Tag Archives: election

What’s that got to do with the price of ads in Russia?

I’ve been reading comments on articles about the Russian intelligence effort to influence the US election by social media subterfuge. I know this is a dumb idea. It directly goes against Matt Groening’s advice: “No matter how good the video on YouTube is, don’t read the comments, just don’t, because it will make you hate all humans.”

But, against my better judgment, I’ve come across an argument a few times that I want to discuss. It goes something like this:

“Clinton and Trump spent $81M dollars on Facebook ads, but we’re supposed to believe that Russia spending just $46K made an impact? Yeah right, libtards, har har

Fair enough. The candidates spent a butt-load more money than the Russians did, as they should have. The basis of the argument is real: Facebook’s lawyers came right out and testified those exact numbers to Congress. It would be naive to argue equality of effort.

But if we permit ourselves some historical context, I think it’s worthwhile to come up with an analogy for Russia’s long game.

Let’s take a brief look at the history of small change vs. big money:

In 1997, Amazon was a baby with a market capitalization of less than $1B.

The year before that, KMart and Sears were two different companies that had a combined market cap sixty times larger than Amazon’s, each around $30B.

Where are we now, 20 years down the road?

KMart went bankrupt, restructured, and ended up merging with Sears in 2004. The consolidated Sears Holding Company hasn’t done much better, now posting a market cap of about a half-billion. Yawn.

And Amazon, the little company that wasn’t even in the Fortune 500 twenty years ago, while Sears and KMart were the 800lb gorillas… what happened to that scrappy bookseller?


That’s 535x more than what was once the ‘real thing.’

What does a story of retail market capitalization have to do with the price of Facebook ads in Russia?

Nothing, if you aren’t willing to think about it. But if you are, it’s just one example of many that prove looking at investments over the long haul is how you measure success – not analyzing them a few months later.

I’m willing to bet that Russia didn’t spend $46K with the expectation that in six months their effort would be complete. Isn’t it more likely they were spending $46K to find out what would be possible in six YEARS, or longer?

So, you can make the argument that a hostile foreign government spending a few thousand dollars on divisive Facebook ads in 2016 isn’t a big deal, because hey, the actual candidates spent way more than that.

Or you can remember those people who in 1997 said “Oh, Amazon isn’t very big, nothing to worry about. Sears and KMart are where we should invest!”

I could be stretching the comparison beyond its merit, but honestly, this story makes me nervous.

What kind of money does Russia have to spend for people to take them seriously? What if in the next election they spend $500K? $1M? $5M? At that point, could it be too late to undo the damage?

If Facebook and others don’t address this problem now, where are we going to be in 20 years?

On Change


The impact of a change can be drastically different, depending on what ends and what begins; when a magazine subscription runs out has less force over my daily life than when a new president takes office.  The last time a new presidency began, a magazine with his face on the cover was mysterious – who is he, without a name?  It was actually the cover of TIME, with a superimposed composite, a half-face of Bush and Gore each, which confounded me.  That was a change.  Many more sizable events have covered magazines since, and now the covers shift – to a new face, and another one who went unrecognized until relatively recently.

So after eight years, what has changed America has changed me, and in converse, participations of mine have changed it (in miniscule).  Over the last 2,920 days I’ve spent a fair share in continuity, without any distortions provoked or unsolicited; yet, a number of days were flooring, mountainous arenas of alteration.  The greatest changes can go unnoticed and unrealized until weeks, months afterward, when creeping realization storms in, shouting that Everything is different.  Maybe this current moment – Jan. 20, 2009 – is of the sleeper distinction, a silent assassin of the standard, tripping history’s wires into reverberations that won’t truly sound for decades or more.

The immediate variety of change may recede with the same expediency in which it’s announced.  Changes that consume you the moment they begin – an automobile accident – are presently over, as they happen.  These events that almost transcend time by how their course begins and ends simultaneously can devastate, but they’re a different animal than the sleeper changes, the subconscious departures from our paradigm, which evolve over lengths to mangle the formation of what was into what will be. 

The question then is what change is more important?  More terrifying?  More cause for celebration or despair or hope or reflection?  An adventure of an instant, or the slowly blowing wind of an eon.  I haven’t figured out yet what happens with these new magazine covers, putting away the faces of yesterday for the fresh crop of now. 

A few examples, magazine covers, changes witnessed since the last inauguration of a new American president:  September, 2001 – The now category.  Insta-change.  Glossy pages of terrified faces, burning embers, and the resultant discord.  March, 2003:  An obvious beginning, the war in Iraq.  But what ended?  Peace was already missing.  November, 2004.  Another election.  What kind of change was that?  A slow mover, trucking into another four years of the same?  Or an everything is different, forget your predictions and buckle your seatbelt change?  July, 2007, London: A sea-change, slow and heavy?  A bullet-fast strike to the comfort zone?   June 14, 2002.  A random day plucked from thin air, a date apart from celebrity or notoriety.  What happened?  Something, probably.  Some unrecognized change.  

Change is tricky, because it isn’t classified only by what it hopes to affect, but also by its precursors and motivators.  I don’t know how to rank it – by the end it signifies, or the future it promises.  Changes have distinct forms, the personal and the public –  moving to a new city, or reading new magazines about a new president.  Change can shift in significance from one perspective to the next.  Change can weave softly between life’s moods, like  interplay of air and water in a cirrus cloud, or ravage like wildfire, like the desert sun.