Special Counsel Robert Mueller unleashed a bombshell yesterday. He indicted 13 Russians and two businesses for conspiring to created discord and to undermine democracy in the US. The Russian program began in 2014 and it supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election while disparaging Hillary Clinton. It focused on three divisive issues in the US: immigration, religion and race. They were also informed enough to focus in battleground states in the US which could swing the election in Trump's favor. The names of the Russians and the firms indicted are available here.
The disinformation factory used by the Russians is described in this article. Russians posed as Americans on the social media and they effectively exploited vulnerabilities in Twitter. They used bots to amplify the number of hits on their tweets. Twitter algorithms are set up to identify trending tweets which gives them more visibility. For example, they exploited an issue at the University of Missouri to inflame racial tensions on the campus which were harmful to the University and to entire state of Missouri. Russians also worked with the Trump campaign in Florida to promote political rallies. Their Russian identities were unknown to the Trump campaign.
The indictments will have an immediate effect in the US. Mueller has been being attacked by Republicans in Congress, and by Trump who denies that Russia interfered in the US election. The indictments should end any debate about Russian interference in the US election. Trump's henchmen in Congress should be disgraced and Trump will be forced to give up his efforts to deny Russian involvement in the election. Trump, of course, used the indictments to argue that the Russian campaign began in 2014 and that it nothing to do with victory in 2016. The US intelligence agencies take no position on the effectiveness of the disinformation campaign in the election. However, they were very clear about the intent of Russian interventions. They clearly favored Donald Trump. They also worked hard to discredit Hillary Clinton and they even promoted Bernie Sander's campaign. They probably wanted to discourage Sander's supporters from voting for Clinton in the general election. The election results in several rust belt states were so close that votes for third party candidates that would have otherwise gone to the democratic candidate could have easily tipped the election in Trump's favor.
The Russian indictments, along with the information about how the Russians exploited the social media, will also have an impact on the 2018 election. The government should do whatever is needed to deal with the 2018 disinformation program that is already underway. The social media firms have also been given a warning. They will have to take steps to deal with the vulnerabilities in their systems or they will not be permitted to stay in business. The general public which naively consumes disinformation provided in the social media should also become more critical of how the disinformation campaigns hooked millions of them in 2016. Frankly, this should be a required subject in our school systems. Russians are already exploiting the mass shooting in Florida. They have linked up to US groups that are receptive to conspiracy theories. They are promoting the idea that the mass shootings did not really happen and that it is part of an effort to take away our guns.