CNN just followed up on a story about how Russian trolls exploited people’s legitimate anger over the summary execution of Minnesota motorist Philando Castile to help Trump win the election. Here’s an excerpt:
By 2016, American prosecutors allege, the Internet Research Agency [Russian troll farm] was “primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton.”
According to prosecutors, an internal memo circulated in February 2016 read, “to use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump — we support them).”
Later in 2016, according to the indictment, the group began trying to discourage African Americans from voting.
One post on a fake black activist account highlighted by prosecutors read, “[A] particular hype and hatred for Trump is misleading the people and forcing Blacks to vote Killary. We cannot resort to the lesser of two devils. Then we’d surely be better off without voting AT ALL.”
Trump will do nothing to address this attack on our democracy since it benefits himself, and the Russians will continue to exploit the fault lines in our society since their last disinformation campaign was so wildly successful. So, how can we, as activists in our own communities, prepare for the onslaught?
The real activists in Minnesota modeled one way forward. They had no idea at the time that Russian trolls were exploiting Castile’s death, but they were skeptical when an anonymous person started organizing a local event online:
Around 8 a.m. ET on July 7th, less than ten hours after the shooting, a Facebook page began running ads targeted at people living near Minneapolis and promoting an event called “Justice for Philando Castile.”
The event was scheduled for the coming weekend and would take place outside the police department where the officer who shot Castile was based. Quickly, thousands of people expressed interest in attending.
But, to [Mica] Grimm, something didn’t feel right.
“So the activists really know each other here,” Grimm told CNN. “We’ve seen each other’s faces, and if we don’t know each other, then we know someone who knows someone.”
No one in the tight-knit community of activists seemed to know who was behind the campaign.
Grimm and her fellow activists questioned the troll who set up the account and persuaded him to give them the keys to the rally page by threatening to out him as an impostor if he didn’t. Then they staffed the event with experienced organizers. In doing so, they likely prevented the chaos and possible violence the Russian trolls hoped to foment.
We’ll have to be similarly smart to prevent disinformation campaigns from disrupting the upcoming midterms. Our government isn’t going to help us. We’re on our own.