Moscow, Russia — The Russian misinformation machine has reached new levels of operation. According to the mainstream Russian media, another American Civil War is about to break out.
“The next presidential election could lead to a definitive split in American society and a new civil war,” stated RIA Novosti, a state-owned news agency, which also owns second most popular news website in the country.
Gazeta.ru, another popular news publication reported that elite U.S. institutions predict considerable social upheaval in the wake of the midterms, that could even lead to an all-out civil war. But this is a well-trotted path for Russian influence operations. Similar news stories surrounded the U.S. presidential election in 2016. For some experts, the Russian tactics are more about fake-news.
Nina Jankowicz, a fellow at the Kennan Institute and an expert of Russian cyber warfare strategy and tactics, said that “these stories that I would label as disinformation not only have kernels of truth, but they are true and exploit real fissures in our society. It’s not just about fake news. And I think that’s what makes it so difficult for consumers to grapple with. You need time and context to really parse that.”
Last month, the Department of Justice issued an indictment against a Russian national who was masterminding an operation to influence the upcoming midterm elections. “Project Lakhta” was a multi-million dollar operation that involved numerous individuals that disseminated fake news stories or polemical posts on social media. Their objective? Divide the American electorate in an attempt to encourage violence in the event that the elections results go sour for President Trump — it’s interesting how they deem Democrats as incapable of violence.
But how did the whole affair begin?
British historian Niall Ferguson, a senior fellow at Stanford University and a former Oxford and Harvard professor, was the first to observe some characteristics of civil strife in contemporary American political discourse. Drawing from numerous recent political incidents that polarized the American electorate, he opined that the American society is amid a cultural civil war that is fought on social media.
“The evidence suggests that the extreme right and extreme left are two noisy minorities. They would be lost without one another, but they turn everyone else off,” he said.
What happened next? The Russian fake-news train steamed off, magnified the story, and completely misrepresented it.
This is clearly an attempt to soothe any domestic opposition to President Vladimir Putin’s government. It’s to the benefit of the Kremlin to portray the U.S. political system as on the verge of a breakdown. Historically, Putin has been extremely popular with the Russian population. But not everything is rosy. According to Julia Davis, who runs the Russian Media Monitor, regarding defamation of Western political systems, “lately it’s especially popular because it’s a distraction for Putin as people are struggling there.”
“It’s entirely unsurprising that the Russian media will try to sex it up into a piece about civil war in the United States because there’s nothing Vladimir Putin would like more,” added Ferguson.
Despite any political division and polarization in American society, no one plans on or expects a civil war if the Democrats or Republicans win more votes next week.