But Russian spies also targeted regular voters – including, specifically, African-American voters – using fake Facebook pages and accounts. Many of their messages and fake accounts tried to confuse and discourage African-Americans from voting.
These bombshell revelations about how Russians used Facebook to target people of color first came to light in December. Organizations like the NAACP and others are still trying to fully understand how this happened – and how to prevent it in 2020.
In response, the NAACP issued a call for a one-week boycott of Facebook and Instagram in December.
Marquise Hunt, president of the NAACP Mississippi Youth and College Division, spoke with YR Media to discuss the Russian propaganda tactics and how imperative it is that African-American voters are engaged and properly educated on the issues affecting their communities.
Hunt, 20, is an advocate for national, local and political issues that impact the African-American community.
Nayo Campbell: Why do you think the Russians targeted African-Americans during the 2016 election?
Marquise Hunt: We find that African-Americans are the leading users of certain electronic devices and social media. Facebook is a commonly used app between many people, but we also know the role that African Americans have in actually utilizing these apps consistently and promoting the things that they have certain views on.
And I think that kind of drew some attention to making it easier for Russia to play a role in how they could really persuade African-Americans to think differently based upon where they were already educated within themselves.
NC: How will the NAACP Youth and College Division work to ensure young African-American voters are informed for future elections?
Hunt: For starters, the youth and college division has about 500 plus college and university chapters across the country. During this past midterm election, each college and university has done something that was specifically targeting their community, because they know their community best. We recognize that our voices have to first be heard on the local level before we try and reach to the top.
The goal is to make sure that we are actually engaging people, young people, not to just go out and vote because we want a high turnout, but we want people to really be engaged and find out what issues matter to them and their communities and how they can change the dynamic of their communities.
NC: How will the NAACP work to restore young African-Americans confidence in the electoral system?
Hunt: We have to really find out what issues matter most. And so I think that it all comes from education, but also exposure to other ways that people finally see how we can really fix the system that is in place. I think that we just have to keep the courage, keep the fight, and momentum going because I think that if we’re really dedicated about an issue, it won’t just die overnight. It'll be something that will continue to fight for.
NC: How can young voters be educated on the negative influences of social media?
Hunt: We have to be able to educate one another about candidates versus what the media shows us. There have been so many negative ads and many people don't know how to differentiate whether or not it’s true or a lie. Everyone loves to post photos and videos on social media, but if we don't recognize that what we see is not always what is true, then we’ll always be made to believe that what we see is actually what it is.
NC: What should Facebook fix in order to prevent this from happening again?
Hunt: I think the first thing is to understand that privacy is important. The second is that there needs to be a filtering of ads. Facebook does provide the option to report an ad and say, “I don't want to see this,” but just because I don't see it, doesn’t mean someone else might not see it and be affected by it.
No matter if they're black or white, these social media companies really should give users the privacy that they need and signed up for.
NC: Facebook has released a statement vowing to do more to protect its users. Do you think they responded correctly in regards to the urgency and importance of this [the NAACP] boycott?
Any time a group of people is engaged in something and they're boycotting, it's easy for an organization to release a statement that this is where they're trying to do to fix the problem. But we want people to show us rather than just tell us that this is what they're going to do.
Furthermore, they never really addressed the issue of African-Americans being the target, especially during the political season. There were a few statements here and there, but no one really addressed the real issue.
At some point, people are going to have to face reality and say that this is a race issue. We have to recognize that there are certain people who are being targeted for a specific reason and that we cannot allow that because it’s just wrong and it just shouldn't be happening.
To see some of the Facebook content Russia created in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, visit this hub: https://medium.com/@ushadrons
To find out more about how Russia used social media to influence the 2016 presidential election, check out the links provided by the Senate Intelligence Committee in this press release.