Santa Monica, California, USA — February 25, 2022: A protest poster depicts Russian President Vladimir Putin with a bloody handprint on his face (Tverdokhlib /
Creating a Russian Bogeyman

One of the most damning facts to emerge from Matt Taibbi’s “Twitter Files” is how aggressive congressional lawmakers and federal agency officials were in pushing a cynical narrative that brought the social media giant to heel while setting up the Russian bogeyman that haunts U.S. foreign policy and posturing in the Ukraine war today. 

Among many other acts of narrative and discourse manipulation, the “Twitter Files”—Twitter emails released to Taibbi and other journalists in the wake of Elon Musk’s October takeover of the company—show that beginning in 2017, Facebook and Twitter were under extraordinary pressure to acknowledge and publicize Russian meddling on their social media platforms throughout the 2016 election. 

According to the narrative, the meddling—which supposedly came in the form of “bots” and accounts linked to the Russian government—was designed to help elect Donald Trump and polarize the American public. The pressure to expose and eliminate future threats of this nature led over the next three years to the formal insertion of the FBI, DHS, intelligence community, and State Department into Twitter’s daily moderation activities, right up to the eve of Trump’s loss in the 2020 election. 

It can be argued that the Russian “malign influence” story helped to get the public’s buy-in for a new Cold War with Russia by normalizing the idea that Russians not only helped to elect Donald Trump, but were actively trying “to destroy U.S. democracy” and are still doing so. “It became conventional wisdom that Russia wants not just to compete with the United States, but to destroy us—to divide our society from within, to cripple our democracy,” said George Beebe, a former chief of the CIA’s Russia analysis and author of The Russia Trap: How Our Shadow War with Russia Could Spiral into Nuclear Catastrophe (2019). 

Read the full piece in The American Conservative.

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