When publicist Rob Goldstone emailed Donald Trump Jr. during the lead up to the infamous Trump Tower meeting, he wrote that the information he had to share was just “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” A new report prepared for the Senate brings together knowledge about the social media efforts of that Russian government support for Donald Trump and putting it all in one place drives home just how enormous, how comprehensive, and how all-in Russia was in their effort to push “our boy” over the line.
As the Washington Post reported on Sunday, the report includes analysis of posts provided by Facebook, Google, and Twitter. What those posts show is concerted messaging—running into millions of posts—that “clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party—and specifically Donald Trump.”
To maximize support for Trump, Russia prepared false stories and propaganda focused on guns and immigration. But that wasn’t the end of it. Russia also had a two-pronged attack focused on racism, one that sought to stir up anger on the right, while deflating efforts to organize African American voters by Democrats. That effort included not just ads on social media, but ads on local black radio stations intended to depress turnout and raise suspicions about Hillary Clinton. Some Russian ads even did double duty, being targeted at Republicans in a way that was intended to make Black Lives Matter seem much more militant and frightening and being targeted at African American voters to make Democratic support seem weak.
How racism was at the center of the effort was also the focus of reporting at the New York Times, including how Russians planted traps for users who were looking for material on historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X or the Black Panther Party. These efforts were not a sideline of the Russian effort. They were the largest part of that effort.
“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.”
Russia understood that they didn’t have to turn African American voters into “blacks for Trumps,” they just had to persuade them that Democrats were “only interested in them at election time,” a theme that the social media effort hit over and over.
African American voters aren’t a part of the Democratic Party. They’re the Democratic Party. The core voting block that defines and energizes progressive action. Russia went straight on at the most important section of the party, using a factor that they have always understood.
The story that Russia tells about America—including the way America is discussed within Russia—is that the United States is a land of unequal justice and vast racial disparity. In their Facebook ads, they turned that theory into a weapon.
The stories that have collected the most attention in other media are the pieces that Russia ran to build support for Trump, but the bigger part of Russia’s vast effort—and it was vast—was aimed at “walk away” and other efforts meant to make African American voters believe that the Democratic Party is not their party, but an entity of white “elites” who only drop in to visit every four years.
The social media effort was a huge part of “Russia and it’s government’s support for Mr. Trump” mentioned by Rob Goldstone. And a huge part of that was playing on themes of racism. On both sides. Russia used racism in its messages to drive Republicans to the polls in support of Trump. It used racism again in its efforts to keep Democratic voters away from the polls.
It was successful in these efforts because it didn’t have to invent the racism. The racism already exists. And it gave Russia a lever by which it could move the nation.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.