This just keeps getting worse. Another messed-up shoe has dropped in the ongoing saga of Facebook’s influence on the 2016 U.S. presidential election. This time, it’s the revelation that Russian-linked troll accounts called for race-based violence.
Facebook has so far refused to publicly release the Russian-backed ads that ran on its platform, potentially reaching up to 126 million Americans in the process. But that didn’t stop Jonathan Albright of Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism from collecting and collating the contents of six (now removed) Russian-linked groups reportedly created by the Internet Research Agency.
And it’s bad. Like, really bad.
It’s important to note that these posts weren’t necessarily promoted and thus wouldn’t fall under Facebook’s proposed ad transparency rules. However, they might have been — in conversation with CNN, Albright highlighted at least one post that was probably pushed with paid advertising. Either way, the ads were clicked on, liked, and shared, reaching untold numbers of unsuspecting readers in the process.
While not all the content was explicit in its call to violence, plenty of it was. One April 5, 2016, post from a page called “Being Patriotic” advocated shooting Black Lives Matter activists seen as “insulting” the American flag.
“Well, arrests were are actually not necessary in such cases: such anti-Americans must be immediately shot,” read the post. “I’m sick of liberals and their media approving BLM and Black Panthers terrorists. I’m sick of the Authorities who forbid our policemen to arrest and shoot any sh*thead who dares to insult the Old Glory.”
If shooting people exercising their First Amendment right isn’t your bag, how about delegitimizing the vote of your political opponents? The day before the election, Nov. 7, a group called “Secured Borders” questioned the validity of the voter rolls in several distinct posts, throwing in disparaging remarks about President Obama for good measure.
“Illegal aliens, dead people, incarcerated criminals or refugees who can’t even speak English…they all VOTE for Killary, and our so called President, the Kenyan bastard Barack Hussein Obama only encourages them.”
“Our so-called President,” read another post from Secured Borders, “Kenyan illegal bastard Barack Hussein Obama encourages illegal aliens to vote – because as you know law breaking comes naturally to both Democrats and Illegal aliens!”
The Russians’ work didn’t end on Nov. 8. Indeed, vitriolic race-baiting continued well after the election. On March 4, 2017, the same Secured Borders page railed against Dreamers — comparing them to criminals and terrorists — and suggested they be killed [note: some data has been marked out of the post].
“These ‘Dreamers’ have become America’s nightmare,” it read. “Do they cross the border to integrate into society and contribute? No. They don’t cross to work, they cross to take advantage of the system and in most of the cases, commit crimes. It’s astonishing, how xxxxxxx has become a hub for dangerous illegal aliens, most of them are from xxxxxx American countries like xxxxxxx, xxxxxx, etc. We need to secure our borders fast and build the wall! It’s time to stop incarcerating gang members and make their crimes punishable by automatic death. Enough is enough. xxx-xx thugs are as bad as ISIS. The only way to deal with them is to kill them all.”
A Dec. 8, 2016, post from the same group, “Secured Borders,” called for fighting immigrants. “You don’t need to go on the other side of the globe to fight terrorists,” it reads. “Thanks to Obama we already have these bastards among refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants! Will you stand up against them? I know I will!”
According to researchers, posts from the Secured Borders group were shared 5.6 million times.
Another post, this time from a group titled “Blacktivist,” advocated violence against law enforcement. “Enough is enough,” read the November 24 post. “Black people have to do something. An eye for an eye. The law enforcement officers keep harassing and killing us without consequences.”
Clearly, not all the Russian pages advocated violence, but the work by Albright shows that some in fact did. This may contribute to Facebook’s reluctance to release the Russian ads publicly — after all, a Silicon Valley darling directly profiting off Russian calls for Americans to murder each other is not a good look.
However, if these posts are any indication, it’s a look we need to start being aware of — and take measures to defend ourselves against, as soon as possible.