Let's be honest. The recent furor over the Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails is not really a "Democratic" issue; it's a democratic issue affecting all of us. As a nation, we are being hacked to death across many sectors by many bad actors in the world, including Russia.
An FBI probe will tell us more about the current email intrusion, although it will take time before we know exactly who (and if Russia) is potentially behind hacking into the DNC's network. But one thing is certain: The Russians have been perfecting the art of manipulating information in recent years to sway public opinion within Russia and around the world in the hopes of building up the stature of Russian President Vladimir Putin. We saw the manipulation of information in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, whether online or in traditional media.
Hacking is only one tool the Russians employ. Good investigative reporting in the West has revealed that Russia has an army of trolls that plants negative stories about the U.S. and posts pro-Putin opinions. Whether it is the official "state" behind information attacks or individuals acting on behalf of the state makes little difference at a time when Putin controls the levers of Russian society, and independent actors have little power.
We have seen the closure of independent media in Russia which offered a liberal alternative to pro-Kremlin media. Independent journalists continue to face harassment and imprisonment for straying from Putin's party line. Crackdowns on nongovernmental organizations that press for freedom of the press have only increased in recent years.
It is not paranoia that leads us to see that, when it comes to internet hacking, "the Russians are coming." In fact, they are already here. The question is, what to do about it? For one, we have to speak up and speak out against cyber crimes whether they are outsourced or carried out from within governments or intelligence agencies. Investigations and prosecutions are critical, but so is public discussion and pointing fingers when we have proof. We also have to support independent media and encourage solid reporting to challenge falsehoods that emanate from nameless people and places with no credibility.
Meddling in overseas elections by Moscow is not new. But the new information environment allows media manipulation to grow to a whole new level. Let's get to the bottom of this one — fast. And if the trail leads to Red Square, we will have to be ready to take some serious steps to rein in the Russians before they rain on all of our parades.
Sonenshine is former under secretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs.
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