Russian black vote effort relied on blurred line between honest criticism and blaming both parties
Although you may have already heard plenty about the Russian effort to turn African Americans off from voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016, there are some aspects I’d like to explore in some greater depth. To recap, through a company called the Internet Research Agency, Putin’s Russia promoted Donald Trump’s candidacy through various social media efforts, but of all of their tactics, one stood out:
The most prolific I.R.A. efforts on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted black American communities and appear to have been focused on developing black audiences and recruiting black Americans as assets,” the report says. Using Gmail accounts with American-sounding names, the Russians recruited and sometimes paid unwitting American activists of all races to stage rallies and spread content, but there was a disproportionate pursuit of African-Americans, it concludes.
The [Senate] report says that while “other distinct ethnic and religious groups were the focus of one or two Facebook Pages or Instagram accounts, the black community was targeted extensively with dozens.” In some cases, Facebook ads were targeted at users who had shown interest in particular topics, including black history, the Black Panther Party and Malcolm X. The most popular of the Russian Instagram accounts was @blackstagram, with 303,663 followers.
The Internet Research Agency also created a dozen websites disguised as African-American in origin, with names like blackmattersus.com, blacktivist.info, blacktolive.org and blacksoul.us. On YouTube, the largest share of Russian material covered the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality, with channels called “Don’t Shoot” and “BlackToLive.”
Without question, this campaign could not have struck a chord if the issues being raised by #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) and other activist groups were not vitally important ones. The Russians twisted real issues into propaganda that painted Hillary Clinton as, at best, no better than Donald Trump—and at worst, well, even worse. Was this absurd? Of course.
After seeing what turned out to be Russian-created content, BLM leader Alicia Garza could tell that its creators were not people who, shall we say, had African Americans’ best interests at heart. Nevertheless, she didn’t suspect that a foreign government was behind it: “My suspicion was spamming, and not ‘Holy shit, another government is trying to influence the results of the elections in the United States.’”