With the 2020 presidential election creeping closer, HBO Max’s new two-part documentary Agents of Chaos takes a microscopic look at the hoopla and meddling surrounding the last election cycle. Diving deep into the influence of Russian trolls and government-sanctioned hacking, documentarian Alex Gibney attempts to clarify the confusion around and measure the impact of foreign election meddling. He serves audience members with the perfect balance of entertainment and education.
While most Americans are familiar with the fact that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election, few can pinpoint how exactly the country interfered. What Gibney and the series do best is lay out exactly what could be considered malicious intent from the Russian government, and what was simply happenstance. There’s a lot to be learned.
One of the strongest documentarians of our time, Gibney brings his signature style to Agents of Chaos. The film is filled with voiceover and gradually growing tension. Gibney effectively breaks down complex political events. Just as social media can arouse confusion around what is true and what isn’t, his vision clarifies what exactly happened in 2016 in a manner easy enough for the average viewer to understand.
One particularly interesting part of the documentary explains Russia’s Internet Research Agency, or IRA. Hired and closely watched by Russian oligarchs, workers at the IRA create false social media accounts and websites to purposefully spread misinformation across the internet. There are specific subsections within the agency, for example those who create memes, or those who comment on YouTube videos. Each member of the IRA is tasked with creating this false content regardless of their personal political preference or bias.
Agents of Chaos will make viewers think about everything that they are exposed to through social media and the press daily. How often do Americans take the truth for granted? The true test of a film’s power is the effect it has on its audience, and Agents of Chaos certainly makes an impression. Viewers who worry about the waning of democratic values and the rise of damaging misinformation will come away from the film more frightened.
The documentary also serves as a great way to better understand the shady world of Russian foreign policy. The first segment highlights the battle for Crimea and Russia’s game of tug of war in Ukraine. In the case of the latter, Russia is fighting against pro-Western factions, trying to reconstruct its sphere of influence from the Soviet period. Not only does Agents of Chaos educate viewers about the 2016 election, it also expands its perspective to explore how Russia is meddling in other countries.
Alex Gibney has crafted a documentary that is both jam-packed and easy to follow. With social media continuing to be more and more prevalent, a better understanding of the threat that misinformation poses to American institutions is essential. Clearly, Gibney understands that it is. Hopefully, everyone else does too.
Featured image by HBO Max