back to article Kremlin social media trolls aren't actually that influential, study finds

The effect of Russian trolls influencing opinion through social media is far more minor than commonly supposed, according to a new study. It is believed Kremlin agents orchestrated efforts to manipulate public opinion on the web, often around major political events such as the US presidential election, through dedicated …

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Joke

That is what they want you to think.

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So if they can convince you that they aren't influential then they obviously are ....

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Anonymous Coward

re. That is what they want you to think.

nah, this is what WE want you to think ;)

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Who is "they?"

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Holmes

Champaine advertisers spend millions...

What makes anyone think a stupid Boris and Natasha is going to convince people of anything when advertisers spend millions trying to get their candidates elected, and still lose the election despite spending 3 to 1 against their rival? It is simply rubbish - that is what it is!! Moose and squirrel are smarter than they think!

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Oh no

So if Russian trolls are not the influence, and also racism isnt the primary reason to vote for brexit does that mean that people in the US and UK are choosing for themselves? Instead of the democrats dictating which candidate would be the next president and the politicians dictating our participation in the EU project the people were free to make their own choice?

I can see why the French wont be offered a choice as their president thinks they would probably vote something different to what the politicians want.

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Re: Oh no

Fuck off with your "what aboutism".

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Re: Oh no

"...does that mean that people in the US and UK are choosing for themselves?"

In the case of Brexit the answer is 'no'. To make an informed decision you need to be informed of the facts and both the remain and leave campaigns were remarkable light on those. Lies were in abundance (buses with big numbers on them, portents of immediate Armageddon etc), but actual facts - no. The people of the UK were not giving the information to make an informed choice.

(As for the USA, can't really comment although wasn't the popular vote won by one candidate and the Electoral College vote won by the other?)

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Re: Oh no

@Not also known as SC

That is the exact problem with the referendum as we are now seeing that both sides told numerous lies about what would happen. It doesn't matter which side of the fence you sit, that is irrefutable.

I think the problem is that the referendum campaigns were run by politicians and the media so it's not surprising they lied through their teeth, it's their day jobs.

What they should do in the electoral commission is make it an offence for a politician to lie in order to gain a vote and if it is found that they lied without a valid excuse then they should be jailed for life. I know that's harsh but I don't like politicians regardless of leaning.

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Re: Oh no

I think the company that did a lot of work for Brexit was based in Vancouver, BC. That is, Canada.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Oh no

@Not also known as SC: perhaps we can apply this argument to the Scottish referendum - the Scots were fed a lot of nonsense - including threats to keep them out of the EU. So the 'no' to freedom was not a valid no.

Those on the Remain/Democrat/EnslavetheScots side of the debate always forget their victories - mainly because they assume that they are righteous and therefore deserve victory. Please, whenever you discuss Brexit, just remember that the intimidation worked to prevent Scottish freedom.

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Re: Oh no

Yes. This study wants to weaken the people living under Free Liberty by putting in doubt the immense influence of Russian Trolls. Where is Louise Mensch when you need a sane voice of stability?

This is apposite: William Buckley on the movie "The Day After"

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Re: Electoral College

"wasn't the popular vote won by one candidate and the Electoral College vote won by the other?"

Irrelevant question. The Electoral College has been around for quite a while and is, therefore, no surprise. All candidates who are serious about winning tune their campaign strategies to winning the Electoral vote, not the popular vote. In other words, if we had no Electoral College in the last election, the Trump and Clinton campaigns would have operated in accordance with that reality and we would very likely still have got the same surreal result.

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Re: Oh no

Nope. They've been trolled for a generation, by a whole bunch of foreign-led trolls (amongst whom the biggest name is Rupert Murdoch) pedalling EU myths. And perhaps more to the point, the bizarre notion that Sir Humphrey is more democratic than his EU equivalent.

Neither Russian nor any other online trolls have been at it long enough to hack the public mind en masse.

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Re: Electoral College

@Chemical Bob

It was more of a hypothetically question when I mentioned the Electoral College. I was suggesting that maybe US citizens were not actually making a choice either because they effectively chose both candidates due to the Electoral College system and Trump seems really put out that he didn't win the popular vote so it must matter somehow. Anyway from my UK perspective, US voters had a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea as both candidates (IMO) are just as morally reprehensible as each other.

Apologies for any confusion.

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Re: Oh no

What they should do in the electoral commission is make it an offence for a politician to lie in order to gain a vote

This is neither practicable nor desirable in a democracy: the commission doesn't get to decide on truth. While there should have been intervention over some of the more ludicrous claims, such as the infamous bus adverts, this is more a question of liability of the organisation. More standard approaches, especially financial sanctions and right to reply, would probably have sufficed but only if they were extended to social media. Companies like Facebook have for years been acting as publishers and happily monetising the brainspew of the masses while at the same time pretending to be completely independent of it. Introducing some degree of liability to the platforms and, by extension, to their users is what's required. It's not easy to get the balance right, as the new German law shows, but it's something we've got to think about more.

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Re: Oh no

Some of us cared little for numbers. It was a choice between sovereignty or become a state in a United States of Europe. Immigration also featured heavily on both sides as YouGove polls show a majority on either side want immigration reduced and controlled.

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Re: Oh no

@ Charlie Clark

"While there should have been intervention over some of the more ludicrous claims, such as the infamous bus adverts"

There was. Carney and Osborne both stated that the aims of the gov and the BoE since 2008 to recover from the crash were to be interpreted as bad things as leaving the EU would cause them. Mervyn King outright discredited the doomsaying nonsense yet apparently the major lie was a bus saying we could put the money into the NHS. Both sides lied and remain actively threatened the UK electorate directly (punishment budget). Again there was intervention as the MP's refused to support the threatening of the UK.

But I agree a ministry of truth would not be a good thing. The good news is facts were also available for anyone interested in looking. But direct threats were excessive and malicious.

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Re: Oh no

> It was a choice between sovereignty or become a state in a United States of Europe.

And I have a second-hand bridge you might like to buy, if you really believe we won't be subject to European laws after brexit.

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Re: Oh no

@ nijam

"And I have a second-hand bridge you might like to buy, if you really believe we won't be subject to European laws after brexit."

I am loving the lack of any clarity in your statement. In what way do you refer to being subject to European laws? As we are for US ones, or laws from China? India? Do go on.

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Boffin

Re: Oh no

The exact problem with the referendum as we are now seeing that both sides told numerous lies about what would happen

That did not really matter. At the time it was an advisory referendum. The public were simply being asked which way they leant and then the grown-ups in parliament [sic] would sort the mess out.

The result was expected to be 'remain' and then it could all be forgotten about, the agitating Kippers within the Conservative party pushed into a back room. 'Leave' could be dealt with by using that as leverage on the EU to get some favours and the plebs would be quelled, the majority happy with the outcome. That's the plan Boris was originally proposing.

But then the advisory referendum got taken as if a legally binding referendum. Brixiteers claimed it was The Will Of The People (TM) and pushed aside all notions of representative democracy. May went along with that nonsense having seen a chance to hijack the result for her own ends.

So that 'we would prefer to leave - would prefer to stay' vote has now become an absolute 'we must leave, and that means truly leaving, out of the EU, out of the customs union, filling the channel tunnel with concrete, setting fire to France, redrawing maps with EU member states marked as evil incarnate. Except Hungary and Poland as we quite like their mix of fascism and racism'.

No one asked what people wanted after we had left the EU. It wasn't necessary because it was an advisory referendum; that could be sorted out later. The problem now is there's no agreement on where we are heading, or might be heading, or where the people want us to be heading. Brexiteers and May are each pretending that people voted for what they intend to deliver. That's the real problem.

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Re: Oh no

>It was a choice between sovereignty or become a state in a United States of Europe.

Can you list for me the sovereignty that we have lost, or might lose? Even the tory white paper said "while no sovereignty was lost, it doesn't always feel that way".

It's quite simple - the EU is a club with rules. If you want to join the club, you have to follow the agreed rules. You can call this loss of sovereignty if you like, but it's not really. And the killer is - if we want trade agreements with any other states or blocks, we'll have to sign up to *their* rules, which will involve much the same "lost of sovereignty". The only way to be truly sovereign in a globalised world is to be like North Korea

>Immigration also featured heavily on both sides as YouGove polls show a majority on either side want immigration reduced and controlled.

"Either side"? No, not really. We have an ageing population, and the only way the economy can support it is by importing labour. Have a stay in hospital, as I did last year, and you'll see a mostly white, mostly ageing population being tended to by young qualified medical staff, of many colours, from all over the world. Personally, I like having a functioning health service, so I'm happy to support immigration.

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Re: Oh no

@ Jason Bloomberg

"At the time it was an advisory referendum."

Which the PM and leader of the remain campaign stated would be acted upon and no reruns. In fact it was the gov who set the rules and insisted it was a solid vote that would be enacted upon result.

"The result was expected to be 'remain'"

Yup. we were told what to vote, we were even threatened to vote the right way by our own government! The only person with the authority to negotiate any alternative to remain was the PM who refused to. So leave was literally leave the EU because of his rigging.

"Brixiteers claimed it was The Will Of The People"

A democratic vote gives a result. Yup they are right.

"out of the EU, out of the customs union, filling the channel tunnel with concrete, setting fire to France, redrawing maps with EU member states marked as evil incarnate."

Thats interesting. The EU dictates that we leave the EU we automatically leave the customs union. And while I am sure there are some racists somewhere it is remainers I hear saying we will cut ourselves off and have nothing to do with the EU. That is why I often say outward looking remainers/leavers should band together for a global looking UK. The only people who seem to take issue with such an idea being remainers (so far).

"No one asked what people wanted after we had left the EU"

Nobody but the PM had authority. And he refused to consider such a possibility. However nobody asked what we wanted if remaining in the EU. The project has the objective of ever closer union, its own military, expanding use of its currency etc. Being out of the EU we can vote for the party that represents us while in the EU we dont have a choice, just as we had none over joining.

"The problem now is there's no agreement on where we are heading"

Out of the EU. Its really not confusing even if you find it upsetting. We voted to leave, and we are leaving.

"Brexiteers and May are each pretending that people voted for what they intend to deliver. That's the real problem."

The brexiters are right. People voted to leave. Not remain through the back door or to ditch democracy. People did not vote for remain, they explicitly voted against what remain want. The continued attempts to subvert democracy and ignore voters is the problem. If remain voters respect democracy the result of the vote is in. If they dont respect democracy and feel people should be ignored because they are too stupid then they can feel warm and comforted that they are being ignored. If they actually care about the UK being open then they need to band with the leave voters to insist the gov do that.

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Re: Oh no

@ Champ

"Can you list for me the sovereignty that we have lost"

Law- follow EU law, do not reject, do not pass go, do get a fine if you refuse.

Trade- EU assumes control over trade negotiations with the world, we cannot. We must apply EU tariffs on those outside the EU as the EU dictates.

Financial- EU signs agreement promising not to use GBP to prop up EUR (Greece) then does so anyway. Dictated increasing membership costs even during recession.

"If you want to join the club, you have to follow the agreed rules"

Well said. But we didnt want to join it. Support in the UK has never been strong enough to guarantee the 'right' answer. Even the French president thinks the French would probably vote to leave. Politicians wanted to join tho!

"You can call this loss of sovereignty if you like"

Thank you, see above, so it is.

"if we want trade agreements with any other states or blocks, we'll have to sign up to *their* rules, which will involve much the same "lost of sovereignty"."

No no no no and no. To export to other countries our exports must meet those requirements. Not free movement, not their courts above ours, so the 'loss of sovereignty' is an agreement we make by our own choice (sovereignty) with whatever countries we want to.

"from all over the world. Personally, I like having a functioning health service, so I'm happy to support immigration."

This is the best failure of logic for any remain supporter. The claim to like immigration from all over the world. I would now like you to tell me why the EU is superior to everywhere else? What makes your EU (not European but EU) people the 'acceptable' immigration? I have friends from the EU, but I also have friends in Russia, US, Asia, Africa and ME. Please tell me why the EU people should be allowed easy import but the rest of the world is not good enough? Why is it that the others all came as students except my Russian friend who cant seem to get over here as she is not nor wants to be a student but instead a professional? If she lived in the EU she would have no problem. I am happy to support immigration, world wide and not just the supranationalistic ones.

As a side note my friend from the US is a supporter of the EU amusingly while complaining how difficult it is to do the whole visa malarkey. She is a university graduate (PhD I believe) and married to a brit too! And thinking of moving back to Boston because the UK is hostile to immigration. This is from the developed frickin world, a country doing better than the EU, certainly more established and stable, and yet admin staff from the EU have no problems (another of my friends).

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Re: Oh no

I'll see your Murdoch, and raise you one Soros.

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FAIL

Re: Electoral College

"a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea"

Yep. A larger number of the voting public (roughly 90 million) chose "none of the above" by staying home on election day, which is a larger amount than either candidate got. If we add the none of the above votes and Clinton votes together, this means a majority of the voting public does not want Donald Trump as President. And if we add the none of the above votes and Trump votes, this means a majority of the voting public does not want Hillary Clinton to be President.

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Well, I learnt that Hillary was crooked, so they can't have been too ineffective.

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Correction

The subheading should read "дурацкие западники", the adjective needs to be plural to match the noun :)

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: Correction

Thanks, comrade.

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Sigh...

дурацкий западники, вы ничего не знаете

Stop using Google translate. IT DOES NOT work for Russian. Why - be a tech news site and do a report on why Yandex and Co get much better mileage on the subject with a fraction of Google's resources. There are quite good writeups on this too (mostly in Russian).

In any case it should be: "Дураки вы западные, ничего вы не знаете" - if said by a westerner. A Russian would have used "Оболтус" in this context, not "Дурак".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Sigh...

Russian troll detected.

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Re: Sigh...

Yes that sounds better :) I appreciated they make the effort though, I read their words in the voice of some russian bad guy from a film lol

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Sigh...

I was hoping that дураки вы западники, ничего не знаете was a reference to the three billy goats Gruff and meant "who's that clip clopping over my bridge?". Alas another dream dashed...

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Re: Sigh...

Russian troll detected.

Wrong.

I do not hide my Slavic descent and fluent knowledge of 3+ Slavic languages as well as reasonable understanding of nearly all languages in that group (I have trouble only with Polish and to a lesser extent Czech, they make my brain coredump). This includes the applicable profanisaurus appendices by the way :)

However, I do not hide that I am not a proper Russian either. I just happen to know the language and the cultural context and thinking behind it. I know how they tick as well as how they talk and I am sufficiently remote to be able to look from "the side" and explain exactly why they did it as well as predict what they will do next. I can do that for most of that part of the world by the way - not just Russians.

Example. For a westerner, this does not compute. At all:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/tank-russia-man-steals-wine-bottle-supermarket-armoured-vehicle-apatity-a8152861.html

For someone who knows them it is a lot of sh*t and giggles and it is definitely nothing out of the ordinary.

So based on knowledge of Russian sufficient to pass their equivalent of an A-level, that sub-head was not in Russian. It is the sort of garbage Google translate produces when you ask it to translate into Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Croat, Slovenian, Belorussian or Ukrainian. Every time I see what it produces I feel like rolling under the table. Almost as funny as driving a BMP into a 24x7 off-license shop because they are refusing to sell you wine too early in the morning.

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Re: Sigh...

Russian is easy - it sounds just like English but with a Scottish accent

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Sigh...

However, I do not hide that I am not a proper Russian either. I just happen to know the language and the cultural context and thinking behind it.

He doth protest to much, methinks. Get some kindling and a stake fellow commentards, we've got a RUSSIAN troll to deal with!

He speaks for Putin! He supports Trump! He's responsible for Brexit! ISIS! Assad! Global warming! Cyber crime! Burn him, burn him now!

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Trollface

Re: Sigh...

He's responsible for ... Global warming! ... Burn him, burn him now!

Wait, isn't that going to make him even more responsible for global warming?

The green way to dispose of people is to bury them in the concrete footings of a really well built building. That means less concrete is needed, so a bit less concrete needs to be produced and the greenhouse gases in the body may remain sequestered for centuries.

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Mushroom

Re: Sigh...

> I feel like rolling under the table

I hope you have found a safe space where you could re-center after what must have been a very traumatic experience. Reading bad Russian translations from Google Translator, that is.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: However, I do not hide that I am not a proper Russian either. I just ...

Is "being a proper Russian" the task assigned to Voland's left hand, then? Or is the left hand otherwise busy..? :-)

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Re: Sigh...

Example. For a westerner, this does not compute. At all:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/tank-russia-man-steals-wine-bottle-supermarket-armoured-vehicle-apatity-a8152861.html

It certainly doesn't compute. The story keeps referring to a tank, but I don't see one in the pictures.

I know Private Eye wrote that The Independent was now written by illiterate teenagers (I may be paraphrasing) but I didn't expect that.

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Re: However, I do not hide that I am not a proper Russian either. I just ...

Is "being a proper Russian" the task assigned to Voland's left hand, then? Or is the left hand otherwise busy.

I will ask Mr Azazzello when I see him next time. Though, as you could have guessed from his family name, he is not a proper Russian either.

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Facebook was the main arena. Twitter has been mainly one-way for years (politicians, celebrities, etc. marking a splash) along with the slackivist dream of saving the world one hashtag at a time.

I think the main effect was to help discredit "classical" media sources such as newspapers by providing ammunition for those who wanted it. Conspiracy theories have always abounded but social media, especially Facebook, have allowed them to flourish in echo chambers and Russia was happy to back the side of opinion over fact.

Governments have for years attempted to sway public opinion in other countries, usually with little or no effect: the Voice of America is still going strong. However, in terms of legality then any such attempts should be followed up with the same diligence as should be expected from voter fraud, bribery, etc.

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@Charlie Clark - The classical media have done a good job of discrediting themselves with anyone's help. Remember 'Fake but accurate' from 2004? It is easier to find the raw information on the web than it was 25 years ago or at least reports much closer to the source. The media got fat, dumb, and lazy; relying on their mid-20th century dominance to continue.

As far as propaganda, it is only effective if it is the only available source of information. As soon as viable alternatives are available its effectiveness in muted. Also, internal problems within a country will have more effect than an external propaganda effort. The Soviet Union collapsed because of internal problems rather because of any Western propaganda.

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I think the main effect was to help discredit "classical" media sources such as newspapers by providing ammunition for those who wanted it.

Bingo. The "Troll Army" was and is a distraction.

The big hitters were the fake news gangs as well as lesser fake news outfits in jurisdictions where NOBODY could touch them in any way. Like Macedonia. None of them has been officially connected to Russia at this point by the way. It is clear they were operating on a build-to-order basis, but there is no evidence trail on who has paid them.

That is not likely to change too as Macedonia is pretty much a safe heaven for them. After all what do you expect from a country where the interior minister's BMW was impounded at the country border a few years back - it was stolen and had fake VINs re-hammered on top of the old ones (that is in the Serbian and Bulgarian press - you can search for that).

This research has not touched on these gangs at all. They are a bit more in the open now as even CNN reports on them. That, however is not likely to reduce their effectiveness in the slightest. As long as Facebook exists in the form it does today they will be as effective as they were in 2016. Some of their stories were seen by up to 50M+ people in the last election and the Brexit cycle. They went viral on Facebook and they were successful.

They are likely to play major part in the coming election cycle and there is very little US can do about it short of going down the Turkish route and shutting down Facebook completely.

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@Voland's right hand

I thought the fake news sites were funded by Google ads and they selected content based on what people wanted to believe without checking and show their friends on Facebook. If the news favoured Trump/Russia I assumed it was for the same reason that 419s target Christians.

If you have evidence to the contrary then I am very interested.

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It is easier to find the raw information on the web than it was 25 years ago or at least reports much closer to the source.

This is probaby true: more information is being published openly but I'm not sure if it's that relevant within the discussion of news. For years there has been a drift towards dumbing down, sensationalism and triviality in the name of ratings and giving people what they want.

A good journalist will want to challenge their audience. If they're not doing this they're not providing value. There have always been those who've not wanted to follow the argument, preferring the headline to the article before going to the sports pages or celebrity gossip. The mistake has been that, in chasing this audience, its tactics have been adopted.

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> It is easier to find the raw information on the web than it was 25 years ago or at least reports much closer to the source.

Yes, but now it's less like searching for a needle in a haystack and more like searching for a tampon in a septic tank.

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Mushroom

Vaguely reminded of the days when cigarettes were advertised ....

The cigarette companies went to great lengths to produce report after report that concluded that advertising had no effect on consumer uptake of smoking (and that adverts were merely intended to persuade smokers to switch brand).

Which would have been believable, had the cigarette companies not continued to spunk *billions* on advertising over the ensuing decades.

You don't spend that much money on something which doesn't work.

(unless it's called "Brexit" that is)u

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Re: Vaguely reminded of the days when cigarettes were advertised ....

But it did give us Mad Men, so it all balances out.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Vaguely reminded of the days when cigarettes were advertised ....

"The cigarette companies went to great lengths to produce report after report that concluded that advertising had no effect on consumer uptake of smoking (and that adverts were merely intended to persuade smokers to switch brand).

Which would have been believable, had the cigarette companies not continued to spunk *billions* on advertising over the ensuing decades."

I thought (based on working in both industries) the market research indicated that cigarette smoking was a stalemate - as long as everyone advertised, the market shares remained almost the same. If you got a small jump on a competitor with a new product and big advertising campaign you could swing market share by a point or two.

From a purely business perspective, I suspect the cigarette companies didn't want to have to pay for advertising, but the cost was part of the larger fight against banning cigarettes. Each fight slowed down the inevitable loss (at least from the 90's onwards when the health aspects were no longer disputed).

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