Another kind of meddling also involves hacking, but here the aim is to uncover information that might influence voters, as with the emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. While such activity is and should be treated as a crime, the results are not unambiguously bad for American democracy, provided the information is accurate and relevant.

The third kind of meddling, social media activity aimed at reinforcing political divisions or favoring one candidate over another, is also largely illegal, violating statutes dealing with fraud and foreign campaign contributions. But it is otherwise virtually indistinguishable from what Americans do on their own, and it seems quite unlikely that it had any measurable impact on the election results.

According to the report that former Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued last March, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), an organization linked to the Russian government, “had the ability to reach millions of U.S. persons through their social media accounts.” But the same could be said of many online information sources, and “the ability to reach” is not the same as the ability to persuade.