Report: Russian Internet Trolls Targeted Hannity Fans, Black Lives Matter in Facebook Campaign

Politics Features Internet Research Agency
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Report: Russian Internet Trolls Targeted Hannity Fans, Black Lives Matter in Facebook Campaign

The “Internet Research Agency,” which is either a vast criminal conspiracy that tilted the 2016 election or a hodgepodge collection of irrelevant shit-posters, depending on your perspective, apparently spent most of their time targeting two specific but very different groups: “Black Lives Matter,” and devotees of Sean Hannity.

According to NBC News, House Democrats from the Intelligence Committee released “thousands” of 2016 Internet Research Agency ads that ran on Facebook and Instagram. At least on Facebook, the agency reportedly ran 3,000 ads between 2015 and 2017. Per NBC:

The ads provide a deeper understanding of Russia’s use of social media to spread propaganda on divisive topics, which included pushing anti-immigrant messages to fans of specific Fox News personalities such as Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, and buying batches of ads immediately after a mass shooting at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Some of the most divisive ads capitalized on the political movement Black Lives Matter and hot button political issues including immigration, gun control, the religion of Islam, and LGBT-centric topics. The ads also promoted events organized by Americans who were unaware their political rallies and protests were being fueled by a Russian disinformation campaign.

As tempting as it may be to write these people off, the numbers are a little staggering: 126 million people saw Russian disinformation, per Mark Zuckerberg, the ads just released were seen by 33 million, and 3.7 million people clicked them. And the idea was always to push division, as seen by tactics like flooding Facebook with ads from groups like “Black Matters” after Dylann Roof murdered nine black people at a church in Charleston, SC.

They also targeted the right wing, spending thousands to get people to follow groups with names like “Army of Jesus” and “Secured Borders” and “Patriot US” and “Back the Badge.” The latter of these was the most popular, receiving 1.5 million “impressions” and 75,000 clicks.

Finally, the group had a strong regional focus, especially where it concerned hot-button racial issues:

When buying ads for the pages Black Matters and Don’t Shoot, the troll farm exclusively targeted four American cities: Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Ferguson, Missouri.

One ad was purchased less than two months after the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man from Baltimore who died from spinal injuries sustained while in police custody. The post, backed by a 3,700-ruble (about $58) ad buy, pushed an event at Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse called “Demand Justice for Freddie Gray” and targeted only the greater Baltimore area…Other posts about black issues targeted all four cities, pushing news articles about police brutality and essays about being black in America, sometimes written in the first person as an African-American.

They even managed to spread news of an anti-Beyonce rally in New York City. Only two people attended, but the group was using it as a sort of false flag in order to organize a pro-Beyonce rally, which drew higher turnout.