The Medium is the Message: US Engages Russian People Directly on Election Interference

“In the first week of August, cellphones across Russia lit up with surprising text messages. They came from different numbers, but each said the same thing in Russian: “The US State Department is offering up to $10 million for information about interference in the US elections. If you have information, contact” The State Department confirmed the messages were authentic (TV Rain, August 6). They came from the department’s “Rewards for Justice Program,” which had just expanded from hunting terrorists to tracking election interference.

Russian authorities ridiculed the messages. But their reaction suggested they saw something more sinister. “By offering money to talk about interference in American elections, American intelligence is blatantly interfering in our life,” declared Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “What is this, if not the most real kind of hybrid attack?” (Vedomosti, August 6).”

Thomas Kent, a former president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and author of the new book published by The Jamestown FoundationStriking Back: Overt and Covert Options to Combat Russian Disinformationaddresses the U.S. government’s latest steps to engage Russians on election interference and what it might mean for future foreign policy in a November 13 commentary on Jamestown’s website, “U.S. Messaging to Russian Citizens: Time to Step it Up?”  Kent believes any U.S. messaging to Russia’s people should be part of a larger set of policy goals with Russia in the forthcoming Biden Administration, noting that developing new tools to reach Russia’s population is necessary not to achieve near-term change in Russia, but instead to lay the groundwork for long-term, incremental shifts.  The United States can’t solely rely on social media and Internet-based media but the simple text (SMS) platform could prove to be a direct route with less potential for interference or for the Russian leadership to shut it down. Read the full commentary here: