New reports show Russia's political influence campaign on social media targeted black voters — and the NAACP is now calling for a boycott of Facebook and Instagram
New reports on Russia's political disinformation campaigns across social media platforms concluded that black Americans were specifically targeted with posts on Facebook and Instagram.
Ahead of the 2016 presidential election, Russian-linked accounts and paid-for advertisements were strategically used to encourage black voters to "boycott the election and focus on other issues instead." Posts about Black Lives Matter, police shootings, and racial violence were shared prolifically by Russian social media accounts for the purpose of "recruiting Black Americans as assets," the reports said.
The two reports released Monday — one from New Knowledge and the other from Graphika and University of Oxford researchers — provided further insight into the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm out of Russia previously charged in connection with its efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. Commissioned by the US Senate's intelligence select committee, these reports show just how many social media sites and millions of users the IRA's campaign was able to reach.
The reports identified popular, influential IRA accounts on Facebook and Instagram that "cross-promoted authentic Black media to create an immersive influence ecosystem." The IRA operated a popular brand, BlackMattersUS.com, not only on Facebook and Instagram, but also Twitter, Tumblr, Soundcloud, YouTube, and Google+. One of the IRA's most influential accounts was @blackstagram_, which amassed hundreds of thousands of followers and thousands of likes on Instagram in 2017.
New Knowledge concluded in its report:
The greatest effort on Facebook and Instagram appears to have been focused on developing Black audiences. There was significant and extensive integration into the Black community, particularly on Facebook, via the creation of a dedicated media ecosystem, the sharing and cross-promotion of legitimate media content, and ongoing attempted development of human assets.
Researchers also revealed that Instagram was a "significant front" in the IRA's operation, and that its reach was even greater than Facebook following the 2016 election. The report noted that Facebook "avoided mentioning" Instagram's reach in its Congressional testimony in October 2017 related to Russian political propoganda efforts.
In response to the reports, the NAACP announced Tuesday it was returning a donation recieved from Facebook. The civil rights group called on supporters to boycott Facebook and Instagram for one week, "to signify to Facebook that the data and privacy of its users of color matter more than its corporate interests." The #LogOutFacebook protest starts Tuesday.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been long criticized for ignoring warning signs that Russia was using the social media platform to spread disinformation about US politics. By the time Zuckerberg publicly acknowledged the role Facebook played, the social network revealed thatRussia-based trolls had published an estimated 80,000 posts seen by 126 million Americans in a two-year period.