Statistician Nate Silver — about the last person who’d be accused of riding the Trump train — posted a series of tweets Monday on Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election that undermine the premises of the Hillary Clinton-pushed narrative that “Russia stole the election.”
On Monday, Silver, founder and editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight, took a break from posting his latest analysis on which Democrats have the best shot at the 2020 presidential nomination to address an argument that most of the mainstream media has accepted as gospel: that Russian disinformation campaigns significantly impacted the 2016 election.
The posts began in response to a post by Ted Ganoways, editor-at-large of Pacific Stand and contributor to New Republic and Mother Jones, which jokingly brought up the Russians’ supposed use of Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook. The darkly humorous post triggered a serious response by Silver.
“It’s far more likely that the Russians were just throwing a bunch of sh*t at the wall and seeing what stuck and that basing it on Cambridge Analytica data wouldn’t have been meaningfully more effective than doing it at random,” he wrote, shooting down one of the Left’s popular notions in the Russian interference narrative.
“If you wrote out a list of the most important factors in the 2016 election, I’m not sure that Russian social media memes would be among the top 100,” he added in a follow-up tweet. “The scale was quite small and there’s not much evidence that they were effective.”
He followed that post with a reference to a Washington Post article on “Russian disinformation teams targeted Robert S. Mueller III,” which hypes up a tweet campaign that was statistically “nothing”: “For instance, this story makes a big deal about a (post-election) Russian social media disinformation campaign on Bob Mueller based on… 5,000 tweets? That’s **nothing**. Platform-wide, there are something like 500,000,000 tweets posted each day.”
“What fraction of overall social media impressions on the 2016 election were generated by Russian troll farms?” Silver asks in the final post of the thread. “0.1%? I’m not sure what the answer is, but suspect it’s low, and it says something that none of the reports that hype up the importance of them address that question.”
Silver’s posts have already begun to gain some traction on the Right, including over at Twitchy.. The truth is, everything he’s arguing has been pointed out numerous times by many on the Right for some time. The Russians’ various disinformation campaigns appear to have had no clear agenda other than to create chaos and undermine America’s democratic process. Fake Russian profiles and Facebook pages didn’t just promote pro-Trump rhetoric, they promoted anti-Trump rhetoric, Black Lives Matter events, and other left-wing causes. Their impact is unclear but almost certainly overstated, as Silver argues.
As for Cambridge Analytica, which became the scapegoat for Facebook data mining problems, the hype surrounding the firm was proven to be overblown early on. In March, ABC disrupted the media narrative that Cambridge was key to Trump’s electoral victory. The Daily Wire reported at the time:
A new report by CBS News poured some cold water on the media firestorm sparked by The Guardian’s exposé on the Trump-connected Cambridge Analytica firm’s efforts to gather data on Facebook users. Though the Trump campaign did work with the firm, CBS reports, it quickly “phased out” its partnership with the group for the general election and did not use any of the “psychographic” data at the center of The Guardian’s report.
On Sunday, The Guardian published a lengthy investigative piece based on the claims of whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who says he “made Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool” for Cambridge Analytica before he left in 2014 but now says he regrets heading up the effort. The firm, Wylie said, unethically accessed Facebook data from some 50 million users to create profiles based on personality type for targeted campaigning. The report set off a series of damning headlines, though many pointed out that efforts to use social media data to create profiles had been widely praised by the same outlets back in 2012 when the Obama campaign likewise mined social media data for campaigning purposes.