A new report detailed how the Russians specifically targeted African-American voters in the 2016 election to help President Donald Trump win—adding to domestic efforts to suppress the Black vote.
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The New York Times obtained an advanced copy of the report that was released on Monday, and it found that a Russian-backed team used an array of tactics to suppress turnout among Democrats through social media outlets, especially Instagram and Facebook.
In response, the NAACP called on Congress to conduct additional investigations into Facebook. Derrick Johnson, the organization’s president and CEO, told NewsOne that the report added urgency to its “LogOut Facebook” digital protest planned for Dec. 18.
“We’re raising awareness about an attack on Black and brown users, which Facebook was in part complicit with. The Russian interference during the 2016 election called into question the integrity of the voting processes that took place, and overwhelmingly, people of color have suffered the most as a result of that election,” he stated.
A U.S. Senate committee commissioned the study that was produced by New Knowledge, a cybersecurity company based in Austin, Texas, along with researchers at Columbia University and Canfield Research LLC.
The efforts through Facebook and Instagram focused on developing Black audiences and disproportionately recruited unwitting African-American activists who were sometimes paid to stage rallies to create turmoil.
“As Russia takes aim at African-American voters, we can’t ignore the fact that people of color remain the primary targets for voter suppression schemes right here on American soil. In setting its main target on African Americans, Russia is taking a page out of the U.S. voter suppression playbook; by allowing voter suppression domestically, we send a dangerous message to bad actors such as Russia that Black votes don’t matter,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said.
America’s long history of suppressing the Black vote also impacted the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. For example, after the Republican-led statehouse in Wisconsin changed its voter registration law mandating stricter identification, more than 200,000 voters, mostly African Americans, were not able to vote, according to a study from Priorities USA that was reported in The Nation.
The progressive voting rights organization found that Wisconsin’s voter-ID law reduced turnout by 200,000 votes. Trump won the state by only 22,748 votes.
A St. Petersburg company called the Internet Research Agency operated the influence campaign. It was owned by businessman Yevgeny V. Prigozhin who has a close connection to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The company created a dozen fake websites using names that would appeal to African Americans, such as blackmattersus.com, blacktivist.info, blacktolive.org and blacksoul.us. It operated a YouTube channel that covered the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality.
On Facebook, ads targeted users who showed an interest in certain topics like Black history or the Black Panther Party.
The NAACP called for its digital protest of Facebook ahead of Monday’s release of the report. Over the past year, the organization said it expressed concern about the company’s multiple data and privacy breaches, as well as the lack of employee diversity at large tech companies.
“We’re holding Facebook accountable for the role it played in the proliferation of propaganda against people of color. The hackers preyed on the vulnerability of racial tensions in America, and Facebook fed them our information on a silver platter. As a corporation, Facebook needs to acknowledge this negligence, and we’re empowering people to use #LogOutFacebook as a means to express their discontent,” Johnson stated.
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