Bot and Sold

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Amendment posts with a diatribe on today’s events surrounding the Robert Mueller testimony before Congress. Yes, I freely admit it, this is a diatribe. A rant. A tantrum. #gimmesomecheesewiththatwhine

It is a fundamental tenet of the Parallax Machine to present, at the very least, some attempt at a third point of view on matters such as this. What figuratively (see, I didn’t misuse “literally” there) blows my mind is that what I’m about to discuss is still largely a third point of view: our nation is under attack, and we are doing nothing about it.

To minimize digression here, I’m going to focus this on one thing: social media. It’s really all I need to discuss. I’m not going to get into security at polling stations, or the continual efforts to make it more difficult for some folks to vote than for others. Those are fair and rich topics to explore, but they’ll only dilute a much more obvious and irrefutable reality – our technological world, and the social impacts of that technology, have far outpaced our ability to protect the foundation of our republic: fair and sovereign elections.

Here’s another attempt to divert digression here: which side of the political aisle you occupy should have zero bearing on the subject of this rant. Whether your candidate was helped OR hindered by the attacks on our electoral sovereignty in 2016 should have no bearing on your level of outrage in response. Whether Democrat or Republican, we are all American, and an attack on any of us is an attack on all of us. So it’s a ginormous understatement to… whoa, ginormous passed the spell checker? Sorry, here I am trying to avoid digression, and I insert one of my own.

It’s a HUGE understatement to say I am disheartened by the focus of the past 3 years in this investigation. Democrats have been far too invested in finding a smoking gun that would bring down the President. Republicans have been far too invested in spin tactics to protect their hold on multiple branches of our government. Neither party has spent anywhere near the appropriate amount of time getting at the heart of the matter, which goes far beyond the 2016 election: Russia attacked our political process, and they did so with rudimentary technology, in response to what we have become as the typical American citizen.

Next time you’re in a restaurant, or an airport, or a store, or even a park, stop and look at the people around you. You are almost guaranteed to see more people than not staring down at their cell phone. In fact my anecdotal estimate is 75% or more. The exact number does not matter. What matters is that we live on our phones. And one of the things we are most likely to be doing on our phones at any moment is engaging in social media. We old people do it with Facebook. Somewhat younger people use Instagram and Snapchat. Still younger people use apps I haven’t even heard of. People of all ages seem to use Twitter. It has become not only the way we interact with one another – but more importantly the way far too many of us “learn” what is happening in the world around us.

Leading up to the 2016 election, Russia did not need a future Nobel Prize winning scientist to help them with the global arms race. They only needed the most basic computer skills to exploit our dependence on social media. Legions of bots were deployed to deliver the propaganda they chose, targeted at specific people they knew could swing an election. I cannot state emphatically enough how easy this was to accomplish. There is presently nothing to prevent any other country, or any hostile entity, from doing the exact same thing. We eat up whatever we see on social media, and we rarely follow it up with a fact check. That is true of people supporting both of our major political parties. It was not stunning in any way that Russia able to do this. What stuns me is that they didn’t exploit it sooner, as social media has been around since the early 2000’s.

As easy as it was to accomplish this, it’s equally easy to verify that it really happened, and more importantly that Russia and others will continue to do the same. Why would they not? It costs virtually nothing, and its effects are profound. This is the world we live in now. I don’t have the answer to protect our future elections, but I can’t imagine a more pressing issue to solve. The next election should be decided by a judgment of the American citizens based on the merits of competing visions and solutions for our future. Not by which foreign country has the best bots. If we don’t act on that, are we truly anything more than bots ourselves?

Take me to my leader.

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