Attack of the Bots: Political Trolls sowing discord in the Trumpian Age of willful ignorance

During the first nine months of Donald J. Trump’s presidential administration, we all have heard the phrase “Russian Collusion” enough to know that whether you believe that Trump is lying about whether his campaign sought Russian help to bolster his chances of winning, or whether you are a Trump loyalist who believes that his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, funded opposition research seeking similar Russian help, that it is clear that Russian cyber espionage played some role in Decision ’16.

The issue, however,  is “how” were the Russians so successful in meddling in America’s political affairs?

With social media giants Facebook and Twitter coming under congressional scrutiny for allowing foreign individuals to purchase ads, one of the more interesting developments is the revelation that “Bots,” fake pages that generate infinite numbers of incendiary comments that at times inspire political debate, while at other times sow discord among real users, is one key culprit.

For those who are among my nearly 20,000 Facebook friends and followers, you have seen this play before whether you recognized it or not. At times, when I post an original blog or article on my page, you may see a comment posted from a page with a profile picture of an American flag, Bald Eagle, or even human beings that take the opposite view but do so in an inflammatory manner. For example, if my article or status update has as its text “Trump Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions will turn back the clock on Obama era police brutality investigations,” some “person” with zero Facebook friends or a handful of friends, like fewer than 20, and zero friends in common with me may leave a comment like “All lives matter” or “you Black criminals should comply or die.”

The same holds true for purely political posts as well…

roses-are-red-facebook-is-blue-no-mutual-friends-who-16348387It would seem perspicuous that the way to combat “Bots” or internet trolls would be for the reader/voter to conduct their own Google searches to read as many articles and blogs that they can on the subject under consideration. The problem is that most Americans quickly peruse social media during their workdays while joining closed groups or following writers, news sites and blogs that track their fundamental viewpoints. As such, when a caustic comment is left–whether legit or not–most social media users lack the time and/or the discipline to delve deeper and make judgments about the truth of the matters asserted by said Bot or Troll. The intelligent can shrug such comments off and push on, but the dim witted may internalize the foolishness and, as we see all too often even from President Trump, retweet the foolishness as if it is the Gospel.

That we have reached this nadir in political awareness is of little surprise; for years I have lamented the “dumbing down” of the polity, one accelerated by the success of conservative talk radio shows and cable news shows–shows that often offer more one sided opinions than reporting.

Chief among these political carnival barkers are Messrs. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.  To be clear, if you were to combine the college transcripts of these two influential men, you may have an advanced freshman year’s worth of credit. Maybe! And yet, despite lacking any formal education in political science or theory, nor having any elected political experience, these two have become filthy rich and influential political pundits; pundits who purvey pseudo facts, half-truths and outright lies to the delight of millions of their followers.

What has always perplexed me about these two men and others who follow their blueprint is the influence that they have gained with as little education as they have achieved. There was a time when most pundits and strategists were well-educated in political science, history, law, economics or journalism.  Indeed, whether you agreed or agree with their politics or not, over the past 40 years, learned conservative thinkers like the late William F. Buckley (Yale), and George Will (M.A. from Oxford, PhD from Princeton) have been replaced by Limbaugh and Hannity’s  incessant attacks on formal education as “elitism” that does not benefit “ordinary Americans” (read-ignorant humanoid Bots).

Now, the fact that neither Limbaugh nor Beck finished college does not mean that their IQ’s are lower–if we learned nothing else from one of my favorite movies, “Good Will Hunting,” it is that a person with a “library card” and a fecund mind can learn and debate politics with summa cum laude graduates. But Limbaugh/Hannity’s lack of education and attacks on formal learning help explain their penchant for making political claims that are neither based in fact (Obama as a Kenyan Muslim Marxist) nor grounded in reality (tax cuts on the filthy rich will create more jobs and spur economic growth). Such also helps explain the deeper issue, which is that a large number of Americans in both political parties and independent voters are neither learned about politics nor well read and because of that, they are the perfect hosts for foreign parasitic agents to use Bots to sow the seeds of discord that lead to political discontent in the micro, and the potential if not actualization of a “cold” civil war in the macro.

The attack of the Bots is frightening, mind you, because the end result of this information deficient era of political solipsism, one in which “bipartisanship” is becoming an extinct concept, could be the undoing of an American Constitution that has bound this nation together for 230 years.