The federal indictments special counsel Robert Mueller handed down a few days ago confirmed that Russian agents did, indeed, use social media to interfere with the 2016 presidential election – and, even more than that, to sow political animosity, heighten divisions, and pit Americans against one another. Several workers at a Russian “troll farm” have now confirmed the thrust of the indictment.
As Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said when the indictments were announced, “the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy. We must not allow them to succeed.”
Absolutely right. But how to stop them?
Lyudmilla Savchuk – a worker at the troll farm – has explained how Russian agents take pains to hide their true identity: “The most important principle of the work is to have an account like a real person. They create real characters, choosing a gender, a name, a place of living and an occupation. Therefore, it’s hard to tell that the account was made for the propaganda.”
That ability to blend in with online communities raises several troubling questions, the most disturbing of which might be: What if YOU are a Russian troll who sows animosity, heightens division, and pits Americans against one another—and you don’t even know it?
The following quiz has been developed to help answer that very question. Let’s play!
(1) When you see a post online that supports your political tribe, you
(a) treat it skeptically until its assertions can be independently confirmed;
(b) nod sagely and move on;
(c) pause to enjoy the sweet, sweet dopamine hit that comes from having your existing beliefs confirmed; or
(d) immediately share it with everybody you can think of.
(2) When you read something that makes you mad, you
(a) pause to consider the possibility that the author is right and you are wrong;
(b) forget it and move on;
(c) stop reading immediately to avoid being exposed to ideas you dislike; or
(d) leave a comment pointing out that the author is a despicable excuse for a human being who should die a slow and wretched death.
(3) Terms such as “libtard” and “rethuglican” are
(a) demeaning insults that inhibit the open exchange of ideas and prevent learning from others;
(b) kind of juvenile;
(c) pretty witty, actually;
(d) literally true.
(4) An article about a person of the opposing political tribe who has said or done something really stupid and embarrassing is
(a) nothing but partisan clickbait;
(b) not surprising;
(c) further proof that all members of the opposing tribe are stupid;
(d) going up on your social-media account in 3… 2….
(5) A politician of your own political tribe has just done something really stupid and embarrassing. You
(a) find this dismaying, and say so;
(b) explain why it’s not so bad;
(c) attack the opposing tribe for being jerks and making a big fat deal out of it;
(d) point out that it’s not half as bad as all the stupid, embarrassing things members of the opposing tribe have done.
(5) As a member in good standing of your political tribe, you have always believed X. The leader of your political tribe has just come out against X. You
(a) call him or her to account for abandoning your tribe’s principles;
(b) try not to notice;
(c) change your mind about X;
(d) change your mind about X and attempt to excommunicate any member of your political tribe who still has the audacity to think X is even defensible.
(6) People who disagree with you deserve
(a) an honest hearing;
(d) to burn in hell for all eternity.
(7) Online memes are
(a) superficial and usually inaccurate characterizations of the opposing tribe’s views;
(b) occasionally sharp critiques of the tensions inherent in any belief system;
(d) stupid if they’re about your side and brilliant if they’re about the other side.
* * *
Give yourself one point for each (a), two points for each (b), three points for each (c), and four points for each (d).
7-10 points: America. Love it or leave it.
11-15 points: Both sides were equally to blame for the Cold War.
16-20: Hey, who doesn’t get goosebumps listening to the Song of the Volga Boatmen?
21+: You live under a bridge and eat Vladimir Putin’s table scraps.