By David Thornton
A new revelation that a Facebook ad purchased by the Russians promoted Black Lives Matter casts doubt on the usual narrative.
CNN reports the Russians bought “at least one” Facebook ad that promoted the Black Lives Matter movement. The ad appeared in late 2015 or early 2016 to audiences in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland. Ferguson and Baltimore were the subject of race riots in August 2014 and April 2015 respectively.
The ad was purchased by what CNN refers to as “accounts linked to the Russian government-affiliated troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency.” US military intelligence has described the group as “a state-funded organization that blogs and tweets on behalf of the Kremlin.”
Facebook previously revealed that about 25 percent of the 3,000 ads traced back to the Internet Research Agency were geographically targeted. The Black Lives Matter ad targeted to Ferguson and Baltimore Facebook users is the first specific example of such targeting. CNN’s sources said the wording of the ad was such that it could be interpreted as both supporting and warning against the Black Lives Matter movement. The ad itself has not been released by Facebook.
Information on the Facebook ads purchased by the Russians seems to indicate that, at least early in the election cycle, the focus was on promoting division and anger rather than promoting a specific candidate. The Russians also bought ads with topics such as gun rights, immigration and the validity of western democracy.
“This is consistent with the overall goal of creating discord inside the body politic here in the United States, and really across the West,” Steve Hall, a former CIA officer and current CNN National Security Analyst, said. “It shows they the level of sophistication of their targeting. They are able to sow discord in a very granular nature, target certain communities and link them up with certain issues.
Last December, the FBI and the CIA publicly agreed that intelligence showed that Russian cyber operations during the election were aimed at supporting the Trump campaign. In July 2017, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told NBC News that there was no disagreement among US intelligence agencies that the Russians “are trying to undermine Western democracy,” but stopped short of stating that the interference was targeted to benefit Trump.
In the months since the election, many on the right have pooh-poohed the idea that Russia interfered in the election at all, attributing the claim of interference to sour grapes by Clinton campaign. That may change as more information about Russian interference comes out, such as the recent revelation by Homeland Security that 21 state election agencies were targeted by Russian hackers and that the Russian goal was to stir the pot by promoting hostility on both sides of the political spectrum.
The biggest question about Russian meddling is what to do about it. As CIA Director Mike Pompeo told NBC News, “This threat is real. The U.S. government, including the Central Intelligence Agency, has to figure out a way to fight back against it and defeat it. And we’re intent upon doing that.”