Considered opinionSocial media is helping Putin kill our democracy

By John R. Schindler

Published 20 February 2018

There are few more important issues confronting the West today than what to do about social media companies, which thanks to their ubiquity possess vast riches and daunting influence over our democracies. The Russians have been spreading lies for decades. Active Measures, including fake reports, forged documents, and dastardly conspiracies invented out of thin air, were created by the KGB to smear Western governments. Social media made Moscow’s clandestine work much easier and more profitable. Although the lies currently emanating from the Kremlin resemble Cold War Active Measures in overall form and content, they are now disseminated so quickly, and through so many fronts, trolls, and bots, that Western governments are severely challenged to even keep up with these weaponized lies, much less push back. For this, we have the Internet to thank. While none can deny the countless benefits of the online age, this is one of its most pernicious side effects. It’s time the West seriously addressed the problem, and quickly, since this Kremlin spy game isn’t going away.

There are few more important issues confronting the West today than what to do about social media companies, which, thanks to their ubiquity, possess vast riches and enormous influence over our democracies.

John R. Schindler writes in the Observer that it was a welcome breath of fresh air recently when Robert Hannigan, a former British spy boss, sat down for an interview with the BBC and spoke his mind. Hannigan, who headed GCHQ (Britain’s NSA) from late 2014 to early 2017, had a top-secret front-row seat to recent events, and his comments were rendered more scathing by their measured delivery.

Social media companies are “massively rich” and “have huge power,” Hannigan observed, adding that they possess “global reach and global power, not just of money but of data that individual governments don’t have.” Hannigan knows that, contrary to much mythology, unless you’re a spy or terrorist, Facebook knows much more about you than GCHQ or NSA do.

Moreover, social media companies, which are infected with a toxic combination of trendy-left politics and greedy capitalism, display an “arrogance that they somehow sit above democracy,” according to Hannigan, who tied this to a resurgent and dangerous Russia. Hannigan explained that Russia loomed as the single biggest security threat during his tenure as GCHQ director. Over the last few years, as Vladimir Putin has invaded Ukraine and seized Crimea, Russia “has become more aggressive, and they’re doing in cyberspace what they do in the real world.”

Schindler continues:

Hannigan hit on a fundamental reality of our age: As the Kremlin’s mechanized brigades have attacked Russia’s neighbors, its cyber-brigades have pillaged Western companies, governments and societies thanks to a big assist from social media. No Western country has been more directly impacted by this new form of Russian information warfare than the United States, which saw the events of 2016 transform our already nasty politics into something beyond mere partisanship.