OPINION: Russian Interference: What can you do to not be duped?

By Chris Kernan-Schmidt, Columnist

News and reports on Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election has been unwavering for much of 2017 and so far in 2018. Investigations, intelligence reports, sensationalized news, etc. have plagued our screens. These reports may seem unimportant to the average American on either side of the aisle – an issue for politicians and the intelligence community to tackle, not an issue for regular Americans.

That cannot be further from the truth. Foreign influence in our election has everything to do with the average American. We were the targets of a sophisticated network of undue influence on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. No matter which party you support, these influences degrade the American political system and further polarize our already divided nation.  

In early January 2017, the Intelligence Community (IC) released an unclassified assessment of Russia’s influence on the presidential election. The report details a multifaceted effort through both cyber attacks such as hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s emails as well as a network of internet trolls targeting Americans’ social media feeds. The  targeting of social media feeds is arguably the most accessible and most relevant issue to the everyday American.

According to the IC report, “Russia used trolls as well as Russia Today as part of its influence efforts to denigrate Secretary Clinton. This effort amplified stories on scandals about Secretary Clinton and the role of WikiLeaks in the election campaign.”

The combined efforts of Russia Today, a state-funded media outlet, and the internet trolls resulted in potentially millions of Americans being influenced by sensationalized, sometimes false, information on presidential candidates. Throughout the campaign, Russia Today’s English-language site, which can reportedly reach around 85 million Americans, published several videos discrediting the American electoral system and Hillary Clinton, and generally fueling discontent.  

This is an issue bigger than any one candidate or political party, it is an issue of our election integrity. The idea that a sophisticated network of foreign-funded trolls and news networks could possibly influence millions of Americans’ views of presidential candidates is quite scary. The idea that my Facebook feed could have been infiltrated by Russia in an effort to sway my opinions in a domestic election is disheartening.

As college students, we are well-versed in research, whether for writing an essay or looking up answers on Quizlet. It is important we use these skills to determine whether the stories we read on Facebook or that we retweet on Twitter are accurate and as unbiased as possible.

Before you retweet, upvote, or share an article, make sure you read it first. Often times, some of these articles will have clickbait titles designed to make you angry or upset without even having to read the article. For example, Russia Today’s article “Assange: Clinton & ISIS funded by same money, Trump won’t be allowed to win” is sensationally titled.

Additionally, much like you would for a research project, ensure that the sources you read from are credible news networks.

Finally, if there are any over-the-top claims in an article, research them before believing them to ensure they are not just rumors or unfounded exaggerations.

No matter which party, candidate or idea you support, we can alleviate the influence that foreign entities have on the average American by researching. Do not let Russia decide who you will vote for. It is critical that foreign actors have as little influence on our elections as possible to continue to strengthen and preserve the integrity of our democratic process.  

Graphic by Mary Jane DeCarlo