Crude oil, expensive and effective: how does Russia affect the election?
A Russian campaign aims to destroy American democracy by spending a million dollars a month. But the money doesn’t come at the expense of sophisticated hackers. Instead, it bought Facebook ads and Twitter accounts.
RACHEL MARTIN, host:
We now know more about how Russia intervened in the 2016 election. The movement was called the lakhta project, which was rude but effective. Stacey Vanek Smith from Planet Money’s new podcast, The Indicator.
Stark van’s Smith wired: russians on lage tower project invested money for many years, and it doesn’t include millions of dollars in bonuses, it doled out to employees in order to get a good job. David kris is the chief U.S. attorney for counterterrorism and espionage in part of the Obama administration. He oversaw some of the country’s biggest cases, including the Russian spy group arrested in the summer of 2010. Now he is a national security adviser, and when the indictment came out on Friday, he was working, and he said it was a tricky issue.
DAVID KRIS: it’s kind of like the technical side of the novel. It’s a really nice document.
VANEK SMITH: David told him that the most surprising part was the details, and that the team of about 80 russians tried to undermine all the small ways of the culture of the whole country. Part of the complaint about Russia commissioned a flat car fit to the little cage, and then hire a actress, Hillary Clinton, costumes, and stand in a cage, let people heated up during the meeting. The russians also created social media accounts. They masquerade as trump supporters, trump enemies, Muslim activists, anti-immigrant activists, black life activists. They held a trump rally in the area where the game looked tense. They bought a lot of Facebook ads. That’s it. That’s how Russia spends a million dollars a month trying to undermine American democracy.
Chris: it’s not very sophisticated, but it has gone beyond their wildest dreams in attacking democratic institutions and exacerbating internal divisions in the United States.
VANEK SMITH: in other words, it works. Facebook groups and snarling posts and theme tags and custom built in boxes? Effective.
Chris: their control group obviously has hundreds of thousands of online followers. They have hundreds of social media accounts. In Florida, they bought ads for more than 59,000 Facebook users, more than 8,300 of whom responded by clicking.
VANEK SMITH: these figures don’t sound so impressive, especially considering that 300 million americans, but David said, trump President for about thousand votes won the Florida. Therefore, the pursuit of micro-organizations may be a good investment for Russia, and these quasi-systematic methods may be the right way to target them.
Chris: I think that in this case, something important is actually a very good trading tool in some ways, and it actually looks like someone who has spent time on Twitter.
VANEK SMITH: the indictment quotes an email from a Russian spy saying that I created all these photos and posts that americans believe were written by their people. David thinks that 73 million rubles per month – more than $1 million a month – is a pretty good deal for Russia.
Chris: I’m pretty sure they think it’s a very good deal, and they have a huge return on their rubles or their rubles.
VANEK SMITH: David says we can provide the bank with the fact that the russians will try again. Now, he says, we must start spending some money to figure out how to stop outsiders from interfering in our elections. The solution may be as simple as the problem. One of the things that Facebook plans to do in the future, for example, is to send authenticated physical postcards to people who buy ads. This will make it harder for people from other countries to forge their positions. Stacey Vanek Smith, NPR news.