Can Russia Use the Coronavirus to Sow Discord Among Americans?

Mar 16, 2020 · 174 comments
Phaque Di’Aronald Jay Chump (California)
I find it unbelievable that in this new age of technology and information people are still clinging to the old paradigm of military might. People that say Russia isn’t a threat because their GDP is so small don’t seem to be able to grasp just how much damage cyberterrorism can do. Have we forgotten how Sony was hacked because of the movie “The Interview”? How many billions of dollars do you think the North Koreans spent on that operation, how many bullets fired, how many submarines deployed, tanks rolled out? The answer is zero! What about when Equifax, and CapitalOne was hacked and our personal information stolen? How much damage do you think Russia can do if they got ahold of our personal banking information and social security number? Russia doesn’t need to spend as much as we do on the military because they’re playing the smart and long game. All they need to act with impunity is for us to know they can wipe us out if we wage conventional warfare against them. Our response was to develop anti ICBM weaponry. But guess what? They’ve developed hypersonic missiles that our defenses can’t touch. So they’re now a big leap ahead of us, despite spending a tiny fraction of what we spend on the military. That’s what makes them such a huge threat. That’s why Iran and North Korea wants nuclear weapons so badly, because that brings them to the big boy’s table and it makes us fear them, and that’s why we’ve tried so hard to stop them from developing a nuclear arsenal.
Richard (Fullerton, CA)
I'm sure the Russians will sow discord in relation to the Corona virus. At the same time, an observation: The news has been remarkably quiet about any effects of the Corona virus in Russia. I suspect that, in time, the virus will sow considerable discord in Russia. Indeed, Putin may experience his own "Trump moment" as a result of this epidemic.
WDG (Madison, Ct)
A chilling observation has been made by Thomas Piketty on page 599 of his new book, "Ideology and Capitalism." Being a petroleum and natural gas behemoth, Russia has run huge trade surpluses over the years. It exports huge amounts of fossil fuels and imports very little. Piketty looked at the numbers and asserts that between 1993-2018, 250 % of Russian GDP has gone missing! This would amount to at least $2.5 trillion squirreled away in (probably) off shore accounts. This stash makes Vladimir Putin the world's richest man by far. He has the resources to offer life-changing wealth to people of influence all over the western world in exchange for political favors. And of course he can spend as much as he wants on disinformation campaigns all over the world.
JD Athey (Oregon)
@WDG And in Trump's case, Putin need only forgive a loan or two. Well, that and hide some videos.
Veljko (Cleveland)
Russia is about to face a huge epidemic on its own. Putin is in the midst of arranging the constitution so he can be tsar. The ruble has dropped as did oil prices. Most ordinary Russians are trying to get by in difficult times and couldn’t care less about imperial ambitions, let alone a confrontation with the USA. The regime is well aware of that. As a US citizen who spent four years working in Petersburg I never experienced a single problem on account of my background. Once they joked with my wife who was with a Russian friend in a bar: watch out we are Russians! That was about it. All the state media had little effect on everyday interaction, most Russians know they are untruthful. All younger people get their news from alternative internet media rather than state TV. Would someone please offer a more realistic assessment of Russia’s capacity to undermine a country ten times as powerful? Their Facebook pages are a drop in the ocean of internet traffic. Are US voters so stupid that they can be duped by 50 Russian bots? What are these bots compared to 60 million Trump voters? And will the NYT ever publish one positive story about a country with a great culture of world historical importance?
carl bumba (mo-ozarks)
@Veljko Thank you! It's like a drop of rain in a horrible drought.
Mike (East. West)
Ever hear of any non spy defecting to Russia? Me neither. Wonderful people, Great culture, Facist goverment, not so much.
Marty (Sparks, Nevada)
``Disinformation is about activating emotional reactions, in order to divide and corrode the targeted entity — a focus on true or false is misleading; a measure becomes active if it resonates with emotions.'' A perfect description of what Trump did to win the White House, with help from his Russian cronies, Comey and his Big Lie about Hillary Clinton's emails. And what he continues to do to stay in power. Unfortunately, expect the same this election. Trump couldn't win without disinformation on the grandest scale. He's a completely amoral master at knowing how to punch the right buttons with his gullible, overly emotional supporters.
Opinioned! (NYC)
Trump is already doing it on his own.
Klaus (Denmark)
The chess game depicted in reality...
Registered Republican (US)
"To reach their disruptive goal, Russian planners may well calculate, as they did in 2016, that helping Mr. Trump weakens America." Vote to support Putin, elect Trump! It is no wonder Mr Trump, knowing that he is fraud is always doubling down with words on how great everything he does is. The Russians are clearly skilled at picking the best possible President to tear down the US. I hope my fellow Republicans will stop supporting Putin's goals and vote for Democracy and the US.
Marty (New York)
Don't think that Mr. Rid went deep enough. I don't think it's a coincidence at all that the virus showed up during the election season. I think that it was created in a lab in Russia then dumped at the public fish market in China where it would be distributed world wide. It would be very similar to Russia dropping the Novochuk nerve agent in the UK last year to kill one of their ex-spies. Since Russia got caught meddling via the web during the last election, they needed an untraceable way to tilt the election toward the buffoon Trump and keep America in turmoil. The Dem's might now have no campaign rallies, primaries may be in question and maybe the convention postponed. I'm sure Putin is patting himself on the back for thinking of this one.
J. von Hettlingen (Switzerland)
Putin knows well Russia is no longer a superpower, but he can bolster his standing at home by destabilising the West. He also knows he has nothing to lose playing a spoiler. Ahead of the November elections, Putin has two tactics in mind – to help Trump win, which will weaken the US further, allowing him to achieve geopolitical goals. Should Trump lose, inciting violence among the white nationalists could plunge the country into a civil war. Reaching out to the Trump loving white supremacist groups in the US is an easy game for Putin. Richard Spencer of the alt-right, believes Russia is the “sole white power in the world.” David Duke believes Russia holds the “key to white survival.” And Matthew Heimbach, head of the white nationalist Traditionalist Worker Party said Putin is the “leader of the free world”—one who has helped morph Russia into an “axis for nationalists.” The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, SVR, led by Sergei Naryshkin had meddled in the 2016 Brexit referendum, and the presidential elections in France and the US. In Putin’s eyes, the West has consistently sought to humiliate Russia and needs to pay a dear price for it. He is not the only one to victimise Russia. His close associates sing from the same song sheet. Naryshkin was a longstanding Putin ally at the KGB. The whole political establishment has no future in a democractic Russia. They need to preserve their mafia state in order to justify their raison d'être.
Ichabod Aikem (Cape Cod)
@J. von Hettlingen Thanks for the clear insights into Putin’s machinations.
JLErwin3 (Herndon, VA)
They already are.
Wim Roffel (Netherlands)
Much of what the Russians is is tit-for-tat for what the US is doing to Russia. America's anti-Russian propaganda is massive - both inside the US and inside Russia. Both sides use a very similar tactic: highlight dissident voices - even when they are of a dubious quality. The article stresses misleading propaganda. But in fact most Russian "propaganda" consists of true facts. American intelligence services like to discard such facts as "sowing discord". But it should be considered that that is an argument that is used widely by dictatorships defending censoring of the news.
Joan Grimm (Portland Oregon)
I think it is extremely interesting that Russia only has 90 covid-19 cases and no deaths. Coincidence?
Marty (New York)
@Joan Grimm Joan, You got it right. This thing came right out of Russia to mess up the election.
colonelpanic (Michigan)
The discord I see is Republicans, blindly following Trump, are pedaling disinformation that the pandemic is not serious and is under control. The reality will catch up to them. Neither Russians nor Republicans can fake news us out of seeing the reality around us.
Paul Johnson (Minnesota)
As much as it would be tempting to blame Putin for all of trump’s ills, we really have ourselves to answer to. Sure mr KGB wants to sow discord but even he is not immune from chaos theory. The Coronas virus is invading and attacking Russia also. And soon enough he will find himself in the hot seat or hospital bed also. Coved-19 could be a game changer in Russia. As the Russian population realizes that their own phony baloney government cannot do much but wait it out like the rest of the world. One can hope that some of the worlds truly unsavory characters succumb to the diseases ravages. Russia will go to great lengths to cover up and gloss over its incompetence. You can fool the people some of the time. But not all the time.
Rick Morris (Montreal)
I think Russia will not have the luxury to sow too much discord here in the US over Covid-19 - they'll have their hands full in misinforming the Russian public about the virus with the thousands (potentially) millions at risk there at home.
Howard Beale II (Los Angeles)
Dream on. Putin’s hacker minions are working and facebooking double time.
lftash (USA)
Time to change horses? Think about it over the next 7-8 months. Please stay safe and try to follow the adviçe of health professionals!!
Trump needs to accept that Putin does not wish us well and wants to recreate the Soviet Empire whose dissolution he mourns. Trump who is easily controlled by flattery and a highly experienced KGB trained operative can easily outwit the ignorant insecure Trump. Trump needs to find one of his henchman maybe Pompeo to read Putin the riot act and prepare to use our powerful cyber capabilities to destabilize Putin's hold on his govt ,supporting the opposition . Trump has shown he only knows how to pander and cower before strongmen so in this aspect he is worse than useless. Biden can do it much better with Harris as VP.
Honor senior (Cumberland, Md.)
Only if we are stupid enough to bite!
magicisnotreal (earth)
How are they faring in Russia?
Doug R (Michigan)
The fact that you are asking this question means they already have.
John Corr (Gainesville, Florida)
U.S-Russia relations cannot be understood without pondering the Ignored Story of the Century: What Happened in Kiev, February 20-21, 2014. Online dispatches from the The Guardian from Kiev show that paramilitary rightist extremists broke a truce, surprised off-guard police and drove from power an elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, from East Ukraine. The German and Polish (Radek Sikorski, husband of career-Russian-critic Anne Applebaum) Foreign Ministers were in Kiev negotiating with the government on behalf of the governmental opposition (Imagine!!!) just before the government fell, an event that pleased the CIA. The EU's foreign policy chief, Lady Catherine Ashton, had already encouraged opposition demonstrators in the Maidan, as did the State Department’s Victoria Nuland and the then German foreign minister. Who funded and trained the paramilitary rightists? Joao Soares, president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Ukraine’s 2010 presidential election, won narrowly by Yanukovych, was an "impressive display of democracy" and called on politicians to honor the outcome. Manafort and the CIA were working opposite sides of the Ukraine political street. Read on in The Guardian and see how the paramilitaries treated the civilian population. Why did Rosenstein name Mueller, a person of integrity but also an Intelligence Community veteran, to investigate Trump, a target of Intelligence Community factions?
John Corr (Gainesville, Florida)
U.S-Russia relations cannot be understood without pondering the Ignored Story of the Century: What Happened in Kiev, February 20-21, 2014. Online dispatches from the The Guardian from Kiev show that paramilitary rightist extremists broke a truce, surprised off-guard police and drove from power an elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, from East Ukraine. The German and Polish (Radek Sikorski, husband of career-Russian-critic Anne Applebaum) Foreign Ministers were in Kiev negotiating with the government on behalf of the governmental opposition (Imagine!!!) just before the government fell, an event that apparently pleased the CIA. The EU's foreign policy chief, Lady Catherine Ashton, had already encouraged opposition demonstrators in the Maidan, as did the State Department’s Victoria Nuland and the then German foreign minister. Who funded and trained the paramilitary rightists? Joao Soares, president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Ukraine’s 2010 presidential election, won narrowly by Yanukovych, was an "impressive display of democracy" and called on politicians to honor the outcome. Manafort and the CIA were working opposite sides of the Ukraine political street. Read on in The Guardian and see how the paramilitaries treated civilians. Why did Rosenstein name Mueller, a person of integrity but also an Intelligence Community veteran, to investigate Trump, a target of Intelligence Community factions?
Belasco (Reichenbach Falls)
The best defense for any "disinformation" campaign is an informed and rationale citizenry that can think for itself and weigh the information put before it. We used to call this "the market place of ideas" in a more intellectually robust and less fearful age. Sure, "the market" has its fair share of idiots and schemers but it always has. Exaggerated concern over disinformation betrays a lack of faith in the intelligence and discernment of the average citizen and ultimately democracy itself. (Cue Trump joke here.)
carl bumba (mo-ozarks)
Enough already! Beyond medical issues, we've got some real economic hardship on the way - on top of real economic hardship - so just shelve your crowd management tools and do something useful for a change.
Lee (Southwest)
Trump is not a Russian spy, because he's too compromised, over-leveraged, clueless, and overwhelmed. He's an unwitting oligarchic agent, trying to empty out our Intelligence services. They have so many dedicated agents. Trump, even with Putin's purgers, cannot prevail.
carl bumba (mo-ozarks)
@Lee Aren't spies usually a little lower profile than, say, the President of the United States? The idea that Trump is a Russian agent is just moronic. At least it gives the Russian people something to laugh about.
Bob (Dallas, TX)
Can the NYT use Coronavirus to sow discord among Americans and then pawn off the blame on Russia (and by further false association, President Trump)? That whole "enemy of the people" thing used to sound over the top... used to.
I suggest NYT readers stop allowing the media to push this false narrative. I have read every article Matt Taibbi has put out on Russiagate. After the Washington Post accused Sanders of being an asset, Taibbi submitted this work.
Dennis Byron (Cape Cod)
@Emily S He's my favorite lefty
carl bumba (mo-ozarks)
@Emily S His Joe Rogan podcast is also good.
Corrie (Alabama)
Takes us back to the 2012 debate moment when Mitt Romney rightly said that Russia was our biggest geopolitical foe, and Obama laughed at him. Why didn’t thr media do its job and say, wait just a minute, Mr. President, Romney is right? Because they just wanted the theater of it all. This is a crisis we all created. It’s not right or left, it’s a pure failure of intelligence and a failure of the media to do its job in snuffing out the really stupid stories to focus on the important ones. We live in a world where the media is more interested in clickbait than telling us what we need to know, and it’s not just a Fox News problem. I say this as someone who voted for Mitt Romney but will never ever support Trump and who has grown to appreciate Obama in the past few years because he’s a truly good human being and a heck of a lot better president than the one we currently have. He shouldn’t have laughed at Romney, but then again who is perfect? The media should have done its job.
Jim (Bay Area)
Some compare the development of cyberwarfare to aviation's rise and influence on warfare. Is Mr. Putin now in a position to defeat America without firing a shot?
Dennis W (So. California)
A bankrupt Kleptocracy run by a strutting little former spy is far from an existential threat to the U.S. You don't need to look any further than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the dunce who currently occupies the Oval Office to find a real threat. We can fix that in November if we can survive his incompetence another nine months.
Ron (Virginia)
We don't need the Russian to sow discord here. We have Anti-Trumpite editorials and Op-Eds and other news agencies right here in the USA, in full search and destroy mode. They are doing all they can to make this the event that destroys Trump. Mueller and impeachment just didn't get the job done. The problem they face is the polls show his approval rating is higher now than Obama's was at the same time of his presidency. And he didn't have the corona virus to deal with. We are just about 2 1/2 months from when the virus was defined and across the country, significant efforts are now in place with more to come to isolate the virus. At least two states have drive through testing. Biden says he would give free vaccine. I don't think he is the only one that might consider that. What is disappointing is the politicization of this virus. It was inevitable but goes to the point, the Russians have nothing to offer to sow discord. We wave a full supply of home grown discord already being sowed.
tjcenter (west fork, ar)
@Ron Yep Obama didn’t have the Coronavirus but he did manage to pull us out of a major recession and the H1N1 outbreak and Ebola and republicans obstruction without whining “it’s not fair” or “I take no responsibility for this “ or resorting to abuse by Twitter. Everything Trump touches dies.
Ron (Virginia)
@tjcenter And yet, with all the anti-Trump attacks, Trump has a higher approval than Obama did at this time of his presidency. And just how much success was he having with H1N1 and Ebola ninety days after the first diagnosis? In any case, I doubt the Russians efforts at discord could top the home grown variety.
JD Athey (Oregon)
@Ron Support your contention that 'At least two states have drive through testing'. Which states?
Phaque Di’Aronald Jay Chump (California)
We’re at the stage now that we don’t care about Russian meddling in our elections and social and cultural consciousness, which is proof that the Russian disinformation campaign is working.
Dpete (Washington, DC)
I'm not so worried about the Russians. The ones who really don't like America and the United States are the Republicans. They will do their utmost to tear us apart.
Big Text (Dallas)
This may be Putin's End Game in play. If he were looking for the perfect opportunity to pull the rug out from under the western economy and to destroy the NATO alliance, this is it. Through his agent in the White House, he was already dismantling the western alliance, enhancing paranoia about China and Mexico, leaving the United States isolated and leaderless. By manipulating Saudi Arabia, he was able to crush U.S. oil producers through a price collapse and corner the market on crude. I believe he wants to leave the American coalition in zombie state similar to that of Russia. Japan has been adrift economically for 30 years. The U.S. and Europe, plagued by similar demographic handicaps, can expect a similar fate. And Russia's corrupt plutocracy will be safe.
Ichabod Aikem (Cape Cod)
@Big Text You’ve got it. Astute analysis.
Maridee (USA)
Clearly already happening.
Lucy Cooke (California)
Thomas Rid writes,"The goal of an aggressive foreign active measures campaign is not, as a recently departed senior intelligence official implied, to strengthen President Trump. It is to weaken the United States." The warmongering, Wall Street supporting, status quo protecting Republican and Democratic Establishment has weakened the US by being oblivious to the death of the American Dream decades ago. That Establishment has implemented and reinforced policies that have allowed the richest .1 percent to take in 196 times as much the bottom ninety percent. The ridiculous American health care system spends twice as much per capita as other countries... and gets worse outcomes. American military adventurism has been disastrous for the world, and America... adding trillions to our debt, while accomplishing nothing, but making the US less safe and the world more unstable. It is the Establishment and its media, promoting and enacting policies that have made America weak. There is absolutely nothing Russia can do to us, that we have not done to ourselves. The coronavirus will accentuate all the made in America fault lines.
Pierre (France)
"Conspiracy theories" says the writer while peddling a conspiracy theory at a time when everyone, everywhere should be focused on fighting a pandemic. The Russians did not stop Biden from winning and the shenanigans in vote counting in California had nothing to do with Russia. Shameful to indulge in propaganda when the medical situation is so serious and the president is clueless.
WTig3ner (CA)
@Christy I agree with your first line especially, with one exception. For all practical purposes, Trump is the Russians. He is Putin's toy pony, and Putin has trained him very well. We have had a wide variety of presidents, most good, some great, and some bitterly disappointing. Trump is our first president-traitor.
Tara (MI)
I don't know if it's Russian-financed; however, there's Trumpian disinformation inside the contents and 'comments' on the Venerable Times. Any eye trained to be critical can see it. I now see Trump is being "protected" from this "nothing-but-a-cold" virus. May I suggest transfer of his entire coterie to the Island of St-Helena?
Phil (New York City)
Russia needs to learn the law of unintended consequences. Russians push conspiracy theories at their peril. Do they think themselves immune to this mental disease? How about the looming physical one? Likely Russians are even more susceptible to both than we are. In uncertain times, like 1917 & 1989, Russia had an opportunity for a better future and then made self destructive decisions. For a people known for long term strategy I am surprised at how short sighted they can be. Too bad for us, but much worse for them. To quote another example of their stupidity, "Russia, if you're listening.."
Andrew (NY)
What lazy book authors we have these days. Did Russia cause the X, Y, and Z. How about this: let's start a new series of things that all of the dumb, vile Americans out there did by electing Trump in 2016.
RH (North Carolina)
'the goal of an aggressive foreign active measures campaign is not, as a recently departed senior intelligence official implied, to strengthen President Trump. It is to weaken the United States.' Very true but it's clear to the Russians that strengthening Trump, esp. since Putin still obviously has something,(probably financial), on Trump, is a very powerful way to weaken the U.S.A., for quite a few reasons.
Yaj (NYC)
"To reach their disruptive goal, Russian planners may well calculate, as they did in 2016, that helping Mr. Trump weakens America." Except there's no evidence Russia, the state, helped Trump in 2016. The Mueller Report contains nothing to support that claim. What that report does instead is make claims about Russia, X, Y, Z, which the Report doesn't then support with evidence that can be verified in any manner.
Gary Smith (US)
There IS evidence of Russian interference. I am not going to waste my time pointing you to any of the overwhelming evidence.
Yaj (NYC)
@Gary Smith : If such evidence exists, especially if it is overwhelming, then you should be able to cite it easily. Don't conflate unsupported assertions with evidence. It's a standard tactic of those claiming Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Very telling that you can't bother to cite evidence.
william phillips (louisville)
As we know, good or bad buys believe that a crisis should never be wasted as an opportunity to exploit. We are weak, the world is weak, perhaps too weak to hold a line in the sand. Then again, should we be worried that Trump will go to war as a campaign stunt? The push back on the freedom based principles of the Cold War have me most convinced that too many of us are being conned to fall in love with strong men governance. It can be seductive. All the more reason to make it easier for the next generation to attend college.
DBD (Madison, WI)
This article is especially interesting given the reports on this morning’s _Bloomberg News_ streaming broadcasts that the website of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services -- an agency that will work closely with the CDC on COVID-19 public outreach, testing, and (eventually) putative vaccine provision -- was hacked last night by persons or entities unknown. According to the three folks from the Trump administration who described the 03/15/20 HHS website hack to Bloomberg on condition of anonymity, it remains unclear what exactly the hackers sought on or downloaded from the HHS website. The current administration and its supporters in the U.S. Senate have long abdicated any responsibility to protect the American people from civically-corrosive internet disinformation and cyber-attacks -- whether the culprits are the Russian ‘troll-farms’ that U.S. intelligence has proved are at work or the mythical, 400-pound basement-dwellers of Pres. Trump's dismissive counter-narratives. Given the Trump administration’s tendency to ignore or enable such cyber malfeasance even as it rends the body politic, a health crisis that imperils millions of our physical bodies is, sadly, fair game.
Sharon (Washington)
There was plenty of division right here in USA. Part of the current administration’s appeal to the 40% of electorate was to give that divisiveness an emboldened voice and to legitimize tribalism. Witness the obsession over the “proper” naming of the COVID-19 virus. Smoke and mirrors and diversion of attention were tried and true political tactics indeed.
A (Midwest)
I am a scholar of science communication. People in my field (and in other fields) have known for some time that Russia is interfering in all sorts of ways to create divisions. As it concerns science, they've been helping to spread lies about vaccinations; notably, the vaccination rate in Russia is almost 100%. If you think they won't leverage this crisis, think again.
Robert K (Boston, MA)
As a scientist, the politics of the virus is running an experiment. Those who accept science and its recommendations will behave like St.Louis during the 1918 flu pandemic and reduce their social interactions. Those who believe Trump and Devin Nunes will behave like Philadelphia during the 1918 flu pandemic and continue with their every-days lives. In a few months, we will be able to compare outcomes . Outcomes for those who do not heed science will resemble Philadelphia and have much higher death rates than those that heed science, like St Louis. For more information, read this 2007 paper from the Proceedings National Academy of Science, which is one of the most prestigious journals in the US
tjcenter (west fork, ar)
Reading the comments and you might get the idea that Russians are pushing back on this analysis. The Russian bots, real or not, are not happy with their nefarious plots being exposed. They aren’t even trying to disguise it, pretending to be patriotic Americans while singing the praise of the mother country.
TheraP (Midwest)
Whether discord is what’s sown or Trump’s followers refuse to take steps to protect from the virus, Russia itself may have more problems than we do ... down the road. Where would folks rather live? The only nation we can protect is this one!
Stephen Merritt (Gainesville)
People in the U.S. are panicking enough already that any actions in that respect by Russian intelligence are likely to get lost in all the noise. What we should be looking out for is the integrity of our elections structure, but it may actually be too late to make the necessary improvements, which do, after all, take time and testing to be effective. And it may still be true that some Republicans, not necessarily excluding people in the White House, still believe that any interference with actual voting will work to their advantage.
mother of two (IL)
It is remarkable that this assessment even reached the Times, given that Trump has told his Intel chiefs that he wants them to keep certain information from Congressional classified briefings. Among those topics is Russian interference in our elections. And of course, Trump does nothing substantive to protect our upcoming elections and won't tolerate anyone saying in his government, much less his presence, that there was any Russian interference in 2016 gauged to support his run for office. Human ostrich.
Bill Virginia (23456)
The Russian Hoax is alive and well in the NYTimes. Only NYTimes readers would be undistinguished enough to believe anything the Russians were selling. They did most of their work on "Facebook" last election and only a moron would believe ANYTHING on Facebook. The Russians, and anyone else on the internet, are always persuading fools to do stupid things and believe things that haven't happened. Didn't we spend millions to investigate this and didn't Mueller fix the entire problem! This is not journalism, it is dirty politics! PS: Our young people are ditching papers like this for a far more unregulated news services on the internet. They will close your doors one day!
Zamboanga (Seattle)
People are perhaps morons for believing anything on Facebook and are most assuredly morons for believing anything on Fox News or that spews from Rush and others of his ilk.
John (LINY)
Of course they can! Our own President has spread misinformation. What’s to stop Putin? Donald? His biggest fanboy?
Christian Haesemeyer (Melbourne)
Really? Like seriously that’s the issue right now? Russian trolls?
Drspock (New York)
A careful read of this article should make any journalist cringe. It is not really an article, so it lacks the normal standards for "news' reporting. But even as an opinion piece is is based on assumptions, innuendo, arguments and assertions but very few facts. Even when facts are used they are from bizarre assertions from the 1960's. And even half of those are clearly false. Since the advent of "Psyops"(Psychological Operations) the United States has been in the forefront of disinformation campaigns, not the Russian's. One need only review to Church Committee hearings for numerous examples of disinformation, much circulated illegally in the US by the CIA. The list could go on and on and would have to include more recently the Snowden revelations, the Wikileaks publication of US documents and the perjury committed at Senate hearings about domestic spying on Americans by our own agencies. So why is the NYTimes devoted all the space to such a poorly written, poorly researched and utterly flimsy story? The only logical reason is that they have drunk the "Russians are coming" cool aid and realize that unless there is a demon to justify spending 1 trillion a years on the military that Americans might once again ask "since the Cold War is over, where is our peace dividend?" The answer? It's in the pockets of the military industrial complex and the NYTimes is working hard on their behalf to keep it there. Shame on the NYTimes. We deserve journalism, not advertisements.
JD Athey (Oregon)
@Drspock '..bizarre assertions from the 1960's'?. Really? You think Russia has given up on the prize they consider the US? That's exactly what Putin is counting on, short memories and propaganda.
Jonathan Katz (St. Louis)
The NYT op-ed and editorial pages also do their best to incite racial hatred, dividing Americans against Americans.
Figgsie (Los Angeles)
Congratulations, NYT, on being the lead purveyor of Cold War 2.0 propaganda and publishing the work of charlatans like the author of this piece.
Nancy (Great Neck)
I am ashamed that the New York Times would print such prejudiced propaganda, such falseness, at a time of American crisis. We need to be working with all other nations on this crisis. This essay is terrifyingly anti-social, anti-American.
gratis (Colorado)
@Nancy Accurate, too.
Red Allover (New York, NY)
The Americans corporate media will use the last gasp of the last corona virus victim to fan hatred against Socialist China, where the virus originated, and now even favorite villian Russia. Who knew the deadly danger posed to our American system by Czechoslovakian propaganda in 1957? This is the kind of courageous investigative reporting one can only find in the New York Times. Meanwhile, the identity and positions of the thousands of FBI 'informants'--currently reporting covertly to the American federal government's secret police--remain happily undisturbed by their journalistic protectors . . . .
Fast Marty (nyc)
Here are my questions: -- is Russia fanning COVID-19 flames and shorting the market? -- is Russia impacted by the disease? I do not see ANY reports of how COVID-19 affects the Russian citizenry. Any news on that?
Dwight (Houston)
This article is ridiculous. Write an article about how foreign powers are trying to influence the discussion, and you'll have a point. When you pretend like Russia is the only bad actor on the internet, you're not doing a very good job of informing the public. You're just pushing a narrative that's not so subtlely asking people to ignore the overall culture of disinformation.
steven (Fremont CA)
Why would Russia bother to sow discord among Americans, trump is doing the job all by himself . And besides ttrump has a more important thing to do than worry about the virus, he needs to pardon manafort who defrauded their common enemy, the people of the United States.
Joseph (Wellfleet)
Strange though, Why would Russia basically want to kill off 1.7 million primarily Fox Addled Trumpistas just before an election? I mean, they're buying its a hoax and every second they do gets them closer to a brush with death. They're still having rallies.....I've already "gone to the mattresses" last week.
Fred R. Kline (Santa Fe)
Imperative CDC receives info on spread of coronavirus in Russia.
Theopolis (Decatur ga)
Is there really a question . From the beginning their number one agent in the U.S. has been doing his best in his totally ignorant uninformed way to make the most out of the virus problem as possible . Master Putin sure is getting his money’s worth with this asset . It’s going to be hilarious in a way when Putin dumps him when he’s done with him .
Ryan Bingham (Up there...)
Of course they can . . .
Hacked (Dallas)
When I visited the Soviet Union on a college study abroad program in the 1980s, I was invited to an international mixer with Soviet Komsomol students [Communist Youth League] where at least one “student” suggested I should consider changing my major from science to journalism. Now why would he have done that?
Steve Sailer (America)
I'm struck by how this op-ed refers throughout to past "Russian" rather than "Soviet" propaganda. Okay, so the "Russians" were publishing pamphlets in 1960 about evil white American racists. In 2017, the New York Times published 72 stories mentioning the white racist murder of Emmett Till way back in 1955: I suspect the New York Times may have done more to sow discord among the races in the United States since the beginning of what Matthew Yglesias calls The Great Awokening around 2013 than the KGB managed to do in the history of the Soviet Union.
Miss Anne Thrope (Utah)
Maybe some of you smart peeps can help this UT hick understand something. Russia's military budget is $61B (down 23% from '16 due to their rotten economy - which is taking another Yooge hit in their squabble w/ the Sauds). They spend only 7% as much on War as all NATO countries combined, less than 10% of the US alone. Their GDP is 14th globally, less than Brazil, Italy, New York state and Texas. They're half the size of California and less than 8% of the US. How is Russia such a supposed global boogeyman? If they're actually good enuf' to cause all the disruption assigned to them, doncha' think they'd be able to make their country function better? Are they that much more capable than we are that they're able to be a "global threat" while spending dimes vs dollars? Or (pause to don tin-foil hat) are they really a Paper Bear? A monster-under-the-bed that's not really there when you look, a Be-Afraid-Be-Very-Afraid illusion that the MIC and the War Profiteers rattle in the dark to keep us malleable and afraid? Is Russia the convenient enemy-du-jour that justifies spending gobs of our tax dollars on profitable, perpetual war, with all of it's money-making, hidden corruption? Why doesn't the US, with all it's power, squash 'em like a grape (metaphorically, of course - w/ sanctions, internal disruptions, shunning…)? Or, does the MIC need to keep them on life support to insure the revenue stream?
gratis (Colorado)
@Miss Anne Thrope : Your view of Russia makes lots of erroneous assumptions. First, the goal of the Russian government is to enrich Putin. That is it. Everything else is secondary to that goal. Two, the strategy to enrich Putin comes at the expense of the Russian people. It is easier to make up and attack an enemy than fix real economic problems, so distractions are needed. Russian people are educated. Way more educated than Americans, as a group. They know about America. If America looks like a mess, it benefits support of Putin. if Europe looks like mess, it benefits support of Putin. Why can't the US squash Russia? Putin's power lies in Russian oil and gas. The US cannot control Putin the same way they cannot control Saudi Arabia. Petro Power is awesome. The US cannot even control Exxon Mobile.
Psst (overhere)
The Russians need not lift a finger to sow discord, trump and his legislative sycophants are doing it for them.
Jeff (USA)
And then there's this piece in today's Washington Post: It is belioevable, given Trump; and that's what would make it so effective as disinformation. But, it bears all the marks of Russian "active measures".
Douglas Klein (Ft Lauderdale)
Time for our se rest agencies to reverse the push and go after Russia. Since their press is controlled we need to find another way to abuse “rootin tootin pootin”
northlander (michigan)
Some hoax. Who is responsible?
tjcenter (west fork, ar)
We are past the point of can they do it but well into they are doing it. They set the stage during 2016 and are full steam ahead, the Russians got the return on their investment that far exceeded their expectations. Who knew so many people could not use critical thinking skills, who knew that a certain segment of society could be so easily manipulated. The Russians. They watched as Fox News proved that there are a great many Americans who will believe all kinds of nonsense, they watched in disbelief at the republicans doing their dirty work for them, they used the NRA, the so called Christians, the idiot state to achieve what no military hardware could, take down our country without firing a shot. All because some people hated Mrs. Clinton more than they loved this country, the Russians got exactly what they wanted, a useful fool for a president. Why stop now, it’s working well for them. Trust is lost, our country is broken all without firing a single shot.
Dennis Byron (Cape Cod)
@tjcenter I do not subscribe to cable TV but I do have access to the Nielsen Ratings. How is it that a network that less than 1% of Americans watch -- FNC -- has this outsized influence on Americans? Most Americans believe FNC started the Watergate/Monica Lewinsky hoax against Clinton when FNC did not even exist then.
tjcenter (west fork, ar)
@Dennis Byron You are wrong. Fox News started in 1996 and Clinton’s impeachment was in 1998. They and their right wing cohorts beat that story, Benghazi and emails, like a dead horse. Don’t pretend that you don’t understand how Fox beats dead horses for their brain dead viewers. Try again.
Dennis Byron (Cape Cod)
@tjcenter 1. You are correct that FNC launched in late 1996 but the Whitewater investigation (I mistakenly wrote Watergate above) started in 1994 2. Can't answer the question I guess. Not surprising
Jp (Michigan)
"Can Russia Use the Coronavirus to Sow Discord Among Americans?" Who needs Russians when you have Bruni? You have Bruni saying today that panic is "utterly warranted". Panic- Grab all the food and supplies you can! No foreigners allowed! Forget about the old folks since they're done for anyway! Poor folks are less healthy so write them off too and stay away! Good job.
DesertRose (Phoenix)
Will you stop with the Russophobia already? There's COVID 19 there, too, same as in the USA. Last time I looked, the virus came from CHINA! Maybe you should be worried about them!
Phaque Di’Aronald Jay Chump (California)
Russian would love for us to focus our attention away for them, and blame a government for Mother Nature. If it didn’t happen in China it would’ve happened somewhere else.
Jim (Northern CA)
Possibly the Russians will take advantage. That is, until the virus cripples their fragile, oil/gas based economy. Putin the wannabe Tsar will need all his trolls to manage that calamity.
The East Wind (Raleigh, NC)
Re the title: Putin does not need to use the COVID 19 virus to sow discord, Trump is doing that all by himself.
This Cold War era “THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING” is so tired and trite. It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever been subjected to by the media. What in the world do you think I do? Look over my shoulder to check if Putin is trolling me online? Is a RUSSIAN under my bed? Our military budget is larger than their GDP. Obama admitted they are nothing more than a gnat on a elephant. Stop. Just stop with this Cold War nonsense. If you want to whip up fear, worry about China.
Astrochimp (Seattle)
@Emily S Yes, China is a concern, but Russia even more so. Putin's manipulations of people got Trump elected, and it divided the good people of the US against each other then as now.
Lucy Cooke (California)
@Emily S "This Cold War era “THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING” is so tired and trite. It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever been subjected to by the media."!!!!!! “The plot running through all of these stories has been the idea that Russia is trying to “undermine our democracy” by “sowing division.” But these charges are coming from the same people who spent the past four years describing Republicans as deplorable fascists, and progressives on the other side as racist, sexist, Nazis, and “digital brownshirts.”” from great article, But US incompetence and its ridiculous, wildly expensive health care system with outcomes poor in relation to cost, are what citizens should worry about.
jk1 (New York)
@Emily S - Bad Information is dangerous than the Bomb. The world revolves around information. Putin knows this better than anybody. Most people are not capable of discerning information from multiple sources. Devin Nunes asking people to go to restaurants for example. We should take this disinformation campaign seriously. In the case of Coronavirus, people are going to get killed due to bad information.
Christy (WA)
We don't need Russia to sow discord; we have Trump, the most discordant president ever to occupy the White House. He never accepts responsibility for his incompetence; he blames Obama, Hillary, Pelosi, Schumer, the media, Fed Chairman Powell, the deep state, foreigners, immigrants and all who see him for what he really is, a blowhard who is totally incapable of leading or uniting the nation in a time of crisis. The leader of the free world has become the whiner of the free world, victimized by a growing list of enemies real and imagined. To Vladimir Putin and other enemies of our nation, he is the gift that keeps on giving.
Lucy Cooke (California)
@Christy Please explain to me why Russia/Putin is our enemy. Admittedly, Putin does not support US regime changes. He thinks countries like Syria, Libya and Venezuela should be free to choose their own government, and that the US should not instigate and arm dissidents to create civil wars, so that the US can install the government of its choice. As to the Ukraine,since 1992, the government has spent about $5.1 billion to support democracy-building programs in Ukraine, to get an anti Russia government that would join NATO. December 2017 the National Security Archive at George Washington University posted online declassified US, Soviet, German, British and French documents revealing promises made to Gorbachev in February 1990, that if he removed all troops from East Germany and agreed to the reunification of Germany, in the words of George H. W. Bush’s secretary of state, James Baker, “iron-clad guarantees that NATO’s jurisdiction or forces would not move eastward”. Immediately,the Bill Clinton administration began pushing NATO closer and closer to Russia’s borders. Most media ignored the release of these inconvenient documents revealing the GHWBush administration promises to Gorbachev. NATO expansion is the driving force behind the new US-Russian Cold War. The US has worked hard to influence Russian elections... And Israel influences US elections in a much more significant way than Russia ever has.
B. Rothman (NYC)
@Christy And haven’t you heard about what a “tremendous” relationship Trump has with Putin and what a “tremendous” leader Putin is? Nothing is hidden. The slavish adulation of autocrats is right out there in the open.
Rumsford (Massachusetts)
@Lucy Cooke LBJ declined to run a second time because of Israel's attack on USS Liberty in 1967. The act was highly classified for 40 years. Also, consider Smedley Butler, USMC MGen. A 2-time recepient of the MOH who wrote a book: War is a Racket. It helps explain why we have such a large military budget.
yulia (MO)
Seems to me the author is trying to shift the blame for the American problems in Russia. Obviously, the American public doesn't believe the American politicians and American media, if it are so readily to get the unchecked information from the social media. That is the American problem. The cracks that are supposedly exploited by Russians, are not cracks - they are problems that need to be addressed. And they could not be addressed if you pretend that they didn't happened, and they are just another unhappy events, rather than systematic problem.
Mikhail23 (Warren, Ohio)
I am Russian. With the strong Russian accent, like many such transplants to the US, I have been treated with fear and resentment by the American left (I can tell, quite often, if a person is a member of the Democrat party by how she treats me). My children have been bullied in school because of their Russian names and because they dare to go against the grain in our very liberal college town and to suggest the hypocrisy of blaming all America's political (and social) woes on people like me. Americans would do well by looking in the mirror first and asking 1) what have their Govt done to destabilize multiple "foe" countries of the course of its history and 2) if the cracks in civility, common sense, sense of togetherness (vs rabid individualism), social discourse, and common goal have appeared in this society over the last 30 yrs (since Reagan, really) due to their own faults. Blaming Russia and Russians for it, albeit probably not without merit, is such a simpleton's way out.
alyosha (wv)
@Mikhail23 I'm Russian-American, 100% of each. You are exactly correct about the hostility to Russia, Russians, and things Russian. Anti-Russian bigotry (racism by another name) is the last acceptable ethnic prejudice in our society. It is striking that its main practitioners are the liberals who otherwise instruct us on fighting racism.
Ann O. Dyne (Unglaciated Indiana)
The writer says it's wrong to claim " to strengthen President Trump. (...) is to weaken the United States." Putin knows this claim is true, as do the majority of Americans.
PaulB67 (South Of North Carolina)
Why was this posed as a question? Of course Russian operatives are busy sowing fear and discord, not just in the U.S. but around the world. It's what they do.
Deutschmann (Midwest)
“Can” Russia do it? I’d bet my life savings that it has been doing it for months.
Revoltingallday (Durham NC)
As revelatory as this is, alas, the ability of Trump supports to delude themselves is far more powerful than any disinformation, misinformation, or social engineering ever invented. If you want proof, look at the comments to the other editorial outlining Trump’s gross negligence, incompetence, and dishonesty. The obtuse rationalization of his supporters makes KGB tactics positively pale in comparison.
Mark Thomason (Clawson, MI)
"a particular headache because the K.G.B. largely stuck to the facts" How dare they tell the truth about us. Even after that racist attack, the US could have behaved well. It did not. Now we face similar problems, and the lesson still must be learned. Face the truth, do justice in the matter, so that telling the (full) truth does not hurt us. Then we can answer the truth with more truth, and so disarm it, even turn it against those trying to us it against us. "Putin, Putin" was used in a partisan way by partisan officials. Brennan in particular was a political hack abusing his connection to office. Brennan became part of the problem, by being part of the Russian lie. "The goal of an aggressive foreign active measures campaign is not, as a recently departed senior intelligence official implied, to strengthen President Trump. It is to weaken the United States." Yet he and many others played it as something it was not. That was actually what the Russian operatives wanted, that very partisan misbehavior played into the Active Measures in ways they could only hope for. Brennan should have known that, and probably did know that. He did it anyway. He tried to hurt Republicans instead of helping the US. We must avoid such internal misconduct. We must avoid such partisan misuse of our intelligence agencies. We must punish those who do it to us, meaning the Americans who act against the national interest hoping for their own electoral advantage.
Phaque Di’Aronald Jay Chump (California)
It seems people still don’t understand strengthening Trump is equivalent to weakening America.
Mark Thomason (Clawson, MI)
@Phaque Di’Aronald Jay Chump -- It seems people would rather be distracted by "Trump is Orange and bad" than face up to real problems on side. McCarthyism is a real problem, and it was really indulged in. It still is a temptation. It was and is wrong. There are certainly many good reasons and many good arguments to oppose Trump McCarthyism is not one of them.
Northern (CA)
Mr. Rid's cogent analysis is welcome. I've not only wondered how the Russian military/Intelligence departments exploit this, but will the DHS/CIA/FBI stop it. Do FB/Twitter/Google escalate there policies against misinformation? My fear is that the campaign season won't be, "silly season", but "flu/propaganda season".
Just Ben (Rosarito, Baja California, Mexico)
Let's not kid ourselves: aiding Trump weakens the United States. Russians know this--everyone knows this, who thinks clearly. And though for Facebook et al to take down posted lies may be barely better than nothing, the only cure for frighteningly wide and rapid dissemination of dangerous misinformation is to shut down social media entirely.. No good can come of electronic social muriatic acid.
Astrochimp (Seattle)
Tsar Putin's "active measures" will certainly favor Trump, because he is key to weakening the US. Trump loves brutal dictators but otherwise is incapable of caring about anything other than himself.
HR (Bochum)
A pandemic of historic proportions is about to sweep your country and you use it to red bait. Jfc
Tony (usa)
The answer to the article's title question is: Russia won't need to - The Presidential Tweeter-in-Chief will sow enough discord himself to keep the country destabilized for decades to come.
Debbi (Canton, Ohio)
The true horror of the Trump presidency is that I read this article, horrified by the findings, and then disregarded them because I question the truthfulness of the U.S. intelligence services now controlled by Trump lackeys. Sad. Sad. Sad.
Bartokas (Lisbon)
Russia doesn't have to do anything to sow discord among Americans. Donald Trump has been doing it since 2016.
Brian (Oakland, CA)
Insecurity. It's predictable. Time to prepare. If people lose work, if they can't get treatment, there will be a surge in crime. That's right in "amplification's" wheelhouse. On one side, democracy opponents demonize people who have money and power. On the other, they raise the specter of zombie-like hordes. It's a critical time for leadership. Expect scant from Trump and McConnell Republicans. But the glass is half full. Because of the campaign, Biden will be almost a "shadow-President." Russia knows that. They will attack. Demonizing and specter-raising to drive people far right and far left. Since we know that, US intelligence should get ready. Not just to disarm disinformation campaigns. International relations doesn't have courts. Tit for tat is the best strategy. US intel should prepare to disinform Russians. Undermining Putin at home will change his incentives abroad. Let it be known: stop your campaign and we'll stop ours. Self preservation is the strongest motivator.
Our old arch enemy , yes of course they are going to do , no doubt.
Jimbob (PacNW)
What makes you think they aren't already?
J (The Great Flyover)
Will be interesting to see how, the closer we move toward the election, how republicans blend Benghazi and emails into this story...
Charles Focht (Lost in America)
Please give this "Russia did it meme" a rest. America's problems are entirely self created.
Son Of Liberty (nyc)
According to the Washington Post: "Trump’s businesses are full of dirty Russian money." Why has Donald Trump like no other American president been so obsequious towards Vladimir Putin? Why has he met with Putin in private without any other Americans in the room? Why has Donald Trump denied the finding of 17 US intelligence agencies that the Russians meddled in the 2016 election. With Donald Trump all roads lead to the Russians.
Harvey (Chennai)
Russia is so ill-equipped to deal with its own COVID-19 crisis it may soon be distracted from committing digital mischief.
MDM (Akron, OH)
My God can the media give the Russia narrative a break, just a distraction from the .0001% robbing the country blind. Far more concerned about how dangerous the psychopathic greed of corporate America is than any thing the Kremlin does.
cmd (Austin)
"that helping Mr. Trump weakens America". Well... that's stating the obvious
Saideep (Chicago)
How do we know this article isn't written by the Russians to sow irrational fear of a foreign power? More seriously, the utter lack of quantitative analysis here is journalistic malpractice by the supposed paper of record. Why should care so much about this issue if we don't even know the scale of the problem? Previous reports of interference were relatively small scale compared to general world events.
Nancy (Great Neck)
Can Russia Use the Coronavirus to Sow Discord Among Americans? Conditions are ripe: The pandemic is sweeping right into campaign season, and Trump’s response is highly contested. [ That the New York Times would print such an essay is beyond shameful. This is intolerably prejudiced propaganda and harms America. This essay is harmful to America. I am appalled. ]
Mary Elizabeth Lease (Eastern Oregon)
no need. Putin has Trump on the case. Putin loves him some crazy making.
JayGee (New York)
Don't we already have Trump's disruptive goals and his continuous undermining of individuals and institutions? And what have we done about him? Russian propaganda continues to impact us negatively. But should we not be stepping up our defenses against cyberattacks and cyber-viruses that would presently maximize their disruptive capability?
JDW113 (Milwaukee)
The "leadership" of Trump, Republicans, and Fox News in downplaying the virus makes their followers and viewers downplay the danger of the virus, as if it's a liberal / democratic hoax. The delay in taking this seriously cost us 6 weeks of valuable time. Russians take advantage of the divisions on social media to divide us even further.
alan (MA)
Russia needs to do nothing to "Sow Discord Among Americans" in regards to the Coronavirus. President Trump's bungling response is doing their job for them. When action was needed to get ahead of the virus President Trump called it a "Democratic Hoax". When President Trump FINALLY (after the Stock Market shed 10% in one Dat) decided to do something he lied to the American People about testing procedures and availability.
Sunspot (Concord, MA)
Thank you for reporting on this formidable enemy and for keeping us alert. It seems that Democrats have decided to unite behind Biden come what may -- and this will likely prompt Putin to go into over drive on behalf of his "useful idiot" Trump (since Biden is connected to the Obama-Clinton pro-democracy movements that Putin hates.) Will Putin actually hack voting machines? Will our Intelligence community be able to continue gathering information despite Trump? So far, Putin has won. Let's unite to defeat him and get our country back!
Anna (UWS)
@Sunspot If enough people are hurt by the job closings, and the actual corona virus... maybe it won't be good ole Uncle Joe after all but Bernie.. Maybe people will see the need for Democratic socialism not Wall Street gain at any cost....With any luck people will begin to rethink the efficacy of vul.ure capitalism.. and the role of govmt. -- which is not nec. such a bad thing.
Thomas Briggs (longmont co)
Great reporting on the details of Russian interference. The larger question is whether the Republican Party will again welcome such interference. That question can only be answered by the Republicans. Early indications, like Senator Johnson's smear of Biden, are not encouraging. I guess I should say "not encouraging for American patriots."
Andy (Salt Lake City, Utah)
I can't see how Russian planners wouldn't calculate Trump is the wiser bet. The President is a grotesque and fawning Manchurian candidate. Strengthening Trump weakens the United States. There's no other possible conclusion. The two goals are one in the same. Mr. Rid needs to explain this statement a bit clearly though: "...a simmering generational conflict spurred by skewed fatality rates." What do fatality rates have to do with generational conflict? The generational conflict is ideological, not biological. Pneumonia typically kills older adults in greater numbers. We're dealing with a respiratory illness similar to pneumonia. How is that cause for generational resentment? Would you prefer the disease were child oriented like measles or mumps? Would you prefer the disease were indiscriminate like Ebola? I don't understand the connection you're trying to make. I would prefer no disease at all. The generational impact doesn't change my positions on healthcare, climate, and education. The generational resentment rightfully stems from another successful episode of "me first"-ism on the part of older Americans. This continual idea that the future can always wait. Now is more important. Guess what? The future is now. Climate change is happening. Corona virus is a climate related event. You were warned.
Phaque Di’Aronald Jay Chump (California)
@Andy One possible meaning of, “simmering generational conflict spurred by skewed fatality rates”, is that the at risk group for the coronavirus are elderlies, and a large swath of Trump supporters are elderlies. Younger people see them as racist, religious, misogynist, fat cat executive attitude, and the obstacle in the way of progressing America away from the idea of MAGA. So in a way, the coronavirus could be viewed as a nature’s way of steering us in the right direction. So, instead of practicing social distancing, they’ll engage in high risk behaviors in order to spread the virus. This will definitely destabilize our already crumbling country even further if we can’t contain the virus and mortality rate rises. We’re already seeing elected representatives calling for people to go out into large gatherings like restaurants as if it were any other Sunday, ie Devine Nunez.
JD Athey (Oregon)
@Andy 'The generational conflict is ideological, not biological.' In the case of Covid-19, the conflict is certainly biological, in that people over 60 are more at risk. Younger people who deny the danger and continue life as usual are helping to spread the virus to those more vulnerable, for whom it may be fatal. What if the virus did not originate in China but is indeed a product of Russia, whose leader has coveted the US for decades? That leader would be pleased to have older Americans, with their long memories, weeded out in advance to make more space available.
Jon S. (Alabama)
I'm sure Russia has its own problems with the virus, and other current events. Putin's kleptocracy is in more danger from current events than this country. He started an oil war with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have more pull but both are almost wholly dependent on oil revenue. Trouble is brewing.
rich (hutchinson isl. fl)
Of course they will continue to sow discord in the world's leading democracy and to support their puppet president who actually requested their interference. Especially now that Donald Trump has gone from saying "Only I can fix it", to "I take no responsibility".
I'm not clear why Russian interference is considered such a threat if it's contained to social media. If in fact they can actually hack into the voting booths and change results that's a different matter and we should have all safeguards in place to prevent that even if we have to resort to paper ballots. If disinformation is the concern, we're getting enough of that from our current president and I don't believe any social media campaign is going to change who we vote for at this time. Sanders is a clear second choice to Biden and those that want to vote for Trump will not change their minds for any reason. This election should be a significant rebute of Trump and hopefully the Senate also. This current virus crisis just emphasizes the incompetence that most of us already knew. I'm more concerned what Trump is presently doing than what Russia can potentially do.
mjs79 (Minneapolis)
@VMG Your opinion about a limited role for social media in influencing election outcomes is not shared by the major parties, especially the president's re-election campaign who have dumped millions into a very robust effort. I know people who do not watch TV news nor read newspapers who are yet quite conversant in advancing Republican talking points. Where did they get them -off social media.
AdaMadman (Erlangen)
@mjs79 Yes, we should not underestimate, or misunderestimate, the power of false narratives spread through social media. Some may have been instrumental in electing this president.
Dan Mabbutt (Utah)
@VMG The biggest difference between the Ebola crisis and the COVAD-19 crisis is not the pathogen. The biggest difference is that a sane and rational person was in charge during the Ebola crisis.
Paul (NYC)
Important article. Social media especially Facebook is the platform of choice for all of these bad actors. I recently suspended my Facebook account. Too much drama and too little accountability and action on the part of the CEO. These are very dark times with respect to the believability of factual information. It seems like total chaos on the internet, with too many people not knowing where to turn for the truth. Keep up the good work Mr. Rid!
Dwight (Houston)
@Paul It's also the platform of choice for Democrats, progressives, and every organization that is trying to get public interest focused on a particular political issue.
Paul (Nyc)
@Dwight. You’re absolutely right! Unfortunately it’s an environment that has a lot of people who don’t know the difference between legitimate posts and malicious propaganda. If Facebook were acting responsibly like other social media platforms I’d feel differently about it.
Katrin (Wisconsin)
Good article, reminding us that the most dangerous enemy is the one between our ears, looking for reasons to be or remain divisive, to hate, to denigrate. The easiest way to quell the disinformation is to stop spreading it.
Mary Rossano (Lexington, KY)
If only the people who are inclined to believe conspiracy theories would focus their paranoia on Russia instead of the "deep state" and their fellow Americans of different races and religions. The Covid-19 pandemic presents an opportunity for our society to come together to help one another, but I fear that Mr Leonhart is correct.
yulia (MO)
Why do you think 'Russian' paranoia is better than 'deep state' one?
Mary Rossano (Lexington, KY)
@yulia Because the actions of the Russians are real.
yulia (MO)
@Mary Rossano For some people the actions of "deep state" much more real than Russian actions.
Don T (Annapolis)
Good article. To put it gently, many fellow citizens are just not too inquisitive, and may settle for simplistic, headline grabbing news that stirs emotions rather than provokes thinking. And, unfortunately, this seems to affect both ends of the political spectrum. Folks need to educate themselves about issues and look more deeply into the sources that seem to weigh more heavily on what drives us apart more than what helps us be more together.
Brian (Phoenix, AZ)
@Don T No. It affects one side of the political spectrum more than the other, and that is the political right. The left isn't free of illogical thinking, but it isn't on the same level as the right. Enough.
Dwight (Houston)
@Brian Nah, the left side is choosing Joe Biden as their presidential nominee rather than one of about 20 other candidates who would be better choices. I don't think poor critical thinking skills are only reserved for Republicans.
Barry Short (Upper Saddle River, NJ)
@Dwight. Democrats seem to be behaving quite logically. There may be (and are) people who would make a better president than Biden, but they would be unlikely to beat Trump. For once, they seem to be selecting the candidate who CAN win, instead of the one that they WANT to win.
Paul (Brooklyn)
Of course they will and we have a president that intentionally will help them. We have to depend on the fine people at all our security agencies to protect us and the mystery high govt official who is supposed to be helping if he or she exists.
Betsy S (Upstate NY)
We're in Florida where people are still saying the corona virus pandemic is a hoax. They believe it's mostly media hype. They're not fundamentally changing their behavior. There are a number of ways those reactions can be weaponized. I'm suspicious of anything that puts emphasis on the virus as a foreign threat. That resonates at a lot of levels and that has been how early cases of the virus were described by the government and the media. I also wonder how the impact on the economy will make people feel. Right now, there seems to be a lot of denial and many people still put their trust in the president. That's fertile ground for the Russians or anyone who wants to undermine solidarity. The scary thing is that it's not just lies or distortions that can get us. There are powerful tools to manipulate public opinion. There are a lot of players, including the Russians, who are will to use those tools to undermine unity.
@Betsy S I would say the panicked reactions of most Americans is a reflection of the Russians using social media to take reasonable direction from health authorities and amplify it into OMGTheVirusIsGoingToKillUsAllRunForTheHills hysteria.
Rudy Flameng (Brussels, Belgium)
Yes. The US is undoubtedly a target for Russian intelligence operations. This has something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that certain segments of the American political and military leadership insist on portraying Russia as an enemy. This, too, is logical. As we all know, US military expenditure alone is higher than that of the next eight largest defense spenders combined (it's good to re-read this). For this spending to be sustainable, the US requires a credible enemy and bearded terrorists in dresses just won't do (even if these prove to be extremely resilient enemies). China is too opaque and culturally closed off, and Russia is the heir to the Soviet threat. Ergo, Russia is enemy number one. Now, since the Russians have absolutely no intention to get into an overt shooting war with the US, they will try other approaches. And US society offers plenty of those, as the article by Mr. Rid illustrates. A key objective will be to undermine the population's trust in their variegated government, something many years of underfunding of critical services and infrastructure is making surprisingly easy to do. The corona epidemic is merely one more way to exploit this and the, US built, internet the ideal conduit. Again, as Mr. Rid points out, there is plenty of truth that would fit the bill nicely. The SVR wouldn't even have to lie, just frame it and spread it.
Bill Virginia (23456)
@Rudy Flameng Isn't sowing discord amongst Americans the job of the liberal press? Will liberal media sue Russia for interfering in their interfering? Americans seem to have plenty of "discord" without blaming any other country! Blame Russia for Hillary losing as you will lose in November, again. Russians are the excuse you use to explain why after all the mighty power of the Media lost the last election you need an excuse for why you will lose again. You will need an excuse as you have bad mouthed the people of this country for 4 years and their elected President. Do you think they are LESS motivated now?
Ryan Bingham (Up there...)
@Rudy Flameng, And while we are at it Rudy, we need to dump the EU, and we will after this pandemic. Country after country will leave.
Nathan Hansard (Buchanan VA)
@Bill Virginia The liberal press? Good grief. Have you listened to Trump lately, or the conservative media voices like Rush, Faux, Bretbart and the like since, well, forever? Give me a break.
See also