Muftic: Need a better rat trap |

Muftic: Need a better rat trap

Felicia Muftic
Courtesy Photo |

During the summer of 2016 a friend of mine who follows politics called me and asked, “Did you hear? Hillary Clinton…” and she relayed the contents of an ad that popped up on her computer that appeared to give “proof” of Hillary’s deviant life.

What was the source of that ad? I asked. Who paid for it?

In political ads in traditional media there is regulatory requirement for a disclosure of the name of some political committee who paid for it. There was none, she said.

I smelled a rat and told her she should, too.

Thanks to congressional committee investigations into Russian election meddling,we are learning rats were running rampant in 2016.

We may need to build some better rat traps.

What has been revealed so far by both Senate and House committees investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and the testimony from Facebook executives is that social media advertising had been bought by Russians or related entities.

A Twitter account was even paid in rubles.

In one Twitter account, the sender neglected to remove the location of the organization placing posting tweets, which was Vladivostok, Russia. That is only a tidbit released to the public of what the Committees have learned so far.

What they have disclosed, ads were carefully targeted to those voters Russians believed were gullible enough to accept them as truth since they likely fortified their existing suppositions. The subject matter was not always about negative, fabricated stories that made Hillary Clinton look bad, but also the ads were about issues which would intensify existing partisan feelings about immigration and racial hatred.

Whether a large enough number of voters who fell for the Russian disinformation campaign to swing the election to Donald Trump, we will never know because there were so many factors that led to his electoral victory, if not the popular majority.

What we do know so far, the Russians were actively engaged in helping Donald Trump get elected. Collusion and conspiracy of the Trump campaign may or may not be proved.

What is more important is that voters need to become educated about warning signs and learn how they can tell that some foreign force is playing with their heads. The best public education service those Congressional committees can provide is to let the public hear and see the actual contents of ads which were traced to Russian funding and to point out the disinformation techniques they were using.

It would be an effective wake-up call for the yet unconvinced that interference happened.

Public education is not enough.

It is only human that people believe what they want to believe, but still healthy, informed scepticism works for more than a few.

As the committees learn more, an outcome is likely to be regulation of social media advertising. Neither Twitter nor Facebook nor other social platforms have been put on the same regulatory footing as other media advertising. Ads placed by foreign entities on U.S.-based social media should be forbidden by regulation just as they are on other media. Social platform political advertisers should be required by regulation to know and publish the source of all ads and need to coordinate with our intelligence agencies as part of their vetting process.

U.S. social platforms must take responsibility to self police posting contents and their sources, too, non-partisan, non-profit fact checkers can play a very important role in helping the public sort truth from disinformation that is not put in paid ads and they deserve higher profiles and media exposure of sources and facts.

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