On February 16, Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians on charges of interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election through social media. Much of the information in the indictments had previously been reported, in Russia and in the U.S. The focus was the St. Petersburg-Internet Research Agency, also known as the “troll factory,” and how it allegedly disrupted the 2016 election and — it is increasingly suggested — elected Donald Trump.
The indictments will not likely lead to any extraditions or prosecutions, but the media’s obsessive focus on the topic has convinced just about everyone that Russian election interference was sweeping and decisive. And of course anyone who voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries or Jill Stein in the general election are now generally seen as dupes of the Russian operation — even though the ads in those candidates’ favor were poorly funded, tiny in number and often based around memes that were already widely circulating.
Overall, Rob Goldman, VP of Advertising at Facebook, tweeted, “The majority of the Russian ad spend happened AFTER the election. We shared that fact, but very few outlets have covered it because it doesn’t align with the main media narrative of Trump and the election.” Goldman was savaged for this in the press — especially after Trump tweeted out his comments –and later apologized, but what he had said about the timing was true.
These realities haven’t stopped mainstream media and establishment pundits from suggesting that Sanders’s entire campaign was tainted. “Sanders silent on claim that Russians backed him in 2016” ran a Politico headline. Also joining in were MSNBC’s Ari Melber and Joy Reid, and Clinton superfan Peter Daou, who all thought it imperative that Sanders apologize because Russian trolls paid for ads, without his knowledge, such as this “Buff Bernie” ad, which we are to believe influenced large numbers of LGBT voters. By the same logic, Reid should apologize for having her work boosted more than 200 times by Russia trolls.
Jill Stein has also been effectively accused of treason and turned into a major scapegoat for Trump’s election based on the now accepted assumption that every one of her voters would have cast their ballot for Hillary Clinton if she hadn’t run. Various studies and polls suggest otherwise, and it’s hard to imagine that the one Russia ad cited in the indictment won her any support: “On or about November 3, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased an advertisement to promote a post on the ORGANIZATION-controlled Instagram account “Blacktivist” that read in part: “choose peace and vote for Jill Stein. Trust me, it’s not a wasted vote.”
At this point the Russia-gate narrative is targeting the left — Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, Black Lives Matter, and other activist groups — with almost as much fervor as it is Trump. The hysteria surrounding these claims is having a profound impact on the political discourse, to the point that expressing concern about the Parkland school shootings can now make you an unwitting dupe of Russian trolls.