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How Russian hackers and trolls helped elect a president 


. - what we don’t, can’t, and do know -.
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Book Details
 337 p
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 18,012 KB
 File Type
 PDF format
 978– 0– 19– 091581– 0
 Oxford University Press 2018

“You would ‘have to believe in unicorns’ to conclude that
Russian meddling changed the 2016 election results.”1
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. December 12, 2016.
“We learned that the Russians are more involved in our election process than
the League of Women Voters.”2
Humorist Dave Barry. 2016 year- end review.
“When I decided, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with
Trump and Russia is a made up story.’ ”3
President Donald J. Trump on the context for his firing of FBI director
James Comey. May 11, 2017.
“I haven’t seen, even once, any direct proof of Russian interference in the
presidential election.”4
Russian President Vladimir Putin. June 2017.
“We do not know . . . how to place an advert on Facebook. We have never done
this, and the Russian side has never been involved in it.”5
A Kremlin spokesperson. September 2017.
“The Russia hoax continues, now it’s ads on Facebook. What about the totally
biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?”6
President Donald J. Trump. September 22, 2017.
“He [Putin] said he didn’t meddle— I asked him again. . . . You can only ask so
many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in
our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.”7
President Donald J. Trump. November 11, 2017.
In December 2017 BuzzFeed reported that in July 2017 Putin’s Deputy
Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov offered a State Department under secretary
a pact under which neither country would interfere in the other’s
internal affairs. According to the BuzzFeed account, the Trump administration
rejected the overture.8
“[T] he big emerging journalism story is the Russians, who, according to
many unnamed sources, messed with the election. Nobody seems to know
how, specifically, the Russians affected the election, but everybody is pretty
sure they did something.”9
Humorist Dave Barry. 2017 year- end review.
“Today, Sen. Jeff Flake gave a big speech on the Senate floor, and he compared
President Trump to Russian dictator Joseph Stalin. Trump said, ‘Why?
Because we were both elected by Russians?’ ”10
Comedian Jimmy Fallon, host of The Tonight Show. January 17, 2018.
“Russia started their anti- US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that
I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The
Trump campaign did nothing wrong— no collusion!”11
President Donald Trump. February 16, 2018. 
Response to the February
2018 Mueller grand jury indictment of thirteen Russians for their
interventions in the 2016 election.
“Could anyone really believe that Russia, thousands of miles
away . . . influenced the outcome of the election? Doesn’t that sound ridiculous
even to you?”12
Vladimir Putin to NBC’s Megyn Kelly in a March 2, 2018, interview,
aired in the United States on March 9, 2018.
“The Russians had no impact on our votes whatsoever, but certainly there was
meddling and probably there was meddling from other countries and maybe
other individuals.” Asked about Russia interfering in the 2018 midterm election,
he added, “No, because we’ll counteract whatever they do.”13
President Donald J. Trump. March 6, 2018.
On July 16, 2018, at the joint Putin-Trump press conference in Helsinki,
Jeff Mason of Reuters asked the Russian president, “Did you want President
Trump to win the election, and did you direct any of your officials to help him
do that?” Putin responded, “Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about
bringing the US-Russia relationship back to normal.” Mason later told NPR
that “my suspicion is he heard the first part of my question and may not have
heard the second part” (July 18, 2018).

After Chris Wallace of Fox News handed him a copy of the July 13, 2018
US indictment of twelve Russian military intelligence agents for hacking
the Democratic accounts, Putin stated, “Was it rigging of facts? Was it
some forgery of facts? That’s the important…point…. Was there any false
information planted? No, it wasn’t. These hackers…hacked a certain e-mail
account and there was information about manipulations conducted within
the Democratic Party to incline the process in favor of one candidate and
as far as I know the entire party leadership resigned…. Manipulation of the
public opinion should stop and an apology should be made to the public at
large instead of looking for those responsible or the party at fault.”
Interview with Chris Wallace, Fox News, July 16, 2018.

US Susceptibilities, Troll
and Hacker Synchronies,
and My Suppositions

Imagine a strategy memo forecasting cyberattacks by Russian hackers,
trolls, and bots designed to roil social discontent and damage the
electoral prospects of a major party US presidential nominee, or, if she
winds up winning, sabotage her ability to govern. Guaranteed payoff. No
fingerprints. No keystroke record. No contrails in the cloud. To ensure
that Americans would believe that disparaging messages about her were
made in the US, use bitcoin to buy space and set up virtual private networks
(VPNs) on American servers. Distribute hacked content stolen from the
accounts of her staff and associates through an intermediary, WikiLeaks.
Use identity theft, stolen Social Security numbers, and appropriated IDs to
circumvent Facebook and PayPal’s demand for actual names, birth dates,
and addresses. On platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, register under
assumed names. Diffuse and amplify your attack and advocacy through
posts on Facebook, tweets and retweets on Twitter, videos on YouTube,
reporting and commentary on RT, blogging on Tumblr, news sharing on
Reddit, and viral memes and jokes on 9GAG.1 Add to the mix a video game
called Hilltendo in which a missile- straddling Clinton figure vaporizes
classified emails sought by the FBI.2 Employ “online agitators” and bots to
upvote posts from imposter websites such as to the
top of such subreddits as r/ The_ Donald and r/ HillaryForPrison.3 Drive content to trend.

To maximize the impact of your handiwork, use data analytics and searchengine
maximization tools built into the social media platforms. To test and
fuel doubts about the security of US voter information, hack the election systems
of states.4 And, throughout the primary and general election season,
seed the notion that if Hillary Clinton were to win, she would have done so
by rigging the election, an outcome that would repay her assaults on the legitimacy
of their leader’s presidency with doubts about her own. Were she instead
to lose, she would no longer be a thistle in the toned torso of the hackers
and trolls’ boss’s likely boss.

Every result but one produces desirable results for the Kremlin. Outcome
one: Clinton is off the international stage. Outcome two: she wins but can’t
govern effectively. Outcome three: the former Secretary of State is elected
and the country simply moves on, but the sabotage nonetheless has magnified
cultural tensions and functioned as a pilot from which to birth later success—
perhaps when she runs for a second term. The only eventuality that damages
the Russian cybersoldiers and their commander- in- chief is the fourth in
which, in real time, the cyberattackers are unmasked by a vigilant intelligence
community, condemned by those in both major political parties and around
the world, characterized by the media as spies and saboteurs, the Russian
messaging is blocked or labeled as Russian propaganda, and, when included
in media accounts, the stolen content is relentlessly tied to its Russian origins
and sources. None of that happened.

Instead, to the surprise of the Russian masterminds as well as both
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, he won the Electoral College and with
it a four- year claim on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Although countrywide
she bested him by almost 2.9 million votes,5 he unexpectedly captured an
Electoral College majority by running the table. By the end of the evening
of November 8, Florida as well as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania
were in his column. The ways in which Russian hacking and social media
messaging altered the content of the electoral dialogue and contributed to
Donald Trump’s victory are the subjects of this book.

To begin my exploration, this overview chapter will highlight key findings
of the US intelligence community; preview my focus on the hackers and trolls
and the synergies between them; justify casting the Russian machinations
as acts of cyberwar; outline ways in which susceptibilities in our system of
government and media structures magnified their effects; and note five
presuppositions that will shape my analysis of the Russian trolls’ work and
one that will guide my study of the effects of the hackers.

Table of Contents
Acknowledgments ix
Prologue xi
Introduction: US Susceptibilities, Troll and Hacker
Synchronies, and My Suppositions 1
Part One Who Did It, Why, and What Research Says about
How It Might Matter
1 How Do We Know That Russian Spies and Saboteurs (aka Hackers
and Trolls) Intervened in the 2016 Presidential Election? 21
2 A Theory of Communication That Posits Effects 36
Part Two The Prerequisites of Troll Influence
3 The First Troll Prerequisite: Widespread Messaging 67
4 The Second Troll Prerequisite: Messages Aligned with
Trump’s Electoral Interests 76
5 The Third Troll Prerequisite: Mobilizing Veterans
and White Christians, Demobilizing Blacks and
Sanders’s Supporters, and Shifting Liberals to Stein 96
6 The Fourth Troll Prerequisite: Persuasive Appeals 118
7 The Fifth Troll Prerequisite: Well- Targeted Content 131
Part Three How the Russians Affected the News and Debate
Agendas in the Last Month of the Campaign
8 The Effect of Russian Hacking on Press Coverage 153
9 The Effect of Hacked Content on the Last Two Presidential Debates 179
10 The Russian Effect on the Media Agenda in the
Last Days of the Election 189
Part Four What We Don’t, Can’t, and Do Know About How Russian
Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect Donald J. Trump
Afterword: Where Does This Leave Us? 215
Appendices: Evaluations of Clinton and Trump Traits in October 225
Appendix One: Changes in Perceptions of Clinton
and Trump in October 227
Appendix Two: Debate 2 and Debate 3 Exposure Effect on
Candidate Trait Evaluations 233
Appendix Three: Association between Perception Changes
and Vote Intentions 239
Appendix Four: Effect of Traits on Vote Intention 245
Notes 249
Index 305

Cyberwar. How Russian hackers and trolls helped elect a president - what we don’t, can’t, and do knowe
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Printed by Sheridan Books, Inc., United States of America
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