The recent indictment of Russians who were part of the notorious Russian internet “troll farm” that interfered with the U.S. elections hit close to home for me. I have suspicions that my little ol’ author web site (and perhaps this blog, which is featured on my site) may have been an information source for them. Then again, maybe not. But here’s what I know:
I opened my author website to the world in March 2014. The world paid it no attention, but just having it up felt good at the time.
About a year later my site, which only got a couple of views per day, started receiving hundreds of views. By summer 2015, it was receiving over 400 views per day. Who were these people? Google Analytics tells me they were mostly from Russia, but the majority could not be tracked to a specific country because they didn’t have a language set on their computer.
Hmmm. Mysterious. I thought at first that maybe it was Russian schoolchildren who had to do an assignment on a famous Russian general who has a last name similar to mine (General Zhukov). Maybe they found my site by accident while they were looking for information about him.
My other thought was that maybe someone posted my web address in an online forum or a Russian dating site without my permission, and that’s what drew people. Nobody asked me for a date, though. (Darn it!)
My site grew so popular, and I was so concerned that I called my website hosting company and asked them to check if anything strange was going on. Nope. Everything was okay, they assured me.
I even checked all the links on my site to ensure they weren’t going somewhere unintended. Every link went were it was supposed to go.
And it’s not like my books were hugely popular, so it didn’t seem like the viewers were people hungry for eco-mystic-romance. (Darn!)
I started to breathe easier in the fall of 2016, when the traffic on my site dwindled to more reasonable levels – only 10 or 15 views per day.
Imagine that, I was relieved when fewer people visited my website!
Then came the suspicions and the news of the Russian hackers interfering with the U.S. election. When the indictments were handed down last week, I decided to do some research of my own to see if there were any correlations between the traffic on my web site and Trump’s candidacy and election. What I found disturbed me, and I will post the metrics here, so you can make up your own mind.
As you can see from the data graph, the surge in traffic to my website began around March 2015, just a few months before Trump announced his candidacy. Could the Russians have been doing research in support of Trump’s run for office? The number of hits to my site peak on June 16, 2015, which is the same day that Trump announced his candidacy. Then there’s an abrupt decline until a week or so later.
When I told one friend about this pattern, they suggested that maybe the Russians thought that I’m an opinion leader and they were checking my site (and blog) to gather information on American opinions to better craft their disinformation campaigns and political messages. Hmmm, could be?
Visits to my site jumped up and down, but stayed higher than normal until Trump was elected. Then they dropped off to the measly numbers – only a couple of views per day, which it is still experiencing today. Hardly any of those viewers are Russian. The majority are American. And all those mysterious viewers from an unknown country are gone.
As another part of my research, I looked at a timeline of 2016 presidential campaign hacking fast facts. It begins in September of 2015, when the FBI contacts the Democratic National Committee to warn them about their computers being compromised by Russian hackers. One would expect that the hackers did their work earlier than September, which coincides with the rise in views to my web site.
A couple of weeks ago, my former Russian language professor gave a talk about how Russians think. After his talk, I decided to bounce this info off of him because I knew he used to work for the CIA. After I described the pattern of visits to my website, his verdict was, “Congratulations, you’ve been spied upon.”
I’m not sure what to do with this information. I guess for now, I’ll just feel really creeped out.
If I disappear suddenly, you’ll know the Russians did it.