Reporter who investigated Russian troll farm: Maybe this isn't such a big deal

Allahpundit mentioned this briefly earlier but I think it deserves even more attention. The Internet Research Agency is the Russian troll farm targeted last week by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Reporter Adrian Chen, who writes for the New Yorker, was one of the first people to offer an in-depth report on the group in a piece published by the New York Times Magazine back in the summer of 2015. Chen was also one of the first people to notice that employees of the IRA seemed to be moving toward support for Trump in a way that might suggest they wanted him to win the election.

Given all that, you might expect Chen would be one of the people arguing that the group’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election were a very big deal. But yesterday, in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, Chen said exactly the opposite.

“It’s my personal belief that it isn’t all that effective,” Chen said. He continued, “You know it’s essentially a social media marketing campaign with 90 people, a couple million dollars, a few million dollars behind it, run by people who have a bare grasp of the English language and not a full grasp of who they’re targeting, what they’re targeting.

“If you think about that in terms of just a normal marketing campaign, that’s not going to be a very good bang for your buck.”

Chen went on to say that what did seem effective was the amount of paranoia generated by the idea that Russian trolls could be controlling social media.

“I think that the paranoia aspect, right, the idea that there is this kind of all-powerful, or immense propaganda machine that’s going on and that anybody who is tweeting something that’s you don’t like or who is kind of causing trouble on the internet can be chalked up to Russia,” Chen said.

“That is a very powerful thing that is going on and is really increasing now in the wake of these indictments in kind of a worrying way,” he continued, adding, “There’s not a lot of people saying ‘let’s hold back, maybe it’s not that big of a deal.'”

Keep in mind, the total expenditure from both parties (campaigns, SuperPACs, etc) in 2016 was well over $2 billion dollars. And that doesn’t include the value of all the thousands of hours of free media both candidates got from cable and major networks. So it’s not that the Russian troll effort had no impact (and I certainly don’t believe they should be given a pass), but let’s keep things in perspective. The Russian effort was real but it was a drop in the bucket relative to the scope of the entire campaign.