So it’s possible the Russians reached as many as 126 million Americans, nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population, with Facebook posts aimed at disrupting the 2016 election.
It’s also possible the Russians were behind some 37,000 automated Twitter accounts, or bots, that sent out about 1.4 million election-related tweets.
And it turns out the Russians also were active on Google and YouTube.
Much of this activity was aimed at amplifying our divisions and pitting us against each other. They weren’t just stirring up one side. They were stirring up all sides. They were trying to tear us apart at the seams.
And a lot of us fell for it.
Honestly, it doesn’t take much.
Scrolling through social media on a typical morning, I weed through post after post aimed at stirring up partisan anger and mistrust.
“Trever Noah brilliantly shames Trump for politicizing NYC’s terror attack,” reads a Facebook post from Occupy Democrats.
“Seth Myers hysterically rips Sarah Huckabee Sanders,” reads another.
Not to be outdone, Sean Hannity offers up, “DNC boss clams up when asked if Hillary stole the election from Bernie.”
Then Alex Jones weighs in with, “Hillary slams Trump for denouncing Islamic terrorism.”
And that’s not to mention the tweets from the president himself.
And, of course, just reading the posts isn’t enough. We have to share them or retweet them and then offer comments of our own about how brilliant or stupid these things are.
Trever Noah is a genius or an idiot. Sean Hannity nails it … or he misses the target entirely.
We jump to the aid of the friends who agree with us, and we lash out at those on the other side. Before long, we begin to wonder what we ever saw in that person behind that hateful post.
Do we really need friends whose political views are so different from our own? Can’t we just unfriend them on Facebook and block them on Twitter?
We like hearing about the adventures and accomplishments of people we care about. We like seeing those pearls of wisdom and admiring each other’s pets. But we still wonder from time to time whether we wouldn’t be better off if we never spent another second on social media.
And then along comes a guy like Aaron Alex Courtney to make us think maybe the world hasn’t gone crazy after all. The 31-year-old Courtney became a social media sensation when he was captured on video confronting a Nazi demonstrator outside a speech delivered by white supremacist Richard Spencer at the University of Florida. Courtney, who is black, acknowledged in an interview with the New York Daily News that he could have started a fight, but he said he instead wanted to show love. So he gave the man a hug.
“I asked him, ‘Why do you hate me? What is it about me? Is it my skin color? My history? My dreadlocks?’” Courtney said.
The man didn’t respond, so Courtney reached out to him.
“I reached over, and the third time, he wrapped his arms around me, and I heard God whisper in my ear, ‘You changed his life,’” Courtney said.
And who knows? Maybe he did.
At the very least, Courtney offered us a moment of sanity, a moment aimed at bringing us together rather than tearing us apart.
It might sound corny, but we could use more moments like that. We could use a bit less yelling and a few more hugs.
Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI newspapers in Indiana. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.