There were many uncomfortable realities people on each side of the political spectrum faced during the 2016 election cycle, and chief among these realities was coming to terms with the possibility of Russian interference.
While to some this was a welcome scapegoat to explain why one’s candidate was doing poorly or why another candidate was doing well, the novelty has more than worn off and only now have we begun to see tangible proof. Lawmakers have released more than 3,000 examples of ads that were bought by Russian operatives, and with it they have given us cause to reconsider how we get our information online.
It seems that for the most part the ads don’t push one specific candidate forward, but rather portray all candidates in varyingly positive and negative lights. A post by “Army of Jesus” had Satan challenging Jesus to an arm wrestling contest to ensure the election of Hillary, while “LGBT United” had an ad of a hunky Bernie Sanders posing in front of the White House.
The point is these ads apparently intend to sow polarization among United States residents, not necessarily to support one candidate over any others. To some that might not sound too bad, but to think so would be wholly missing the point.
The fact that our weakness from an outsider's perspective is how polarized we have become, and may still become, is deeply troubling. Few would argue our political landscape has become less divisive in recent years, and our enemies would seek to capitalize on this. And they’re using our oftentimes thoughtless social media habits to do so.
It’s difficult to gauge how effective these ads were, admittedly. Ultimately though, their strategy relied upon the tendency for people to go to news sources that match whatever they want to hear and don’t necessarily tell the whole, or any sort of, truth.
This is where I’m supposed to propose some sort of solution to people’s news gathering habits. Well the truth is, there isn’t much strategy involved in making sure you aren’t being influenced by these ads. If a political page is using advertisements or other shady means of grabbing your attention, you should be extremely wary of them.
Frankly though, most of these ads are so low quality and thoughtless, only very few will ever be at risk of falling for them. They don’t seem designed to target large groups to begin with. The real solution here is to fight against political polarization, be respectful of other’s political opinions and get your information from a variety of sources.