Web Exclusive: The Deadliest Four-Letter Non-Word?

Web Exclusive
Peter Feinstein


It’s not what you think, so take a breath and stop giggling – even though that’s what I did when I first saw what I’d done!

The periods actually mean something. They take the otherwise-comical English word and make it the acronym for: “Facebook. Advertising. Russians. Technology.”

It hardly matters where you get your news – other than Facebook, of course – the reporting of late has been dominated by Russians’ alleged advertising on Facebook and other online platforms to try to influence U.S. public opinion and sway our most recent presidential election to the outcome they believed most desirable for achieving their vital national interests. Do you believe they did this? I do.

Facebook confirmed it in early September, when its executives testified before Congress. They offered up the fairy tale that their analytics team discovered a shadowy Russian company had spent $100,000 on Facebook ads, and that those ads reached about 10,000 users. We’ve since learned the Russians spent closer to $10 million, reaching several million users. And politicians on both sides of the political spectrum miss the point: there’s bigger stuff at stake than who looks good to their constituents.

My point in shining a light on this has nothing to do with advertising itself and everything to do with the notion that, “It’s just advertising.” We happen to be in one of the most powerful professions in the world: we make or break stars, products, and services.

It’s only “just advertising” if you’re an American. If you’re a Russian, it’s your ticket into the U.S. political process. Without some level of accountability from Facebook and the rest of social media, we’re likely to find ourselves the unwitting victims of a concerted campaign to change our political discourse and shift our vital national interests to more-closely mirror Russia’s – or someone else’s. Except, since we now have an inkling of what’s possible, we’d no longer be victims. We’d be volunteers – we’d literally be asking for it.

You think I’m exaggerating? Let’s take a quick look: The Facebook episode has yielded its headlines to the real backstory uncovered by The Wall Street Journal. It turns out the Russians have been databasing our reactions to different disaster-oriented stimuli of their making since at least 2014. These include Facebook posts, tweets, and retweets of inflammatory anti-U.S. government content – all fake, staged, and of apparent Russian origin.

The purpose? To gauge our reactions to their barrage of well-placed social media content and advertising so that they could execute an attack against the U.S. during our 2016 presidential election. And it’s probably still happening, right to this very moment.

I’m not outraged. It’s the Russian way. A leopard doesn’t change its spots – once a spy, always a spy. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his comrades don’t hide their pasts, even though they’ve legitimized themselves with new titles.

You’re likely reading this and thinking, “Peter, this is advertising. Lighten up, dude.” That’s exactly what the Russians hope we say: “It’s just advertising. Lighten up.”

Like Han Solo used to say to Chewbacca: “I got a bad feeling about this.” In the meantime, I’ll keep my eyes and ears open for F.A.R.T. See … I can lighten up. It’s just advertising!