I didn’t expect to ever agree with Masha Gessen again on anything but her conclusions in this piece make sense to me. She asks, among other questions:
Is there any reason, at this point, to think that a tiny drop in the sea of Facebook ads changed any American votes?
Her answer is “No.” To be clear, she’s not talking about the State Department or DNC leaks or hacks: she is only focusing on the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election via social media. Gessen’s strongest point is the negligible weight of the Russian effort. According to Facebook’s general counsel, as reported by Gessen:
…a hundred and twenty-six million people, not necessarily Americans, “may have been served” content associated with Russian accounts sometime between 2015 and 2017, with a majority of impressions landing after the election… “this equals about four-thousandths of one per cent of content in News Feed, or approximately one out of twenty-three thousand pieces of content.”
I would also add that, good as Russians are at inventing memes within their native cultural and linguistic milieu, few are fluent enough in American popular culture to match the geniuses at 4chan and kindred geysers of galvanizing cynicism. If the birthplace of Pepe the Frog, Praise Kek, God Emperor Trump, and now It’s OK to Be White is indeed St. Petersburg, then it must be the Florida one.
I’m sure it would be flattering for a Russian college graduate, voiceless and impotent at home, to be able to make a difference to the outcome of the most important election in the most important country in the world. But it’s yet another Russian illusion.