Russia used Facebook ads in 2016 to both encourage and inflame identity politics in America as part of its cyber-operation against the U.S., according to new reports.
Previous media coverage on Russian influence operations within the United States has overwhelmingly focused on reported attempts to stir up America’s political right-wing, but new reporting indicates that Russia also sought to promote the identity-focused politics that currently dominates America’s political Left. (RELATED: Anti-Trump ‘Resistance’ Groups Spreading North Korean Propaganda)
Russian accounts targeted Baltimore and Ferguson — both hubs of racial activism — with pro-Black Lives Matter messaging, CNN reported this week. The Washington Post reported that the Russian ads promoted other “African American rights groups” in addition to Black Lives Matter.
Then, on Thursday night, CNN reported that popular black activist accounts operating on Facebook and Twitter under the name “Blacktivist” were linked to the Russian government. Blacktivist accounts frequently stoked racial outrage about police shootings and mass incarceration of black men.
Blacktivist’s Facebook account had 360,000 likes — more than the official Black Lives Matter account.
Russian operations similarly targeted American Muslims with anti-American messages, The Daily Beast reported. (RELATED: In Their Own Words: The Radical Political Goals Of ‘Anti-Fascists’)
The Russian-funded accounts impersonated Muslim groups to promote anti-American conspiracy theories — such as that Osama Bin Laden was a “CIA agent” — while praising former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi for not having a “Rothschild-owned central bank” — a reference to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos said in a statement earlier this month that Facebook’s investigation into Russian efforts “found approximately $100,000 in ad spending from June of 2015 to May of 2017 — associated with roughly 3,000 ads — that was connected to about 470 inauthentic accounts and Pages in violation of our policies.”
The “vast majority” of the 3,000 Russian ads “didn’t specifically reference the U.S. presidential election, voting or a particular candidate,” Stamos said.
He added that “the ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”
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This article has been updated to include additional information.