Russians Fake and Manipulate Black Activism
#BlackLivesMatter and other groups have made themselves heard using social media. The Internet is an effective tool for Black voices to speak on issues important to our people. But Black issues and causes have become caught up, subverted and even manipulated in the most intense political storm this nation has even seen.
The Trump administration is being openly accused of collusion with Russia to manipulate the outcome of the recent the presidential election in Trump’s favor. Two of the Trump campaign’s closest advisors have already been indicted by the Bob Mueller investigation.
But, apparently the Russians did not stop at the presidential elections. According to recent news reports the “Blacktivist” website that was supposedly supporting African-American causes has been linked to the Russian government. The social media platform used both Facebook and Twitter to instigate even more racial tensions in the U.S. during the recent presidential election. The Twitter and Facebook account of “Blacktivist” has been handed over to Congress.
The “Blacktivist” Facebook account had 360,000 likes compared to only 301,000 likes for the verified #BlackLivesMatter account.
African-Americans following “Blacktivist,” were fed content that fueled the outrage over police encounters with Black motorists and police violence against African-Americans. The content used various techniques to stoke Black anger including video footage.
The manipulation of legitimate African-American anger also included promoting at least seven rallies and demonstrations in the U.S. in 2016. These events included the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party and a protest march in Baltimore commemorating the death of Freddie Gray. Most events were legitimate protest rallies but the “Blacktivist” website worked to increase the turnout.
CNN reported one ad, and maybe more, were purchased by Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign. The ads referenced #BlackLivesMatter and targeted audiences in Ferguson, MO and Baltimore, MD. Both cities garnered worldwide attention for the large and violent protests after police shootings of Black men.
The “Blacktivist” Facebook account is included in over 470 Russian-linked accounts identified by Facebook and disclosed to Congress. The matching Twitter account, “@blacktivist,” was among another estimated 200 accounts Twitter identified with links to those found by Facebook.
But the Russian manipulation of African-American social and political issues went even further. According to Gizmodo.com a Russian news outlet, RBC, uncovered a scheme by the Kremlin to use Facebook to recruit Black activists in the U.S.
The scheme reportedly paid Black activist to organize #BlackLivesMatter rallies, self-defense classes and even produce content for Russian-owned sites denouncing police violence against Black citizens. The activist, contacted by Buzzfeed News, claim they were unaware they were being used and paid by the Russians.
Three Black activists were paid for activities that ended up on the BlackMatter US and Black Fist websites. Black activist Conrad James was contacted via a Facebook message from BlackMatters US last September. James was reportedly paid to organize two rallies in North Carolina. Omowale Adewale was also contacted this time through his Instagram account. Adewale, an MMA fighter, was recruited as a trainer for Black Fist. He was allegedly paid to teach self-defense classes to the black community. The Black Fist website touts the classes as organized “By Black for Black.”