Russia is being accused of "taking a page out of the U.S. voter suppression playbook" on Monday after a Senate Intelligence Committee-commissioned report found that the country's far-reaching campaign to meddle in the 2016 election through social media giants including Facebook and Instagram included efforts to specifically target African-Americans.
"This report makes clear that racism and discrimination are national security threats to the United States," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, in reference to the new reporting on the efforts by the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA), which is owned by an ally of President Vladimir Putin, to boost Donald Trump presidential chances and weaken those of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Senators received two analyses on IRA's influencing campaign. One was a joint report from Oxford University's Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika. The second was from New Knowledge, a cybersecurity firm.
"Very real racial tensions and feelings of alienation exist in America, and have for decades," Renee DiResta, director of research at New Knowledge and an author of its report, told the New York Times. "The I.R.A. didn't create them. It exploits them."
From the Times:
Of 81 Facebook pages created by the Internet Research Agency in the Senate's data, 30 targeted African-American audiences, amassing 1.2 million followers, the report finds. By comparison, 25 pages targeted the political right and drew 1.4 million followers. Just seven pages focused on the political left, drawing 689,045 followers.
While the [IRA-created] right-wing pages promoted Mr. Trump's candidacy, the left-wing pages scorned Mrs. Clinton while promoting Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate. The voter suppression effort was focused particularly on Sanders supporters and African-Americans, urging them to shun Mrs. Clinton in the general election and either vote for Ms. Stein or stay home.
"A hostile foreign power used American social media platforms to deliberately target and suppress the vote of African Americans as part of a conspiracy to undermine our democratic processes," Clarke continued. "We not only need to hold such bad actors accountable—we also need to hold accountable the companies that allow such exploitation to occur."
Underscoring the need for such accountability, NBC News adds:
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New Knowledge faulted U.S. social media companies for failing to come to grips with the extent to which their platforms are being used for foreign propaganda, and the researchers noted that Russian efforts to manipulate American voters continue mostly unabated.
"As Russia takes aim at African American voters, we can't ignore the fact that people of color remain the primary targets for voter suppression schemes right here on American soil," Clarke added. "In setting its main target on African Americans, Russia is taking a page out of the U.S. voter suppression playbook; by allowing voter suppression domestically, we send a dangerous message to bad actors such as Russia that Black votes don't matter."
The Congressional Black Caucus, in contrast, reacted to the new reporting by saying, "You know the black vote is important when both U.S. state/local govs & foreign govs try to suppress it."
The NAACP, for its part, is urging Congress to further investigate Facebook in light of the new findings and calling for a digital protest to take place Tuesday under the banner #LogOutFacebook.
As a call-to-action for the boycott explains, "NAACP remains concerned about the data breaches and numerous privacy mishaps that the tech giant has encountered in recent years, and is especially critical about those which occurred during the last presidential election campaign."
As an example, the group pointed to the massive Cambridge Analytica data breach revealed earlier this year and also accused Facebook of being "complicit and complacent" in enabling online housing advertisement discrimination.
The boycott, said NAACP, is "a way to signify to Facebook that the data and privacy of its users of color matter more than its corporate interests and that as the largest social network in the world, it is Facebook's corporate social responsibility to ensure that people of color are well represented in their workforce and recognize that users of color have a right to be protected propaganda and misinformation."
NAACP has returned a monetary donation we recently received from Facebook, and we are calling on supporters to log out of Facebook and Instagram on Tuesday, December 18. We implore you, our partners, friends, and supporters to join us. #LogOutFacebook pic.twitter.com/tOBKhnbRTW— NAACP (@NAACP) December 17, 2018