The theory that “Russian masterminds” pulled off a technological coup by swaying the electorate to vote for Donald Trump remains popular among Democrats. No one appreciates this explanation more than twice-failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who scheduled a blame-all book tour around the allegation that Russian interference in the 2016 election cost the former first lady her chance to sit in the Oval Office.
But Google CEO Sundar Pichai played the role of Democratic myth-buster on Tuesday by providing testimony before the House Judiciary Committee that dramatically undercuts the left’s insistence Russia botched the 2016 election. Pichai informed the committee that Moscow’s supposedly sophisticated cyber-espionage campaign spent a mere $4,700 on Google advertising during the presidential race.
Red Scare Reborn
“We undertook a very thorough investigation, and in 2016, we now know of two main Russian accounts linked to Russia which advertised on Google for about $4,700 in advertising,” the CEO said in response to Rep. Jerry Nadler’s (D-NY) questions regarding the extent of Russian meddling.
Nadler appeared to do a double take and asked Pichai to repeat the figure, which did not change the second time around. The central actors behind Moscow’s vaunted cyber influence campaign spent a paltry, inconsequential sum on reaching U.S. voters on the world’s most widely used internet search engine.
The social media giant Facebook reported similar findings after an internal review in 2017. Investigators determined that thousands of ads purchased by Russian firms cost $100,000, and few of these sponsored promotions were actually designed to support Trump or Clinton.
Instead, most of the ads focused on dividing Americans by focusing on hot-button issues like race, LGBT issues, and gun rights. In other words, Russian trolls simply echoed content already published by American media outlets, which attract viewers based on the very same polarizing issues.
In contrast, together Trump and Clinton dwarfed the Russian investment, spending $81 million on Facebook advertisements alone before Election Day 2016.
The 3,000 Facebook ads that Russia used to expand their reach represented a drop in the bucket compared to total campaign spending. For instance, Clinton spent over $214 million on television ads that — like Russia’s promotions — had very little to do with policy.
“This is not high-level spycraft,” concluded Alex Madrigal, staff writer for The Atlantic. “It is, rather, bread-and-butter audience-development work. My guess here is that they simply looked at Facebook analytics. It’s one click in the Facebook interface to look at these numbers.”
Yet, the mainstream media continues to report that “Putin’s Propaganda Network is Vast,” while Democrats see shadowy Kremlin agents behind every election upset.
A Wired report from November 2017 charged that the Trump administration was failing to fully fund and implement the State Department’s efforts to counter state propaganda efforts through its recently formed Global Engagement Center (GEC). A disgruntled former GEC employee suggested that his mission to fight Russia’s disinformation campaign was stalled throughout 2017 as the State Department reviewed its national security priorities and considered how to effectively fund its efforts to counter state-sponsored propaganda.
When Russia spends a paltry $4,700 in Google advertising, the State Department can hardly be blamed for refusing to rush headlong into funding a costly and provocative counter-propaganda program. But the lack of an imminent threat didn’t stop Wired from concluding that “the Tillerson-led State Department is avoiding any moves that might anger Moscow.”
The bottom line is that Russia was reduced to a regional power following their Cold War demise, and their cyber-espionage efforts reflect the lack of technological sophistication that can be expected from a country where poverty is the top concern among voters.