Kremlin-backed support for Donald Trump’s candidacy over social media began much earlier than previously known, a new analysis of Twitter data shows. Russian Twitter accounts posing as Americans began lavishing praise on Mr. Trump and attacking his rivals within weeks after he announced his bid for the presidency in June 2015, according to the analysis by The Wall Street Journal.
….In the three months after Mr. Trump announced his presidential candidacy on June 16, 2015, tweets from Russian accounts reviewed by the Journal offered far more praise for the real-estate businessman than criticism—by nearly a 10-to-1 margin. At the same time, the accounts generally were hostile to Mrs. Clinton and the early GOP front-runner, Jeb Bush, by equal or greater margins.
This is…odd. Once Trump was up in the polls and looked like a real contender, it makes sense that Russia might take a flyer and start stumping for him. But in the early days the conventional wisdom was that Trump was a joke. Why bother mounting a Twitter campaign in favor of a guy who was only slightly more credible than Herman Cain? Here are a few guesses:
- It was just a test. Social media manipulation was new to the Russians too, and they figured Trump might make an interesting test of how effective it could be.
- In the early days, you had to be very, very cynical about the United States to think that a race-baiting blowhard like Trump had a chance to win. Maybe Putin knew us better than we knew ourselves.
- The Russians never really thought Trump had a chance of winning. He just seemed like a good vehicle to sow a bit of random chaos.
- This whole thing started at a fairly low level by some guy who’d been pushing to “really try out this social media stuff.” His superiors finally got tired of him and told him to knock himself out. This low-level guy, it turns out, was a big Trump fan for personal reasons we’ll never know.
Any other guesses?