October 14, 2018

Idaho is not immune to Russian meddling and disinformation

By Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Rachel Rizzo

On Jan. 6, 2017, the United States intelligence community released a report documenting Russia’s interference in our elections. One of us, Andrea Kendall-Taylor, was a senior U.S. intelligence officer working on Russia at the time. Although the intelligence community could not disclose the array of evidence underpinning the assessment, the judgments were robust and clear: Russia interfered in our election to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process and to help President Trump’s electoral prospects.

Even today, Russian efforts to meddle in our democracy have not abated.

Our public discussions about Russian interference are often conducted in broad terms: Russian actors use social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to spread messages that reach millions of U.S. citizens. While true, these overarching statements mask the targeted and tailored tactics that Russia employs. Russian actors have demonstrated a nuanced understanding of our political system (by targeting select electoral districts), and of the grievances plaguing specific communities. Russian narratives identify and amplify divisive issues to polarize our society and undermine faith in our democracy.

Idaho has not been immune.

On March 10, 2015, American Falls became an early testing ground for Russian disinformation. That day, Twitter accounts reported that a phosphorous leak poisoned the water supply in American Falls. Soon after, more news outlets picked up the story. Photos of people wearing biohazard suits began to circulate. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality identified the story as fake, and officials tried to reassure people that their water was safe. That was no simple task. In fact, research indicates that false stories spread six times faster than true ones.

Read the full article in The Idaho Statesman.

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