Arm yourself with skepticism

Russian internet trolls who have been successful, probably beyond their wildest dreams, in sowing discord among Americans may be getting a good chuckle out of an announcement by Facebook.

Officials at the widely used social media company said this week they will increase efforts to keep Facebook from being used as a propaganda weapon.

Facebook will label state-controlled media, will fact-check content more thoroughly and will spend $2 million on “media literacy.”

Elections have changed since 2016 “and Facebook has changed, too,” said company CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday.

Indeed, politics has changed — in part because of social media. As President Donald Trump proved in 2016, it can be used very effectively to both communicate and whip up support.

But the usefulness of social media in setting Americans at each other’s throats has not changed. Russian operatives — and perhaps their counterparts in other countries — used services such as Facebook during the 2016 election campaign. They spread disinformation with extraordinary success, affecting both Republican and Democrat candidates.

The severity of our political discourse today can be traced in large measure to the opinion molders of the Kremlin.

One of the keys to their success was their ability to disguise themselves. Though we know now that the Kremlin was behind the massive online campaign, it was not obvious then to the project’s targets — American voters.

No doubt Zuckerberg and other social media moguls believe their technology has improved to the point that they can identify posts originating in Russia and other countries. Remember, however, that Vladimir Putin’s minions have improved their technology, too.

Only one tried-and-true technique to avoid being manipulated exists. It is that good old American skepticism you may have heard about. Obviously, it was on vacation during the 2016 election campaign.

It needs to be brought back and dusted off for use during the next 13 months. Rest assured, the Russians and others will engage in new attempts to pit us against one another. If we fail to recognize we are being manipulated, our foes will succeed again.

Remember the old advice: Fool me once, shame on you — fool me twice, shame on me.


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