19 January 2021

Russia dominates US social media users as US censorship is bungled

Obsessions with Russia interfering in an innocent America (Russiagate) failed to lead to "smoking gun" evidence of anything devious. However, as American social media and tech companies bungle their attempts to censor conservative politicians and users, they may have begun really surrendering ground to Russia.

It has been reported that Parler, a platform popular with American Republicans as an alternative to Democrat-siding Twitter, may now be reliant on servers located in Russia to evade US corporate censorship. As servers are key in deciding which government controls a social network's off-button, this means the social network could be under Russian dominance to a similar extent Twitter and Facebook are under US dominance.

Going by the outcry of American commentators, this is an entire social network used by Americans that the United States has lost control of and Russia captured. Given the significance of social networks to modern politics, it is a bit like Russia taking a chunk of US territory for itself, only this chunk is online.

Alaska, formerly part of Russia, had a population under one million in 2020. At the same time, Parler had a number of users well over a million.

About 70 million Americans voted for the Republican incumbent President Donald Trump. By attempting to gag and deplatform all right wing pundits with little thought, Democrat-leaning social media companies are potentially forcing their millions-strong audiences to now enlist on a social network dependent on the territory of Russia. This could give Russia real influence and inroads into US conservative political messaging that the alleged Russian-orchestrated email hacks or leaks decried in 2016 and 2020 could not provide. You can thank the overconfidence and lack of foresight by US tech companies, overconfident in their power and eager to pull the plug on people.

Of course, we can say American conservatives are patriotic and will not use a social network if they learn of its servers being located in Russia. They do try, and would continue to do so if it is up to them, but in this scenario they have no choice. The suffocating and repressive environment being newly generated by Democrat-leaning providers is forcing them.

To sum up: hamfisted attempts to stamp out imaginary Russian influence by damaging the ability of Americans to use their own country's social networks can backfire. As these millions of voices flee, they may eventually find their way to Russia, and this can provide Russia with its first real influence in the homes of millions of Americans. This would be such a favorable result to Russia that it almost appears to be by design, with US social media bigwigs taking predictable measures of repression and serving as useful idiots to the benefit of Russia, a country that lagged behind the US in "soft power".

Of course, any company can be placed under US sanctions eventually or its website blocked by the US, but such an exchange of blows is still a net loss to America as it yields to Russia the right to launch a reciprocal crackdown on a US website. Russia has potentially won a big success as a result of the US's foolish censorship crusade, and it is something the US can't win back easily.

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