Two days before the 2016 presidential election, @woke_blacks posted an anti-voting polemic to its Instagram account. “The excuse that a lost Black vote for Hillary is a Trump win is bs. Should you decide to sit-out the election, well done for the boycott,” the caption read. “I remind us all one more time, anyone who wins can literally change less about the state of Black people, we are on our own, esp. after Obama. Wise up my people!” Another user, @afrokingdom_, shared a comparable sentiment: “Black people are smart enough to understand that Hillary doesn’t deserve our votes! DON’T VOTE!” According to a new report commissioned for the Senate Intelligence Committee by cybersecurity firm New Knowledge, those accounts, along with dozens more, were part of an extensive and complex campaign to suppress the black American vote by the Russian firm Internet Research Agency.
In late 2017, it was first reported by CNN that the pro-Kremlin enterprise masterminded a plot to infiltrate online communities of the Black Lives Matter movement. But New Knowledge’s report, released Monday, shows a much more sustained and purposeful focus on black Americans—as the IRA went about instigating mistrust in law enforcement and political institutions, while cultivating seemingly authentic narratives of black pride.
The report details how black Americans were among the most exploited online communities by the IRA, cataloging how the Russian firm developed an “expansive cross-platform media mirage” that specifically targeted black people by leveraging popular social media sites. The campaign was “designed to exploit societal fractures” and “erode our trust in media entities and the information environment, in government, in each other, and in democracy itself,” the report states. “This campaign pursued all of those objectives with innovative skill, scope, and precision.”
The 100-page report is based on data sets provided to the Senate by Facebook, Twitter, and Alphabet, comprising tens of thousands of posts between 2015 and 2017. In addition to social media sites, the IRA’s vast and varied disinformation campaign played out across issue-specific domains that they bought such as blackmattersus.com, black4black.info, and blacksoul.us—“a complex effort” to manipulate public opinion with the intention of siphoning votes from Hillary Clinton to help elect Donald Trump. The black community, often a reliably strong voting bloc for Democrats, was a substantial target.