How Russian Propaganda Targeted Black Americans on Facebook

The publication, on May 10, of all the Facebook posts sponsored by the Russian Internet Research Agency shows how much the organization has tried to deepen the racial divide during the 2016 US presidential campaign.

Fight against racism … to get Donald Trump elected. Their names are “Black Matters”, “Do not shoot” or Blacktivist. From 2015 to 2017, these groups on Facebook have tirelessly denounced the police brutality against blacks in the United States and called for resistance against racism. An anti-racism of facade. This is revealed by the thousands of messages sponsored by Russian agents, made public by elected representatives of the Congress, Thursday, May 10.

These “anti-racist” messages have been seen tens of thousands of times on the social network and shared by Internet users who believe they are dealing with genuine sympathizers of the African-American cause. In reality, these groups were created from scratch in St. Petersburg on the premises of the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the massive propaganda weapon of Russia, to try to influence American public opinion before November 2016 presidential election.

References to Malcolm X

All the messages posted by these false pro-activists “Black lives matter” are part of the 3,519 publications promoted with a lot of dollars paid to Facebook by the IRA.

They give a complete picture of the Russian propaganda effort during the American campaign. These publications cost the Russians more than $ 100,000 and were viewed by 126 million Americans on Facebook. There is everything: messages to denigrate Hillary Clinton, the opponent of Donald Trump, calls for “patriots” to resist the “invasion of immigrants” and defend “Christian values” of America. Above all, they illustrate for the first time how much the IRA has targeted the black American community to stir up the racial divide in the United States.

Hundreds of messages borrowing the rhetoric of supporters of the “Black lives matter” movement have been published by these Russians since 2015. Initially, there are the inevitable references to the speeches of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King (historical figures of the movement for equality of rights in the United States), publications to celebrate the academic success of Black youth and others to lament the persistence of ordinary racism in the United States.

But these are just appetizers. A way to “put the user at ease and confidence,” the NBC judge. “Black Matters” and “Blacktivist” look like any Facebook group fighting against racism. Starting in the spring of 2016, IRA-sponsored messages change tone. References to victims of police violence are more frequent.

These groups call on those who follow them to pay tribute to them, to protest against the police and to “show that we will not be allowed to do so”. Thus, in July 2016, a message urged blacks from the South to “fight against the racism of the system! It’s your duty, you have nothing to lose except your chains! ”

More than 200 dollars to promote messages

The IRA also pays more for its publications to be better targeted. While at the beginning of 2015, these propagandists paid little more than a few dollars for each post promoted, they then pay up to 243 dollars. Results: The Internet Research Agency could, through Facebook, promote these publications to an audience sensitive to the issue of racism as in Baltimore, Chicago or Charleston where tensions were already exacerbated.

In parallel, these Russian agents have also set up false support groups for the movement “Blue lives matter” (The life of the ‘Bleus’ [the police] count). Under this other disguise, they attacked the messages of “Black Lives matter” supporters, pointing out that blacks “killed policemen”.

The biggest success of the IRA has been a promoted post for the group “Back the Badge” – support the badge (police) – which received more than 110,000 “likes”. It was a community supposed to federate all those who “defend the work of the police” against violence in black majority neighborhoods.

The Russians have played on both sides. Hoping to stir up hatred between the two camps, they would help create “a climate of fear favorable to the candidacy of Donald Trump,” notes the Washington Post. The calls to protest were, in this context, so many calls for excesses that would feed the security speech of the Republican candidate.

It is difficult to know how effective this propaganda has been. None of the events organized by these fake groups made headlines during the US campaign for possible excesses. But tens of millions of Americans have seen the messages in their Facebook news feed. How many of them thought by putting their ballot in the ballot box on November 8, 2016?