Russian social media is the modern-day Trojan horse

Russian social media is the modern-day Trojan horse

The story of the Trojan horse is one of the oldest; and yet in a way, it played itself out again during the 2016 election.

To Americans, the Cold War ended in the late ‘80s, and since then the country has celebrated its status as the world’s sole superpower.

But that’s not how Russia’s autocratic president sees it. To Vladimir Putin, the U.S.’s complacency and cultural divisions have led to an opportunity. One in which Russia took advantage of and struck the U.S. within its borders in a surprising manner.


Now more than ever, the U.S. could learn a valuable lesson from the tale of the Trojan horse, because the country is experiencing its own version.    

The Trojan horse

As the infamous tale goes, after the Greeks and Trojans were stuck in a stalemate with their 10-year war, the Greeks came up with a clever plan to storm the city of Troy. The Greeks pretended to retreat during the night and left behind a huge wooden horse. The Trojans, confident they had just won the war, brought the horse into the city as a trophy.

The unsuspecting Trojans put their guard down and enjoyed a night of celebrating. That is when Greek soldiers, who had hidden inside the horse, came out and slaughtered the unaware residents of the city and opened up the gates for the returning Greek soldiers outside the wall.

The war was over before the Trojans even had time to process what happened.

Putin's Trojan War

As The Atlantic outlines in a 2015 piece from David Frum, Putin is still in the mindset that Russia is in a stalemate with the U.S. for global dominance.

He has seized Crimea, invaded Ukraine, and executed military exercises near the edge of a NATO territory. In 2013, Russia spent a higher portion of GDP on defense than the U.S. did in a decade.

However, Putin knows any military conflict with the U.S. or one of its major allies would not end well for Russia. The country’s economy is about half of the state of California. Its GDP and population is contracting, and its military is still behind the U.S.' in almost every category.

Like the Greeks, Russia cannot just barge through the U.S. defense. So instead, it snuck through the wall and attacked from within.

The social media Trojan horse

It is now verified that Russia used social media to attempt to influence American public opinion during the 2016 election. The Kremlin bought ads on Facebook and other platforms, and it used social media’s sophisticated targeting and its non-regulated atmosphere to do damage.

Looking at the ads and where they were targeted to, it’s clear that Russia wanted to stir up racial, political, and cultural tensions, and play on the divisions that fester in this country.

There have been many theories as to why Russia would use this approach. Was it to create doubt in American’s minds about the political system? To divide the house against itself so it cannot stand? Or maybe it was something that has not even been considered.

Ultimately, does it matter why? The bottom line is that the U.S. can have a Trojan horse in every household — attacking us all when we least expect it. At work, during our weekends, and in between funny animal videos.

Avoiding the same fate

George W. Bush was wrong when he said he looked into Putin’s eyes and “was able to get a sense of his soul.” Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaJudge orders Walker to hold special elections Mueller investigates, Peters quits Fox, White House leaks abound 2020 Dems compete for top campaign operatives MORE was wrong to scoff at Mitt Romney for saying Russia was the U.S.’ number one geopolitical foe. And Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpPoll: Both parties need to do more on drug prices Senate approves .3 trillion spending bill, sending to Trump White House: Trump will delay steel tariffs for EU, six countries MORE is wrong to dismiss Russia’s interference with the election and deny its continued aggression around the world.

It starts at the top and our leaders need to understand that Russia is not done with its cyber war against the U.S. Putin poses a grave threat to democracy.

Fortunately, Congress has launched hearings to discover how Russia was able to manipulate the country’s top tech giants. Those serving in government and running these companies can no longer be oblivious to how vulnerable our democracy is to attacks like this.

But it shouldn’t stop there. We all need to be conscious of what has been unleashed and find opportunities to invest in media literacy. And maybe most importantly, regardless of ideology, we need to band together as a country and realize we have a common enemy that is beyond our shores.

Though, since we’ve been seeing their propaganda for months now, they are really not completely beyond our shores, are they?

Adam Chiara is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Hartford. He has worked as a legislative aide in the Connecticut General Assembly, as a journalist, and as a public relations practitioner. You can find him on Twitter: @AdamChiara.