close. Do I have that right?

  • soldiermedic76||

    I am still not clear how anything they did was illegal without circumventing the 1A.

  • gormadoc||

    The criminal aspect is being investigated with respect to whether Americans worked with them to interfere; that's illegal for American citizens.

    The problem with Russia is more of international convention, where interference in the elections of another sovereign country is faux-pas. Probably not illegal unless they did other illegal things as part of the interference (like hacking).

  • ThomasD||

    So non citizens have greater rights than citizens?

    Yeah, that's a winning argument.

  • gormadoc||

    No, we just don't have jurisdiction. Similar to how we don't arrest our Thai citizens if they insult the Thai royal family.

  • Nardz||

    The criminal aspect is, supposedly, identity theft, wire fraud, and failure to register as foreign agents.
    It's specious.
    Direct contribution of foreign money to a campaign would be criminal, but that hasn't been alleged... plus, you know, Clinton Foundation.
    Mueller indicted these specific individuals because there is 99.9999% certainty that he/DoJ won't have to try any of them.
    It's just more gaslighting

  • Sebastian Cremmington||

    Trump is president because the phony Benghazi investigation led to a legitimate investigation so I support the Russia investigation because it might lead to a real investigation.

  • BigT||

    Trump won because he is able to stick one word labels on his competitors that crystallize their public personas. And he chose issues that capitalize on people's fears and greed. He is the Great Pursuader.

  • Sevo||

    "Trump is president because the phony Benghazi investigation led to a legitimate investigation so I support the Russia investigation because it might lead to a real investigation."

    So you're all for fishi9ng expeditions?

  • ThomasD||

    And the Great Climbdown begins!

  • Migrant Log Chipper||

    Wow, a double dose of late night stupid. Well done, chaps.

  • Cloudbuster||

    "If voters are making [stupid] decisions," says Senior Editor Jacob Sullum, "that's not the Russians' fault."

    I keep making this argument in relation to a whole lot of speech activity in addition to Russians (Facebook, Google, Nazis, pretty much everyone who's doing thing that someone doesn't like and therefore must be "shut down" "broken up" or "regulated").

    It only seems to make people mad.

  • Spaced out||

    Trump is so obviously afraid the Russia investigation will lead to his indictment. Why would he obsess over it to the point of criminally obstructing the damn thing if he had nothing to hide? Why would a selfish prick like Trump risk his own reputation and place himself in legal jeopardy to protect Russians? Even if Trump is innocent he's obstructing justice by constantly attacking an investigation that has so far uncovered so many criminal acts by foreigners. It's borderline treason to protect Putin's henchmen from an accounting.

  • Sevo||

    Why would a dim-bulb conspiracy twit like you post here?

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Maybe he's a genuine libertarian, you half-educated right-wing goober.

  • Johnimo||

    For the same reason "dim-bulb pretentious twits" like all of us post here. IT'S FUN TO READ AND RESPOND.

  • James Pollock||

    "Why would he obsess over it to the point of criminally obstructing the damn thing if he had nothing to hide?"

    If Mr. Trump finally admits what has been obvious to anyone with functioning neurons, that Russians meddled in our election, he has to then admit one of two things:

    1) that he actively colluded with a foreign power to subvert the United States election.


    2) He's a dupe, and the Russians wanted him to "win" the election because they knew he'd be utterly inept and inadequate.

    (I'm fairly convinced it's #2... nothing he's done in the last 15 months suggests he's the mastermind type. I ithink he got into the election because he recognized a massive opportunity for a lot of free advertising, which would support his primary business of selling his name to people to put on their real-estate projects because stupid people bought his self-hype bullshit.)

  • Flinch||

    Gee, the Russians tried to organize to help push back against the spread of sharia law in the US? They seem more patriotic than half the DNC, in that light. Scary times we live in, where americans are being taught to hate themselves, their culture, and their country inside the ivory towers.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    I like American culture.

    That's why I disdain half-educated, backward, superstitious, no-count, easily frightened, backwaters-dwelling bigots.

    Carry on, clingers.

  • James Pollock||

    "the Russians tried to organize to help push back against the spread of sharia law in the US?"

    The spread of sharia law in the US? Seriously? Mind citing, er, ANY examples of sharia law in the US? Just one. Anywhere. You could say, "for example, in (place), the municipal code includes this statute that was taken from sharia law."

    I'll make it easy. You don't even have to point out any actual law. Just point to any case, anywhere in the US, where any sharia law was actually submitted for consideration.

    Hint: The Russians wanted us to have a leader who didn't know how to get anything done. And we gave them just that, and nothing more. But at least we'll pay more for anything that uses steel or aluminum, because THAT'S something we all wanted...

  • damikesc||

    Don't worry...when a Cold War comes around again, the Left will bury Trump for engaging in anti-Russia paranoia.

    I still don't get why it is bad that Trump wanted to let Russia deal with the shithole that is Syria instead of, ya know, us.

  • James Pollock||

    Not that hard to figure out. Russia backed the side that wanted to solve the question of who should run the country with nerve gas. Free peoples generally oppose that approach.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    I am glad to see right-wingers appease Trump.

    This will precipitate the acceleration and enlargement of their period in the political wilderness. They can go back to muttering bitterly and inconsequentially on the sidelines as their betters shove more progress down their throats for another half-century or so.

    Carry on, clingers.

  • James Pollock||

    The logic presented here is deeply flawed. It suggests that the Russian meddling consisted solely and completely of the things Mueller thinks he can prove in court, and the indictments already revealed. That seems like a foolish assumption.

    It IS true that the Russians didn't CREATE the discord... they fanned the flames of discord that was well-established already. That doesn't mean that we should ignore the meddling. Our discord is OURS, dammit, and none of their damned bidness. (Try to ignore that elephant over in the corner labeled "Voice of America"... THAT meddling didn't require us to lie about where it was coming from. "Kevin from Philadelphia" with the Russian IP address doesn't have that excuse.)

  • ejhickey||

    still not criminal and something that is done on many social media platforms. Go on to Reddit and see if you can tell where the posts come from. Sometimes they identify where they are from , sometimes not but in the end does it matter where someone is from in evaluating a statement ?


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