Ever since Robert Mueller handed down his big Russian indictments last Friday, the media has been poring over every detail outlined in the filing. OMG, look at all the fake rallies these Russians organized! Look at all of these little advertisements they put on Facebook! My God, the tweets, the tweets! No wonder Hillary Clinton couldn’t win the election! It’s the Russians, it’s the Russians, hide your women and children, this is the worst attack on America since 9/11!!!
We can wish Mueller well in his attempt to bring the Russians to justice (although, um, fat chance), and we can hope that he makes an example out of anyone who willfully helped spread Moscow’s propaganda. We can even support, generally speaking, this investigation, as long as it remains fair and above the political fray that Democrats want so badly to keep it mired in. Certainly, if Putin wants to interfere in our elections, that’s something that should be discouraged. Even if, in this case, he happened to “support” the same guy we were supporting. Next time that may not be the case.
But we need to gain some perspective here.
All of those tweets and social media posts and ads and fake news stories? They really didn’t amount to much. The Russians apparently put a good amount of time and effort into disseminating their little political jolts into the 2016 election, but that doesn’t mean it actually made a difference in the outcome of the election. It doesn’t mean that Trump is an illegitimate president. It doesn’t mean that Bernie Sanders’ supporters should feel like they were hoodwinked (well, not for THAT reason, anyway).
There’s obviously no way to go back and prove it, but we would bet every last dollar we had that if we went back in time and replayed the election without Russian interference, the results would have looked exactly the same. In fact, given how this experiment would steal one of the Hillary Clinton campaign’s main talking points in the last couple of months, we could even theorize that Trump would have crushed her even harder than he did.
We’re not just speculating. The New York Times reported (quietly) on a study last month that said much the same thing.
“The reach of fake news was wide indeed, the study found, yet also shallow,” the Times reported. “One in four Americans saw at least one false story, but even the most eager fake-news readers — deeply conservative supporters of President Trump — consumed far more of the real kind, from newspaper and network websites and other digital sources.”
Indeed the study found that among Trump supporters, “false stories” made up only 6% of their total news diet. “Even conservative partisans,” the Times reported, “viewed just five fake news articles, on average, over more than five weeks.”
This is the very definition of a drop in the bucket. Hell, this is a drop in the ocean. Disinformation, Russian or otherwise, did not sway the results of the last election. Let’s investigate their interference, by all means, but let’s stop pretending that our country got hijacked by a foreign power. It just simply isn’t true.