MSNBC host Joe Scarborough said Monday that the Kremlin's use of Facebook to influence the 2016 election is "like Russia being able to control Walter Cronkite's broadcast in the late '60s."
The "Morning Joe" panel spoke with Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times, and discussed Rutenberg’s work on Russian use of social media to influence voters. The Times released information earlier this month following a Facebook report that the Kremlin spent $100,000 in political ads to influence the 2016 U.S. election. The Russian government is further suspected of funding troll accounts to promote particular views, such as anti-immigration. Rutenberg discussed the recent developments in an article published Sunday.
The Times columnist said Facebook was a key platform for Russia's actions during the election. Scarborough, in response, said that strategy was "brilliant."
"This is brilliant," Scarborough said, after also saying Russian tactics were frightening. "You're a state that is trying to project power, you have limited economic power compared to the Unites States — one-eighth of the economy of the United States and one-eighth of the economy of China – you're almost boxed into a corner by NATO growing. Talk about getting the biggest bang for your buck."
"It seems fairly brilliant to me in terms of an operation," he added.
Advertising executive Donny Deutsch echoed Joe’s point and said Russia is strengthening its brand.
"What Putin understands is Russia is a brand," Deutsch said. "Countries are corporations and the same way we act shocked they were trying to meddle in our election — of course they would. It's Coke and Pepsi. It's guerilla communications at its finest, but also understanding how people consume today. This is the way people consume."
Deutsch said the United States should strengthen regulations on Internet activity, and Scarborough said Russia is exploiting the weakness of America’s media system where many people get news on Facebook. Rutenberg affirmed that over 50 percent of people get news from Facebook, a statistic Scarborough found worrisome.
"There is a weakness in our system, Jim, and the Russians are exploiting it," Scarborough said. "This would be like Russia being able to control Walter Cronkite's broadcast in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s."
"Without social media, we would not be talking about RT and Sputnik," Rutenberg said, referring to state-funded Russian media.
Mark Halpern called Russian use of Facebook "extraordinary."
"Their return on investment on this is incredible," Halpern said. "They spend some amount of money, but the amount of influence they've been able to have, particularly because they’re sophisticated about leveraging social media, is extraordinary."
The American broadcast journalist Cronkite was the widely recognized anchor of "CBS Evening News" during the time Scarborough referenced.