Russian hackers may have posed as black U.S. activists to sow racial discord

Some fake Facebook accounts now tied to Russia posed as black civil-rights activists in order to sow racial discord in the United States, a CNN report alleges. It found that some of these accounts were persuasive enough to generate large U.S. followings.
By Tracy Williams | Oct 02, 2017
Kremlin-supported hackers created black civil-rights activist personas in their attempts to infiltrate U.S. social media and influence the election, according to CNN. The station cites sources who described these activities as covert attempts to stoke racial tensions under the guise of civil-rights advocacy, and said that some of them were convincing enough to generate mass followings among unsuspecting American activists.

The station cited Blacktivist, a Facebook account that first appeared in the wake of Baltimore resident Freddy Gray's death while in police custody and organized police-brutality protests in the city. The page had 360,000 Facebook likes at its height, more than some Black Lives Matter accounts.

Heber Brown III, a pastor and community organizer, became suspicious of the group in April 2016 while messaging with the page about a rally the page was organizing. The person messaging back explained that he did not actually live in Baltimore but that "we are fighting for the same reasons."

Brown told the Guardian that "I thought it was just another person who wanted to take advantage of the misery and pain of black people in Baltimore."

Facebook determined that Blacktivist was fake and has since then suspended any Blacktivist accounts. Mark Jacobson, a Georgetown University professor who released a recent report on Russian influence operations, said that the Blacktivist fraud was consistent with what a Kremlin-driven propaganda campaign to foment division overseas would look like.

"This is not because the Russians are believers in the ideologies espoused by any of these movements," said Jacobson. "This is about the Russians exacerbating pre-existing tensions. By building upon these existing divides."

Other hackers used social media to "micro target" specific groups. Antonio French, a Black Lives Matter activist in Ferguson, Missouri, noted that Russia targeted Ferguson for one or more Facebook ads.

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