Russian election influence campaign targeted African-Americans: report

Russia targeted African-Americans through social media, seeking to depress turnout from the reliably Democratic demographic as Moscow sought to influence the outcome of the 2016 election, according to a report produced for the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

The New York Times reports that Russia used Instagram posts as part of its voter suppression drive, an effort that rivaled or even exceeded Russia’s efforts to influence people through Facebook.

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The campaign was mostly run through the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg company owned by a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the report from New Knowledge, a cybersecurity company based in Austin, Texas.

“The most prolific I.R.A. efforts on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted black American communities and appear to have been focused on developing black audiences and recruiting black Americans as assets,” the report said.

The report does not attempt to explain why there was an extra focus on the African-American community, but does note just how extensive that push was.

“Other distinct ethnic and religious groups were the focus of one or two Facebook Pages or Instagram accounts, the black community was targeted extensively with dozens,” it said.

Russian accounts with African-American sounding names, such as an Instagram account titled “@blackstagram” and fake web pages such as “blackmattersus.com” and “blacktivist.info” were used to sow seeds of division.

“Very real racial tensions and feelings of alienation exist in America, and have for decades. The I.R.A. didn’t create them. It exploits them,” New Knowledge Director of Research Renee DiResta told the Times about the report.

She added that the Internet Research Agency “leveraged pre-existing, legitimate grievances wherever they could.”

This included using the Black Lives Matter and “Blue Lives Matter” movements to further divide Americans.

The report also noted that Russia’s attempts to influence public opinion through social media remain “active and ongoing.”

The report comes as congressional leaders intensify investigations into Russian hacking and election interference and private firms continue to study and be on high alert for Russian hackers.

The U.S. intelligence community concluded that the Russians attempted to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election and undermine U.S. democracy.