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Russian Bots, Corporate Sovereigns, Facebook and the Fall of the Republic

Russian Bots, Corporate Sovereigns, Facebook and the Fall of the Republic

So we’re told Russia spent a hundred grand on Facebook ads. Some money into Instagram’s pocket from the Muscovite Bear, too. Leaving aside for the moment the relative paucity of alleged Kremlin social-media-based influence peddling (considered against the billions in Super PAC and dark money spent in the last election cycle), and the fact that to my knowledge nobody has even attempted to concretely demonstrate the Russian state’s role in the purchase of these ads, this newest “foreign meddling” flap does raise some genuine questions about the security of American democratic institutions. But not necessarily those that the pundits and the policymakers want our eyes on.

To combat the “Russian ads,” Senators Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Mark R. Warner (Va.) have introduced a bill (which is often what American legislators do when there’s a national security issue, unless, of course, that issue is recurrent, gun-related massacres of U.S. citizens by other, white, U.S. citizens). This bill would essentially demand that social media companies disclose the identity of those who spend more than $10,000 in aggregate for political ads on their respective sites. So far, so good, as this type of oversight already exists for broadcast media, and it seems like extending it to the internet is a no-brainer for a marginally functioning democracy. There’s also a provision in the bill that requires social media outlets make a “reasonable effort” to determine if their political ad buyers are foreign nationals or governments. Again, this seems a matter of course for legislation like this, as it’s already illegal for foreign entities to spend money on U.S. elections. But a problem arises if you stop to consider what actually defines foreignness (and, for that matter, domesticity) in our neoliberal age’s hyper-integrated, transnational political economy.

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