The U.S. security agencies' report on Russian hacking makes a pretty strong case that Vladimir Putin did his best to influence the 2016 election.
President-elect Trump's change in tone suggests the classified section of the report was pretty convincing.
But the security agencies point out they "did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”
I personally doubt the Russian disinformation campaign had much effect on the election results.
After all, despite Russia's interference, Secretary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly three million ballots. There's little reason to believe the Russian propaganda campaign was more effective in the key electoral states she lost than elsewhere.
In any case, it's not the security agencies' job to make that assessment. And, while the Democratic National Committee will undoubtedly try to figure out what happened, they obviously have an axe to grind, making whatever conclusion they reach suspect.
But what's the point anyway?
It pains me to say this, but America cannot afford another president whose legitimacy is questioned from the moment he takes the oath of office. Like it or not, Donald J. Trump will soon be our president.
But that doesn't mean we should all pretend the 2016 election was normal. It wasn't. It represented a tipping point in in the social construction of meaning.
The Internet democratized media, making everyone a publisher, from the proverbial 400-pound loner living in his mother’s basement to ideologues of every religious, political, social, and fabulist stripe.
Digital media wrecked the business model of most news organizations, not only siphoning off advertising dollars, but also cheapening the value of content, turning it into a commodity measured in clicks rather than in substance. Celebrity is the new credibility. Fake news has become the muzak of the echo chambers in which too many people live.
Vladimir Putin exploited these changes. But he wasn't alone and he won't be the last to don the hacker's metaphorical hoodie.
That's where we need to focus our attention and efforts.
Here's an idea: the advertising industry has an organization called the Ad Council that for 75 years has overseen the creation of advertising campaigns to fight everything from forest fires and racial discrimination to drug addiction and obesity. All created by volunteer agencies and run in media donated by publishers and broadcasters.
Why doesn't the public relations industry have a similar organization? Individual agencies do good pro bono work for a range of worthy causes. But a coordinated network of agencies, responding to an issue of this scope right within our own wheelhouse, would be much more effective.
It could teach people the basic skills necessary to be savvy media consumers, like how to fact-check emails, Tweets, and Facebook postings. How to respond to racist, homophobic, or hateful email and postings. How pictures and statistics can lie. And how to disagree without being disagreeable.
It could teach people the basics of cyber-security and how to fight the spread of hateful propaganda, whether from a neo-Nazi in his parent’s basement or a member of ISIS on a laptop in Syria.
But it won’t happen by itself. It will take the combined efforts of clients, agencies, and media. The result could be better informed consumers and a public relations industry demonstrating its true worth to society.