For more than an hour, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s high-profile chief operating officer, sheepishly pledged to “do better” — over and over — as stern-faced members of the Congressional Black Caucus grilled her on Thursday about Russian ads aimed at exploiting racial divisions during last year’s election.
For black lawmakers, it was a chance to vent — at the outrage they felt toward Russian intelligence and its efforts to foment racial unrest in the country; at the frustration they felt toward three separate congressional investigations into Russian interference that have plodded on and yielded little; and at Facebook itself, which has been long on promises and short on action.
“She was checking the boxes. She said all the right things,” Representative Donald M. Payne Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, said of Ms. Sandberg. But he was not satisfied. “I had an uncle who hated when you said ‘gonna’: ‘I’m gonna do this, and I’m gonna do that.’ He used to say, ‘Don’t be a gonna.’ And that’s what I said to her, ‘Don’t be a gonna.’ ”
Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, after initially denying that Russians had exploited the company’s system, has reversed course and admitted that groups backed by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia paid Facebook to influence voters last year with ads designed to inflame and exploit racial, political and economic rifts in the United States. Russian-backed Facebook pages promoted anti-immigrant rallies, targeted the Black Lives Matter movement and focused attentions on critical election swing states like Wisconsin and Michigan.
While Facebook has yet to release any of the ads, it has hired three crisis communications firms, bought digital and newspaper ads and sent Ms. Sandberg to Washington last week to charm Congress and the public.
A Russian propaganda outfit spent one hundred thousand dollars on ads, Facebook reported in a blog post:
The vast majority of ads run by these accounts didn’t specifically reference the US presidential election, voting or a particular candidate.
Rather, the ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights. [emph added]
About one-quarter of these ads were geographically targeted, and of those, more ran in 2015 than 2016.
The behavior displayed by these accounts to amplify divisive messages was consistent with the techniques mentioned in the white paper we released in April about information operations.
In this latest review, we also looked for ads that might have originated in Russia — even those with very weak signals of a connection and not associated with any known organized effort. This was a broad search, in cluding, for instance, ads bought from accounts with US IP addresses but with the language set to Russian — even though they didn’t necessarily violate any policy or law. In this part of our review, we found approximately $50,000 in potentially politically related ad spending on roughly 2,200 ads.
As Trump is viewed by the Establishment as a world-historic catastrophe, Facebook’s lack of vigilance in opposing him earns it a punitive lap around the Narrative. And it wouldn’t be that if it didn’t begin and end with The Blacks.
Fake accounts mimicked real right wing accounts critical of Black Lives Matter and identity politics. From another New York Times article:
The Russian pages — with names like “Being Patriotic,” “Secured Borders” and “Blacktivist” — cribbed complaints about federal agents from one conservative website, and a gauzy article about a veteran who became an entrepreneur from People magazine. They took descriptions and videos of police beatings from genuine YouTube and Facebook accounts and reposted them, sometimes lightly edited for maximum effect.
This, says the Times, is how a Russian propaganda operation was able to “reshape American politics” using “the anger, passion and misinformation that real Americans were broadcasting across social media platforms”. Link sharing and light editing.
The company hasn’t even made clear that all the ads were implicitly pro-Trump (none were explicitly so). If there wasn’t this all-hands-on-deck effort to get Trump the story here would be that Russian hackers’ use of Facebook during the election was negligible. Of course we wouldn’t be looking in the first place if not for the anti-Trump “resistance”. Makes you wonder what the real extent of such propaganda operations are–who says the Chinese aren’t a lot better? Even mentioning Hasbara is just the sort of hate speech all this is about eliminating, so it’s better left out of it.
Because the effort now is less to get Trump than to get Facebook, and other platforms, to clamp down further and faster on right wing speech (I write this on one of those mornings we woke up to find Twitter had taken out a bunch of accounts).
As an ideological fellow traveler Facebook accepts the chastening–a more assertive company might point out the “penetration” of Russian trolls was so slight as to be meaningless, that is, as good as zero. A success under any other circumstances, but nobody–except some of the dopier members of the Congressional Black Caucus–really believes any of it.
An alternate myth: shitlords from Russia and around the world flocked to the cause like volunteers for the Spanish Civil War, forming an international brigade in the Great Meme War.
Other posts on the Russian pages used stilted language or phrases rarely found in American English. Yet their use of borrowed ideas and arguments from Americans, which were already resonating among conservatives and liberals, demonstrated a deft understanding of the political terrain. The Russians also paid Facebook to promote their posts in the feeds of American Facebook users, helping them test what content would circulate most widely, and among which audiences.
The Establishment can only lament the exploitation of our divisive politics helped Trump, but whose fault is that? If Black Lives Matter is not a just movement but a fraud, then foreign trolls taking advantage of the outrage generated by it are just another of its negative effects.
Black Lives Matter, more than any single entity, cost Hillary, the Democrats and the Establishment the presidency. It takes real nerve for black politicians to leverage that into more spoils for them. Black America and the Establishment are locked in an indulgence spiral that threatens to collapse the whole movement. Get the popcorn.