Facebook’s failure to prevent Russian operatives from using its technology for election meddling resulted in at least 3,000 U.S. political ads and 80,000 Facebook posts, which were seen by as many as 126 million Americans over two years.
Russian trolls understood the intent behind then Republican nominee Donald Trump’s campaign led by white nationalist Stephen Bannon — to create fear of diversity. Trolls manipulated serious issues of concern for Black activists, and the Black community at large, including police brutality and racial inequality. They also stoked the anti-LGBT, anti-immigration and anti-Muslim sentiments of the far right in an attempt to create ire among whites, resulting in a vote for Trump.
Congressional hearings in Washington, D.C., regarding Russian meddling took place this week. House lawmakers released to the public examples of the content found on Facebook.
A Facebook page named Black Matters purchased a sponsored ad stating, “Join us because we care. Black Matters! Never forget,” with a combined photo of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray, three Black males who were killed by police officers.
One of the posts from the fake Blacktivist account shared a photo of members of the Black Panther Party and states:
“Never forget that Black Panthers, group formed to protect Black people from the KKK, was dismantled by US government but the KKK exists today.”
A group called Being Patriotic blames Black Lives Matter for the deaths of police officers.
An advertisement for a Westboro Baptist Church counter-protest was created by a group called LGBT United.
In regard to immigration, a Facebook page created by trolls called Secured Borders garnered more than 100,000 likes. The lead photo on the page is a hazard sign stating, “No Invaders Allowed.”
A group called “Stop AI” (stop all invaders) called for Burqa bans.
The trolls also promoted Trump by attempting to smear then Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. A Facebook page called Being Patriotic created an event, “Down With Hillary!”
“Hillary Clinton is the co-author of Obama’s anti-police and anti-Constitutional propaganda,” the event listing states.
Even after the presidential election, the Russian trolls continued to encourage racial tension. According to The Hill, a Nov. 12, 2016, “Trump is Not My President: March Against Trump” event organized on Facebook was created by trolls. As many as 5,000 to 10,000 protesters met in Manhattan’s Union Square and marched to Trump Tower. The event was shared with 61,000 users.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg did not appear at the congressional hearings. But lawmakers threatened tougher regulation and fired questions at Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch, excoriating the company for being slow to act and slow to share what it knew with Congress, according to Reuters.
Zuckerberg said that spending on improvements would include 10,000 additional people to review content on the network, though based on past practices many of those people will be contractors. The spending would hit profits, Facebook said, with expenses expected to grow by 45 percent to 60 percent next year.
“What they did is wrong, and we are not going to stand for it,” he said of the Russians while on a conference call with analysts.
“These ads caused harm and additional resentment to young people who unselfishly fight for justice and equality for African Americans,” said Rep. Cedric L. Richmond.
Last month, in a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) questioned Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, on how the company allowed Russian actors to purchase Facebook ads that targeted Black Lives Matter. The CBC also questioned the company’s absence of diversity in the boardroom — none of its eight board members are people of color.
“These ads caused harm and additional resentment to young people who unselfishly fight for justice and equality for African Americans and other marginalized communities,” Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA), chairman of the CBC, said in a statement.