The fatal police brutalities of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and 25-year-old Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland sparked outrage throughout the nation. In the years leading up to the 2016 presidential election, Black Lives Matter gained traction as they organized protests against the killings of unarmed black people, and took action to combat systemic racism. In the thick of rising racial tensions in the U.S., the Russian government-affiliated troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency used geographically targeted ads to further stir chaos in the United States.
According to CNN sources, at least one Black Lives Matter ad, meant to appear as both supporting Black Lives Matter and portraying the group as threatening to residents of Baltimore and Ferguson, appeared on Facebook in late 2015 or early 2016. "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, former CIA officer and 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."
Although the ads did not explicitly promote one presidential candidate over the other, they were designed to exploit an atmosphere of division and chaos. With ads ranging from promoting Black Lives Matter to gun ownership and Second Amendment rights to posts warning of the impending threat undocumented immigrants to American democracy, Russians have sought to manipulate Americans and raise questions about our democracy.
U.S. military intelligence has described the Russian Internet Research Agency as "a state-funded organization that blogs and tweets on behalf of the Kremlin." The Senate Intelligence Committee will meet with Twitter today to learn how foreign nationals may have used its ad service to influence the 2016 election. We will keep you posted as the plot thickens.