Senate Report Shows Russia Wanted Black People To Vote About As Much As Republicans Do
The New York Times dropped a bombshell article Monday revealing what most of us already knew: Russia went all out to actively influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Their very clear objective was to keep Hillary Clinton and her binders full of competence out of the Oval Office and install instead their orange rage puppet, Donald Trump. A disturbing number of white voters already believed Clinton was responsible for murdering Vince Foster, abducting the Lindbergh baby, and cancelling "Seinfeld," so much of Russia's disinformation program was focused on black voters.
Russia ran its influence campaign in 2016 through a St. Petersburg company called the Internet Research Agency. Robert Mueller indicted IRA's owner Yevgeny V. Prigozhin and several of the company's employees in February as part of the special counsel's ongoing investigation into Russia's attacks on our elections. They leveraged social media for their nefarious ends, spreading messages on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Vine. They even went after the half dozen or so people still using Google+. These guys were thorough.
The report, produced by Austin cybersecurity firm New Knowledge, highlights Russia's focus on black voters during the election.
"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.
I know that's the technical term and all but I get nervous hearing about anyone trying to make black people "assets." Russia whipped up a couple Facebook pages or Instagram accounts for other "ethnic and religious groups," but they hit black folks with literally 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 IRA launched several websites that were as authentically African-American as Rachel Dolezal. Their names were blackmatterus.com, blacktivist.info, blactktolive.org, and blacksoul.us. That last one stings a bit. My Marvin Gaye cover act had to settle for RussiansFakeBlackSite.com.
The question some folks are now asking is why Russia would go to such efforts to single out and attempt to manipulate black voters. Yeah, really, that's a stumper for them.
I presume Mueller will reveal that Russia had access to 8 year olds capable of reading CNN exit polls from 2012. In every key battleground state, Mitt Romney won white voters, sometimes overwhelmingly, but Barack Obama carried black voters in sufficient numbers to avoid moving out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. If Russia "disproportionately" pursued black voters, this is likely because we disproportionately support Democrats. Check out the exit polls for Pennsylvania, a state Trump won in 2016.
Pennsylvania Exit Poll 2016CNN
Look at us! We tried so hard. Barely half a Diamond and Silk voted for Trump. This is a consistent pattern, so if anyone who pays attention wants to stop a Democrat from winning an election, they would target black voters. Russia at least restricts their efforts to manipulation and lies. They don't pull a Brian Kemp and scrub us from the voter rolls [THAT WE KNOW OF -- editrix]. We've also written here about how just after Obama's 2012 victory, the Supreme Court decided the Voting Rights Act was passé and Republicans suddenly discovered the concept of "voter fraud."
The report can't say definitively if Russia's efforts account for the sharp decline in black voter turnout in 2016. After reaching a high of 66.6 percent in 2012, it dropped to 59.6 percent. The first time this happened in a presidential election in 20 years. I know Tim Kaine ain't exactly fly, but this is ridiculous. It also explains how Clinton lost several states that were called for Obama before the evening news.
The NAACP was peeved enough over Facebook's part in Russia's voter suppression efforts that it returned a donation from the company. It's also leading a protest starting today that encourages users to log off Facebook and Instagram for at least a week. Can we go that long without paranoid conspiracy theories and photos of someone's feet by the fireplace?
"We're holding Facebook accountable for the role it played in fueling racial tensions during the 2016 Presidential election," Derrick Johnson, president and chief executive officer told MarketWatch in a statement. "The way in which they handled the data breach, which targeted African-Americans, was negligent at best and exploitative at worst. Facebook needs to acknowledge how it has undervalued people of color over the past two years."
Russia had such positive results from its 2016 efforts that there's evidence it tried again in 2018. There was the attempted "WalkAway" viral campaign that promoted the fantasy that black people were going full Candace Owens. According to the Alliance for Securing Democracy, as of November 3, "WalkAway" was the third most tweeted hashtag by "600 monitored Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence operations."
NBC News analyst and former head of Facebook security Alex Stamos pointed out that "[The African-American targeting] is a really important reminder that upsets the conventional wisdom from a lot of people that social media was mainly used to manipulate people on the right... but it was also on the left."
It's also scary to contemplate how badly Republicans and Russians don't want us to vote. I suggest we keep pissing them both off. See you at the ballot box in 2020.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.