Russian online propagandists aggressively targeted African Americans during the 2016 US election campaign to suppress votes for Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump, according to new research. Analysts found that Russian operatives used social media to “confuse, distract, and ultimately discourage” black people and other pro-Clinton blocs from voting, using bogus claims such as Clinton receiving money from the Ku Klux Klan. Black turnout declined in 2016 for the first presidential election in 20 years, according to the US census bureau, falling to less than 60% from a record high of 66.6% in 2012. Exit polls indicated that black voters strongly favoured Clinton over Trump. The new findings on the secret activities of the Internet Research Agency(IRA), known as the Russian government’s “troll factory”, were revealed on Monday in a pair of reports to the US Senate’s intelligence committee. One was led by experts from Oxford University and the other by New Knowledge, an American cybersecurity firm.
New Knowledge said Russia had waged a five-year “propaganda war” against the US public. The Oxford researchers said that while the propaganda was meant to “push and pull” Americans in different directions, “what is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican party – and specifically, Donald Trump”.
Both reports faulted the major social media companies – Facebook, Twitterand Google – for what they said were ongoing failures to turn over exhaustive data to US authorities investigating the Russian campaign. They said some executives had “misrepresented or evaded” and “dissembled” in statements to Congress.
Mark Warner, the committee’s senior Democrat, said new laws were needed to tackle a crisis around social media. “These attacks against our country were much more comprehensive, calculating and widespread than previously revealed,” said Warner.