The 37-page indictment issued by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team last Friday may have revealed the details of Russia’s efforts to interfere in U.S. elections. But to some, what appeared even more striking were the details about just how vulnerable the United States had become to such — sometimes barely disguised — attempts to sway public opinion. On page 24 of the indictment, one of the defendants, Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina, is quoted with a worrisome assertion, made in September 2017: “I created all these pictures and posts, and the Americans believed that it was written by their people.” … While some in the U.S. government still appear unwilling to fully confront the problem, other countries are now leading the way in developing possible solutions. With elections coming up in March, Italy has emerged on the forefront of European efforts to stop interference.
In an extensive report late last fall, the Atlantic Council think tank concluded that Russia’s influence may be strongest in Italy, where the highest-polling populist Five Star Movement has attracted both right-wing and left-wing supporters. “The party’s documented pro-Kremlin stance combined with its grassroots mobilization capacity make it a particularly important ally for the Kremlin, and thus a dangerous force against the E.U., NATO, and the transatlantic partnership,” they write, even though a direct link between the Kremlin and the Five Star Movement has never been proved and a recent increase in bot activity there has so far not been directly traced back to Russia.
But while the use of bots itself may be impossible to root out, one of the lessons Italy has learned from the 2016 U.S. elections is exactly the one now publicly accessible in Robert S. Mueller III’s indictment: Voters from Rome to San Francisco are probably ill-prepared for the risks of the digital age.
Italy has decided to do something about it.