The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee confirmed that Russian trolls used Facebook to influence voters during the 2016 election. They also hacked Democratic e-mails and targeted voting machines, but social media was a major focus. They used Facebook primarily to pretend to be Americans so they could spread misinformation.
It’s not clear that their interference is what got Donald Trump elected, though that was clearly their goal: according to U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell, Trump and all of his close associates have extremely friendly ties with Russia, and a Trump presidency is in Russia’s interests.
Meanwhile, Facebook is in hot water again in advance of the 2020 election. It recently changed its rules to improve fact-checking and reduce “fake news,” but refuses to do the same for political advertisements. Politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren have criticized Facebook for allowing Donald Trump’s campaign to post ads with blatant lies in them.
While Russian interference is well known - it was made clear in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s bombshell report - what isn’t as well known is the degree to which race played a major factor in Russian hacking and trolling.
Russian hackers and trolls specifically targeted Black Americans on Facebook and Twitter, in an effort to stir up controversy, convince Black people to vote Republican or not vote at all, and infiltrate activist groups. And it’s not over - cybersecurity firm New Knowledge reports that “Active and ongoing interference operations remain on several platforms.”
Trolls created fake activist groups on Facebook like “Blacktivist,” “Woke Blacks,” and “Black Matters,” and created events encouraging people to vote for third-party candidates or not vote at all.
These hackers know that the Black vote is a powerful force in American politics. That’s why so many Democrats are trying to secure Black votes ahead of the 2020 Presidential election.
That’s also why this Russian interference is so targeted - they’re playing off of Black American issues and concerns to gain influence and prominence. “Very real racial tensions and feelings of alienation exist in America, and have for decades,” said Renee DiResta, an author of the New Knowledge report. “[The Russian hackers] didn’t create them.”
“They are using our pain for their gain. I’m profoundly disgusted,” Tawanda Jones told The Guardian after learning that a racial justice group that she frequented, Blacktivist, was secretly run by Russian Hackers and trolls.
As the 2020 Election approaches, Facebook users can expect that there will be less “fake news” on the site going forward. But Black Americans in particular need to be especially careful about foreign interference.