The Weaponization of Social Media

Title: The Weaponization of Social Media: How Russia Exasperated Rifts in American Society and Helped Elect Donald Trump


Abstract: Had Hillary Clinton done one-percent better as expected in Michigan (10,704, 0.2%), Pennsylvania 46,765 (0.7% and Wisconsin (22,177, 0.8), she would have won the 2016 presidential election. No single factor explains Donald Trump’s victory, but the 24/7 news cycle has revolutionized the way Americans think about politics. Today, 4 in 10 Americans get their news online. Facebook is the most popular social media platform, which along with Twitter may be the most effective tool to influence U.S. voter behavior.

Trump supporters insist that Russian “meddling” in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election had no impact on the outcome; a position which is only justified if narrowly understood to mean the actual mechanics of casting and tabulating votes. Russian [Soviet] “influence operations” are nothing new. What is new is the revolutionary capabilities cyber provides; the use of which from an international law standpoint do not qualify as either an “armed attack” or “use of force.” It should not be overlooked that what constitutes an “act of war” remains a political decision.

Under the auspices of the Kremlin, Russian trolls developed, deployed, and operated on a real-time basis a multi-faceted social media campaign aimed at exciting the Trump base and discouraging potential Clinton voters. Even if not formally coordinated with the Trump team, the Russian efforted operated in parallel with it. This presentation analyzes what the Kremlin did and why. It also briefly examines why efforts to counteract similar efforts in the future are likely to fail.

Biography: Ethan S. Burger, Esq., is a Washington-based international legal consultant and educator. His areas of interests include corporate governance, transnational crime (corruption, cybercrime, and money laundering), and Russian affairs. After working as an attorney on Russian commercial, investment, and risk issues, he segued into academic, research, and advisory roles (

He has been a full-time faculty member at American University (Transnational Crime and Corruption Center) and the University of Wollongong (Centre for Transnational Crime Prevention); as well as on an adjunct basis at Georgetown University Law Center, University of Baltimore, and Washington College of Law. He has lectured in Colombia, India and Singapore. He has taught at Vilnius University about cyber issues while on a Fulbright Foundation grant. He is currently an adjunct professor at the Institute of World Politics. He holds a A.B. from Harvard University and a J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center.