Welp, add this to the ever-growing list of reasons to despise the Internet Research Agency.
The Russian internet troll farm focused its efforts on black Americans leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. So explains a bipartisan Senate intelligence report released today, which details the degree to which the government-backed group used race as a weapon in its campaign of information warfare.
“No single group of Americans was targeted by IRA information operatives more than African-Americans,” notes the report.
That the IRA went after black Americans is not a new revelation. We’ve known this since 2017, with earlier reports indicating the troll farm attempted to co-opt the Black Lives Matter movement and incite race-based violence via social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Tuesday’s report, however, adds another level of detail to the campaign.
“The Committee found that the IRA sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin,” reads a partial summary of the report published by the office of Sen. Mark Warner.
Notably, the effort didn’t stay contained within the world of social media. The IRA made numerous attempts to leverage its online presence into offline results.
“IRA operatives also spearheaded and funded a self-defense program that entailed African-American trainers being paid to teach courses in their communities,” the report describes of one such incident. “As part of this operation, an African-American activist was paid roughly $700 to teach 12 self-defense classes in a local park under the auspices of the IRA-administered ‘BlackFist’ Facebook page.”
Importantly, the Senate report clarifies that while the desired outcome of these efforts isn’t 100 percent clear, “the general intent to foment and promote divisiveness and discord amongst the American populace is strongly evidenced, as are the desire and capability of the IRA to effectively coopt unwitting Americans. ”
This pattern of disproportionately going after black Americans spanned multiple social media platforms. The report highlights that a “discernible emphasis on targeting African-Americans” was seen on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and yeah, even Tumblr. Oh, and let’s not forget about YouTube.
“The overwhelming preponderance of the video content posted to the IRA’s YouTube channels was aimed directly at the African-American population,” the report makes clear.
In other words, the Russian troll efforts were even more directly geared toward messing with black Americans than we already thought — a disturbing fact to keep in mind as we approach what is already sure to be a divisive 2020 U.S. presidential election.